Stepping into the iconic role of Wednesday Addams, who has been immortalized throughout decades from creator Charles Addams’ original 1930s comic strips to Christina Ricci’s irreverent performance in the 1991 dark comedy, is a daunting — even frightening — task for anybody; aging up that character to explore the macabre performance that is adolescence in the modern-day social media era is damn near bone-chilling, and it’s an exercise that rising star Jenna Ortega approached with delicate gravitas.
“I watched the show, the comic strip, the films,” the title actress of Netflix’s “Wednesday” told TheWrap. “The script is written very reminiscent of the ‘90s take, so I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t ripping anybody off.”
Directed and executive produced by Tim Burton, along with co-showrunners Miles Millar and Alfred Gough, “Wednesday” presents a reimagined take on the world — and decidedly endearing yet dreadful girl — audiences have come intimately know. Transporting Wednesday to the stately Nevermore Academy for outcasts such as herself, the Addams spawn finds herself embroiled in a quarter-century-old mystery that involves her parents, her struggle to master her budding psychic ability and a supernatural creature whose monstrous killings threaten the local town.
“The thing is when you say nasty, cruel remarks as a 10 year old, it’s really sweet and charming ‘cause you don’t know any better, but by the time you’re 15, 16, you should know better,” Ortega explained of the role’s challenges. “And I think that that can turn into a really nasty quality, so a lot of it was kind of trying to find a balance as a ‘what it is that’s acceptable’ and adding layers of innocence, so that her crudeness or her toxicness wasn’t seen in poor taste.”
With a breakout role in the streamer’s “You,” the Gen Z starlet has come to embody a place within the zeitgeist as a generation-defining scream queen, backing that title up with roles in “The Babysitter: Killer Queen,” Ti West’s “X” and “Scream,” for which she is currently filming the next sequel. Also among her memorable performances is Megan Park’s brutal directorial debut “The Fallout,” about the impact of a school shooting on two teens.
In Ortega’s “Wednesday,” the character’s Latinidad is front-and-center for the first time in the canon’s history. The ‘60s-era ABC sitcom established Gomez Addams as Castilian, and “The Addams Family” 1991 film saw him portrayed by Puerto Rican actor Raúl Julia, and while much discourse has been devoted to discussions of the family’s heritage, the Netflix drama imbues its tone and surroundings with culturally specific elements, from a haunting rendition of “La Llorona” to Morticia’s (Catherine Zeta-Jones) gifting of an Aztec artifact to her daughter.
“I feel like when I was younger I had a really hard time embracing certain qualities about myself, and I do think a big part of that is because I didn’t see myself represented on screen or the field that I wanted to participate in,” Ortega said, “so getting an opportunity to play someone like Wednesday, who has such a wide reach and is loved and respected by people everywhere, I think it’s incredible that she has a Latin face and that young Latinos can watch and relish in that and enjoy that and identify themselves, not only with someone’s personality, but their looks. It really means a lot to me.”
“Wednesday” is currently streaming on Netflix.