Jenna Ortega Didn't Want Wednesday To Be A 'Knockoff' Of Christina Ricci

The excitement is starting to swell for the Jenna Ortega starring Netflix series "Wednesday," debuting one day before Thanksgiving on Wednesday (clever!), November 23, 2022. Ortega's casting as the titular character is absolutely inspired, and it will be fascinating to see just how similar her take will be to the classic deadpan delivery that Christina Ricci made so memorable in both "The Addams Family" and "Addams Family Values" in the early '90s. The first season of the macabre new series is set to run for eight episodes with a story revolving around Wednesday's high school years where she will attempt to harness newly discovered psychic powers. 

The weird and wonderful Tim Burton directed the first four episodes, which should help to set Wednesday Addams down a path that feels in line with Ricci's indelible performance without doling out a retread of the dark humor and impeccable comedic timing the character is remembered for. In a fun twist, Ricci is set to play Miss Thornhill, one of Wednesday's teachers at Nevermore Academy, the institute where her parents Morticia and Gomez met as teenagers. Interview Magazine recently paired the two actors together to talk about the differences between their interpretations of Wednesday Addams, a gruesome girl often hailed as one of the original outsiders. Ortega was skeptical to take on the part at first, telling Ricci that the last thing she wanted was to just do a cookie-cutter copy of the Wednesday people know and love.

An outcast among outcasts

Christina Ricci officially conducts the interview with Jenna Ortega, following the trend of one-on-one conversations about the craft that have grown increasingly common with shows like Variety's "Actors On Actors," which usually occur around awards season. It's rare, however, when the two performers participating have played the same character in completely different decades across film and television. In their talk, Ortega got the chance to tell Ricci about the first time she saw the hit Barry Sonnenfeld films from the mid-'90s. "I was eight or nine and loved them," she tells Ricci. "You don't always see it, but I have a very dry sense of humor to the point where I get myself in trouble because everyone thinks I'm serious." Ortega says she'd been compared to Wednesday Addams a lot throughout her life and she deems the comparison "the greatest honor."

Describing the new series as "Nancy Drew-esque," the kooky procedural direction that "Wednesday" seems to be going in does sound a little too similar to Netflix's witchy mystery "Chilling Adventures of Sabrina." But Ortega touches on a crucial point that feels very Tim Burton-esque as well, saying that Wednesday "remains an outcast in a sea full of outcasts." That point-of-view could imbue Ortega's version of Wednesday with a little more pathos as a loner among weirdos, which will hopefully set her apart from Ricci's turn as Wednesday:

"I'm just saying you are who people see as Wednesday, and that's just the truth. I feel like the script was very reminiscent of '90s Wednesday. It was really important to me that I wasn't doing a knockoff of your performance, and it was different."

Staying true to an extreme character isn't easy on TV

Having an entire season of television to develop a slightly older, more complex version of the character could be a blessing, but there's also a risky pitfall of allowing Wednesday's biting wit to become too mean-spirited and lose sight of the overall emotional arc over multiple episodes. In an insightful exchange between Jenna Ortega and Christina Ricci, the duo talked about how hard it is to walk that line when playing such an extreme character. "Another thing is every time we've seen Wednesday, she's been 5 years old, 10 years old," Ortega points out. "So when someone is saying really dark, twisted things out of a place of pure honesty and innocence, that naive aspect of a child, it's a bit different when you get older and become a teenager because then you just sound like a b****. You don't want her to be nasty."

Ricci could completely relate, remembering, "That happened to me when we came back to do the second 'Addams Family.' The note back from rehearsals was now that she's a teenager, it just sounds nasty and bratty." After her Emmy-nominated role on Showtime's highly addictive series "Yellowjackets," Ricci's experience playing the extreme, rampaging character Misty Quigley seems to have keyed her into the struggle of staying consistent while acting on a TV show with so many moving parts. Relating to Ortega, Ricci said:  

"I found with a character like this, sometimes when they're written in such an extreme way, it can be difficult to move a traditional narrative along because the emotional reactions aren't where people expect them to be — especially when you're dealing with different directors and different people's takes on such an extreme character."

Two Wednesdays are better than one

For a show like "Wednesday" that seems so inherently fun, the conversation between Christina Ricci and Jenna Ortega is especially enlightening, particularly when Ortega talks about how stressful and overwhelming the job was. That may be a sign that some deeper meaning can be mined in the series, making it act as more of a lighthouse for kids and adults who may feel like outsiders themselves. One possible worrying sign, unfortunately, is when Ortega points out a little snippet about Tim Burton's directing style. "Tim did not want me to have any expression or emotion at all," she told Ricci. "He wanted a flat surface, which I understand. It's funny and great except when you're trying to move a plot along, and Wednesday is in every scene."

That director preference is probably purely intended to be a humorous starting point for Ortega's stab at Wednesday, or maybe it's because the original idea for Burton's version of "The Addams Family" was intended to be a stop-motion animated project. In that scenario, the eccentric filmmaker could have fixed the expressions on clay faces to his liking. The emotionless quality could also be a way for all the outcasts watching to transfer their feelings over to Wednesday as some kind of goth avatar. 

After diving into this interview, I'm more curious about "Wednesday" than ever before and personally can't wait to see if Ricci's involvement as Miss Thornhill will amount to anything more than a glorified cameo. Here's hoping that Ricci plays an integral part because, with these two actresses at their peak, two Wednesdays are definitely better than one. 

Netflix is dropping the entirety of "Wednesday" season 1 on November 23, 2022.