Jenna Ortega may be petite at 5’1, but she sure is mighty. The newest addition to Netflix’s You has captivated one Penn Badgley as his teen neighbor Ellie Alvez, has Jennifer Garner singing her praises after filming Yes Day, and on top of that, is using her star power for good. Kicking off the year, the 17-year-old California native announced her partnership with DoSomething.org and Aéropostale’s Teens for Jeans campaign to raise awareness to end the stigma around teen homelessness. The Jane the Virgin star tells HOLA! USA. “When the opportunity arose to be a part of something as big and powerful as that and also reach my audience and give back to my community, I’m always down to do that.”
Surely her fans, who have followed her every move since Stuck in the Middle have assisted. Since it’s launch in 2008, the organization has collected over five million jeans to date. “Something as simple as a pair of jeans can change somebody’s life,” she says.
It’s also thanks to her millions of followers that she has been able to shift from a Disney starlet to take on more mature roles like in You. “People have been so kind and sweet toward Ellie, and it’s been really sweet to see the way people care about her,” the recent high school graduate shares. Keep reading to find out what it was really like filming the Netflix show and what Jen Garner gave her for her graduation.
HOLA USA!: What inspired you to get involved with the Teens for Jeans campaign
Jenna Ortega: “I feel like the topic with homelessness in the youth community is not really something that’s talked about. I know that I wasn’t aware of it. “
Did you have a chance to meet some of the homeless youth?
“The teens that I talked to were so wise and driven and were such sweet people. I think it was just so beautiful to see them in that light and hear more about their stories. When talking with these teens I tried to be open and focused on what they were telling me and kind of absorb this information.”
Your latest role in You has gotten a lot of buzz. What has the reception been like going from Disney to a more mature role?
“It’s been pleasantly surprising! I’m really proud of the way it turned out, and my cast is so incredible and the writers. The reaction has been so heartwarming and exciting. I was worried about my Stuck in the Middle audience seeing that because they’re a little young for that that type of content. Also coming off of Disney, that was my first project, and I felt like I had completely forgotten how to act.” [Laughs]
Did Penn, Victoria [Pedretti] or anyone else offer any pointers?
“No pointers whatsoever, and I’m very much a person who wants to make sure that everybody is happy. During our first table read, I’m doing Ellie’s social media speech. Penn stops the table read, and he goes, ‘Hold on, I just need to say something.’ And I go ‘Oh god, please no.’ He goes, ‘You know what, I am so charmed by you. I’m so excited to be shooting with you; this is going to be amazing.’ I felt like I could finally breathe again.”
That was a special moment. Is Penn always so charming?
“Penn is such a sweetheart. And he is so intelligent, and he carries himself in a classy manor. I just have so much respect for that man, and everything he does. He’s actually quite funny. He likes to dance and crack jokes in between takes. Anybody can get along with Penn. He’s just one of those people.”
You also recently worked with Jennifer Garner in Yes Day. Can you please tell us about that epic roller coaster video?
“Yes! She’s such a cute person. She was doing the whole I’m nervous thing and was on the verge of crying. We were just talking about that experience, and she was like never again.”
What was your initial meeting like? Had you always been a fan of hers, and did she know about you?
“When I met her, it had been a few weeks after I auditioned. By then, she had already known everything about me. It’s surreal, I grew up watching 13 Going on 30, and to have Jenna Rink call you and want you to be in her movie; it was absolutely insane. When I graduated, Jen found out, and they played graduation music, gave me a cap and gown and gave me a diploma signed by Jen. Then Jen gave a speech.”
Speaking of graduation, are you planning on heading to college?
“I think because of how busy things have been, I’m going to start off two years in a community college and then transfer from there. I go back and forth about studying Cinematography, that would be cool. I had a whole conversation with Penn and Victoria about this. She was telling me that I should study theater because it’s interesting to learn about the history of your craft. Penn on the other hand was like don’t do theater because you’re on set getting that experience.”
As a young Latina, how important has it been personally for you to bring representation to general audiences?
“I feel like people are constantly talking about how they want their cinema and TV shows to be authentic and relatable and real. That can’t be accomplished unless what you see on screen reflects the real world. The real world is so colorful and so diverse. I think to have Hispanic representation on such a large show is important. It also finally gave other Latinx people somebody they can relate to. When you see yourself on screen is such an empowering feeling. It makes you feel seen and heard.”