If you’re tuning into Wednesday, Netflix’s new mystery-adventure series focused on the most deadpan and dryly hilarious member of The Addams Family in her teen years, and thinking hmm, that lead actress looks awfully familiar, well, you’re probably onto something. Actress Jenna Ortega plays Wednesday, and, at only 20 years old, she’s already logged a decade of experience in the film and television industry. She’s also established herself in 2022 in company frequently occupied by the likes of Jamie Lee Curtis and Neve Campbell: she’s become a scream queen.
“I love blood and guts,” she told Rotten Tomatoes in a past interview. “I love to run for my life.” That makes sense, considering one of her very first parts was a small role in director James Wan’s Insidious: Chapter 2. Ortega’s turn in Wednesday (where she works with another iconic director with gothic sensibilities in Tim Burton), though, is a far cry from some of the small roles she played as a child; she carries the show, hoisting a murder mystery, new character relationships, and, believe it or not, even a little bit of emotional growth along the way.
Ortega, who was named a “Next Big Thing” by The Hollywood Reporter earlier this year, appeared in five feature films released in 2022 in addition to Wednesday. And that comes after appearing, in recent years, in projects like Season 2 of Netflix’s stalker thriller You and horror sequel The Babysitter: Killer Queen. So if it feels like you’ve been seeing her everywhere, you don’t need to get your eyes checked. Below, we’ve got a few more things to know about the star who blew up in 2022.
Playing Wednesday Addams in Wednesday was Jenna Ortega’s most intense role yet
Ortega, who landed the role in May 2021, says that she’s long been compared to Wednesday—so it was probably nice to be the first to portray the macabre character (who first appeared in a New Yorker cartoon in 1938) in her teenage years. “I’ve been compared to Wednesday all my life in terms of my sarcasm and dry humor, so it’s oddly fitting,” she told Rotten Tomatoes.
She was also nervous about translating the character, who is often seen as a younger girl, to her teenage years. “Some of her harsh mannerisms may come off as hilarious when she’s younger, but as you get older, how much of that can you get away with? Or how do you keep that at the forefront of her personality without people growing to dislike her or find her annoying?” she wondered in the THR piece, where she also detailed the physical transformation of cutting her hair and completely changing her mannerisms and speaking cadence. “Just trying to balance that… I’ve never felt so much pressure on a job, and I’m trying to keep my cool.”
She’s owned horror in 2022, appearing in Scream, X, and more
Anyone who’s ever seen a movie in the long-running (and wildly consistent!) Scream franchise knows that showing up in the movie’s opening scene is a major (and, usually, wildly dangerous) task. Ever since Drew Barrymore took the test in Wes Craven’s 1996 original, it’s been tradition for the franchise to open the film up with an intense, horrifying moment of tension.
Jenna Ortega kicked her massive year of horror off with that very honor in 2022’s Scream, where she became [SPOILER ALERT!] the first character to survive such an encounter. “It’s the best experience I’ve ever had on a set,” she told THR when discussing the movie earlier this year. “We’re just trying to expand the world and introduce it to an audience that may not be so familiar, and also give some newfound excitement and a new look at the original characters for fans of the franchise.”
But that wasn’t all. Ortega went on to appear in major roles in the real-life horror of The Fallout (about the aftermath of a school shooting), director Ti West’s X (giving a truly great horror scream along the way), and the horror/thriller/satire American Carnage (which tackles immigration among other issues). She also appeared in a smaller role in the Foo Fighters’ horror movie Studio 666, which is just fun.
Her breakthrough came in a Disney Channel series, and her first film was in the Marvel Cinematic Universe
A few Disney properties mark landmark moments for Ortega; she came to prominence as the lead in the Disney Channel sitcom Stuck in the Middle, and her first film role was actually a miniscule part—which she filmed at only 10 years old—in Iron Man 3 (though she said in a recent WIRED interview that her first film was After Words, which was released two years later in 2015).
If you remember that movie’s twisty plot, [again, sorry, spoiler alert] the Vice President of the United States of America turned out to be corrupt and working with the villainous Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) to get what was essentially a regeneration drug that could help cure his daughter’s disability—Ortega played the daughter in only a few brief moments.
She remains booked and busy, with Scream 6 and more on the horizon.
In addition to a potential Season 2 of Wednesday and the next Scream sequel (out next March), Ortega is also in production on two other films: the crime movie Finestland, where she will star alongside Ben Foster, Rings of Power star Ismael Cruz Cordova, and Tommy Lee Jones, and Miller’s Girl, a dramedy in which she’ll co-star with Black Panther: Wakanda Forever‘s Martin Freeman.
Evan is the culture editor for Men’s Health, with bylines in The New York Times, MTV News, Brooklyn Magazine, and VICE. He loves weird movies, watches too much TV, and listens to music more often than he doesn’t.