People love Wednesday because she's different, says US actress Jenna Ortega
LOS ANGELES – Even in her own famously odd and macabre family, Wednesday Addams has always stood out, beginning with her appearance in the 1960s television show that first launched The Addams Family from a comic strip to the screen.
And in the live-action movies The Addams Family (1991) and Addams Family Values (1993), she is depicted as a young girl with morbid interests, sadistic tendencies and a startlingly dark personality.
So when Wednesday, the supernatural comedy series by American director Tim Burton, sees the character enrolling in a new school, it is no wonder she struggles to fit in – even if her classmates include other oddballs such as werewolves and sirens.
But former child actress Jenna Ortega, who plays her on the show, says the teenager’s refusal to conform is one of her best attributes.
Now streaming on Netflix, Wednesday co-stars Catherine Zeta-Jones as her mother Morticia, Luis Guzman as her father Gomez, and Christina Ricci, who portrayed Wednesday in the 1990s films, as a teacher at the school.
Chatting to The Straits Times over Zoom, Ortega, 20, says she fell in love with this strange family watching those movies as an eight-year-old.
“I thought they were so weird and perfect. And I loved the fact that they were so non-conventional in their interests, but still were probably the healthiest American family out there, relationship-wise and emotionally.”
The series shows Wednesday reluctantly enrolling in Nevermore, an academy for the supernaturally gifted, and instantly becoming an outcast even in a school designed for them.
But she quickly distinguishes herself with her intelligence, wit and, when a series of murders blights the local town, her sleuthing skills.
“She just can’t help it,” says Ortega, who appeared in horror flick Scream (2022) and teen drama The Fallout (2021). “I think it shows how special she is.”
And the character knows it.
“One of the best things about Wednesday, and why people love her so much, is because she’s aware that she’s different,” Ortega explains.
“It’s not that she’s blind to it. It’s just that she feels no need to shape her identity or conform to societal expectations strictly because, ‘Oh, maybe people think I’m weird.’”
It helps that the character also has a strong misanthropic streak.
“Wednesday doesn’t really like people, so it’s probably better if she doesn’t get along with them and no one wants to spend time with her. She’s a very independent young girl and she wants to keep it that way,” Ortega says.
The series was created by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar alongside Burton, the acclaimed film-maker behind quirky fantasy and horror films such as Edward Scissorhands (1990) and Beetlejuice (1988) who also directed Wednesday.
Ortega says he was a delight to work with.
“Tim is one of the sweetest directors I’ve worked with – genuinely nice guy, remembered everyone’s names and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t even realise his name is Tim Burton,” she says.
He brought his signature Gothic aesthetic to the series, and Ortega learnt just how carefully he conjures it up on screen.
“I’ve never had a director do this before, but he would draw out shots that he wanted to have of me in the show, whether it was me playing the cello or reading a book, and he would sketch me doing that and say, ‘This is what we’re going to do.’ And that would be our conversation,” Ortega says.
But Burton was also extremely collaborative, she adds.
“Other times, he would call me to his trailer and we had a lot of great conversations about the character. Not everyone’s an actor’s director, but he definitely is.
“He was a really great collaborator and made it very clear that he wanted to engage and have it be something that we did together.”