Jenna Ortega's breakout role came when she was cast as Young Jane in the critically acclaimed television series Jane the Virgin in 2014. Her heartwarming and nuanced performances garnered significant attention and established her as a promising young talent in the industry. Subsequently, Ortega, 20, landed a leading role in the popular Disney Channel sitcom Stuck in the Middle, where she played the central character, Harley Diaz, for three seasons from 2016 to 2018. But her latest role in Netflix's Wednesday has propelled her to a new level of stardom. She sat down with Elle Fanning, 25, for Variety to discuss the parallels in their successful careers and how difficult it can be to navigate the industry at a young age.
Jenna Ortega and Elle Fanning Discuss How Toxic Social Media Can Be in the World of Acting
Coming from a family that was familiar with Hollywood, Fanning flourished in her acting career from a young age. Her career began with an endearing performance in I Am Sam at just 2 years old, playing the younger version of her sister Dakota Fanning's character. Fanning's major breakthrough came with her role in Super 8, a science-fiction film directed by J.J. Abrams in 2011. But as Fanning grew up, so did the roles she fell into. She starred in Sofia Coppola's drama film Somewhere in 2010 and brought Sleeping Beauty to life in Disney's Maleficent in 2014, reprising the role in its sequel Maleficent: Mistress of Evil in 2019. Recently, Fanning showcased her versatility by portraying Catherine the Great in Hulu's historical comedy-drama series The Great, earning her first Golden Globe nomination in 2021.
Both Fanning and Ortega have made a name for themselves in Hollywood as some of the most promising Gen Z actors who have as much range as they do experience. In the Variety interview with one another, they talked about the worst auditions they ever had, especially early on in their career. Fanning said she "fainted once" when she was 12 years old, but she landed Pink Berry and Burger King afterward so it wasn't a complete failure. "They make me so nervous," she said about the people in the audition room.
Ortega shared that she and her mother had to drive three hours for the first audition in which she had to scream. Her mom asked her if she wanted to practice in the car, but she said no.
"My voice cracked. [My mom] was so frustrated, because she was sacrificing so much for me to be out there," Ortega said. "I felt awful."
Ortega said Wednesday forced her out of her shell and helped her become more independent and confident in her self. She will be a producer for the upcoming season. "This is my first time," Ortega said. "It was a natural progression." Fanning said she tried to create a fresh version of Catherine in The Great, calling her a "complicated woman" who was chastised for enjoying sex and having multiple lovers.
After discussing how comedic acting is different than something you might see in a drama, Ortega and Fanning talked about the role that social media plays in their acting careers.
"What's your relationship with [social media]?" Fanning inquired. "For me, it can get toxic."
"Yeah, it gets ugly. When I was younger, they would take us to media training—Disney 101 or something like that—where they would say, 'You’re going to post three times a day. This is how you build followers, engage, promote our show,'" Ortega responded. "You could go into an audition or meeting, and it was 'How many followers do you have?'"
Fanning said she didn't get a part once because she "didn't have enough followers." The producers said she was great, but the numbers online just weren't good enough. Ortega had a similar experience; even after she shot Wednesday and was going on various auditions, her team was approached and told that she might not have a big enough name online to land the part.
"And social media, what it does to anyone our age, it’s such a comparing game. It influences bandwagon mentality. It’s very manipulative. After the show, I’m really nervous to post or even say anything on there or even be myself because I feel like…" Ortega said.
"...it could be misinterpreted," Fanning chimed in.
Ortega agreed and said it can be difficult when people take advantage of your vulnerability online. "It’s such a hard thing to balance. Because how do you be honest without jeopardizing your own health and safety? It’s very easy to feel almost out of control," she said.
There are some celebrities who have abstained from using social media altogether, such as Kristen Stewart, Jennifer Lawrence, Rachel McAdams, and Emma Stone. Some have spoken about their choice to stay off social media, while others have silently chosen to simply stay off platforms like Instagram. There is also a growing number of celebrities, like Kate Winslet and Pink, who don't allow their children to have social media because it can be such a detrimental effect on their lives. While places like TikTok and Instagram can be a fun place to see celebrities share more about their personal lives, these platforms can bring a level of toxicity that many actors choose to steer clear of.