Jenna Ortega, the 15-year-old actress who stars in Disney’s Stuck in the Middle discusses her pivotal role on the show as it comes to an end after three seasons and what’s next for her acting career.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m 15 years old, I’m from the Coachella Valley, and I am of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent.
How did you find your love for acting? When did you realize it had the potential to turn into your career?
I realized I wanted to act when I was 6 years old, but I didn’t really fall in love with it until I was eight years old. When I was eight and a half I went to this scouting program for actors (which was a total scam) and I was picked up by a manager that promised amazing things for my career. Obviously it was all a lie, I didn’t know it back then, but that’s when I decided to actually pursue it seriously (with the help of my parents of course).
What obstacles have you faced while pursuing your dreams? How did you overcome them?
I’ve dealt with a lot of obstacles in my career, but I think the one that’s bothered me most is being rejected because of my ethnicity. I understand when I am turned away for being too old or too young, but it bothered me that casting directors weren’t willing to put a Latina as the lead in a movie. I’ve overcome this by focusing on doing my absolute best in every audition hoping to change the casting director’s mind. It worked for Stuck in the Middle, so maybe it will work with other projects too!
You star as “Harley Diaz” in Disney’s Stuck in the Middle. Can you describe the show to anyone who may be unfamiliar?
Stuck in the Middle is about my character Harley who is stuck in the middle of a big family. She is the engine of the family and keeps the family on track while navigating her way through life and discovering who she really is.
What is your character like? Do you think you have more similarities than differences or vice versa?
Harley and I are basically the same person. We’re both Latina, we are both middle children in big families, and we both love math and science. The only difference I can think of is I love acting and she loves inventing.
What is the cast dynamic like on set?
We’re like a real family! We laugh, we pull pranks, we fight over the swings on the playground. I do really love the cast. I think we’re going to be lifelong friends!
You also star as “Young Jane” in the hit show Jane The Virgin. How did the role come about?
My audition for Jane The Virgin was actually really short. I got it the night before and I remember being super excited because casting was specifically looking for a Latina.
With a strong Latina lead, how do you think Hollywood is making efforts to increase diversity? What do you hope to see in the future?
It’s been a gradual process and there’s not as many Latinos/Latinas as I would like to see on the big screen. In the future, I would love to see the big screen with an equally diverse cast that reflects our communities in real life.
Do you have any fun behind the scenes stories from set?
We once had a director who intimidated Isaak, so as a joke we printed out a bunch of copies of the director’s face and taped them all over his dressing room! We also made face masks with the copies and jumped out of hiding places to scare Isaak. Isaak thought it was hilarious and kept one of the copies on his school desk for the rest of the season.
In such a saturated industry, how do you stay grounded and authentic?
I have 5 siblings who help me stay grounded, and I am so grateful for them. I also stay true to myself and I don’t let fake people in the industry influence me.
With such a busy schedule, how do you relax?
Besides acting, what are you passionate about?
I am passionate about helping others. If I didn’t want to be an actress in the future then I’d be a nurse.
You commit time to support organizations such as UNAIDS. How did you get involved and what drew you to the organization?
I tried to raise awareness for HIV/AIDS on my own, but then I was approached by UNAIDS and became an ambassador for them. I was drawn to UNAIDS because they’re an amazing organization and really helped me become more educated on the topic!
How do you use your platforms to raise awareness on global issues?
I’ve spoken at events like WE Day, I’ve spoken at United Nations, I post about important topics on my social media, and I encourage my supporters to do the same.
Do you have any advice for those working towards their dreams and goals?
Don’t let anything get in the way of your dreams. Stay focused! There’s going to be times where you just want to avoid the hard work you have in front of you but it’s better to just get it done. If you let yourself get distracted you’re going to be even more stressed out because you’re going to be behind.
Any other upcoming projects you can share?
A movie I did called Saving Flora is coming out this year and I also have something else I’m working on…
Story: Anna Zhang
Photographer: Colin Stark
Hair: Gilbert Muniz
Makeup: Anton Khachaturian
Styling: Enrique Melendez