Jenna Ortega's Evolution From Disney Princess To Scream Queen

Jenna Ortega has undergone a remarkable transformation. She first began doing national commercials as a kid before making the leap into TV, initially scooping up bit parts on network television. Slowly, those roles got bigger and bigger until her first break came with landing young Jane in The CW's "Jane the Virgin." She suddenly had everyone's attention, and she then entered her Disney era with roles in "Elena of Avalor" and "Stuck in the Middle." Eventually, Ortega was ready to break away and do other things, but worried she would be put into only one box. 

"There's a stigma that that's all you could do, or you're just not a serious actor," she told Nylon. "There were multiple times where I was seriously considering quitting and stopping. Nobody tells you this until you get there, but there's an awkward phase in your life where you're going through puberty and there's a two-year span where work is just extra hard to find. I was too old for the young roles and too young for the older roles. It was really frustrating ... you finally have to get that one job that moves the meter."

Her career catapulted into the stratosphere when she found her way into Netflix's soapy drama "You." It seemed that she had finally gotten that break to play a wildly different character, prove herself, and demonstrate she had the determination never to pack it in. Instead, she used the show as a springboard into the next chapter of her career. Needless to say, the roles have kept pouring in over the last few years. Somewhere along the way, she switched over to the horror world and has become a staple in the genre. Here's a deep dive into her most important projects and how she made the transition to becoming today's irrefutable scream queen.

From Rob to Jane the Virgin

Jenna Ortega began acting when she was 9 years old. That first year, she was only allowed to go out for TV commercials. When she turned her attention to the small screen, she quickly booked small roles on "Rob" and "CSI: NY." Her first break came with a turn on "Rake" as Zoe Leon, starring alongside Greg Kinnear and Miranda Otto. The roles kept pouring in — from taking the lead on "Know It All Nina" to playing Darcy on "Richie Rich."

Another big break came when Ortega was cast as young Jane on "Jane the Virgin," sharing the bill with Gina Rodriguez. In a Podcrushed segment, she recalled messing up one of the lines in her audition and leaving thinking she wasn't going to land the role. She realized she looked so much like Rodriguez that it made sense she booked it. With the gig, there came the added pressure to prove herself, always feeling "on edge" while filming.

It all clearly worked out well for her. Admittedly, she grew to miss going to school and dissecting frogs. "A majority of being an actor is waiting," she says, "So, it was always those long dressing room moments where I'm kicking rocks for four hours [and] I'm thinking, 'Oh man, I missed frog dissection today, and that's just going to crush me.'" Fun fact: she used "to perform autopsies on little animals" in her backyard. Good to know she hasn't changed one bit.

Pretty, pretty princess

Jenna Ortega first starred as a princess in a 2014 episode of "OMG!," a YouTube video series. In the show, she appears as Princess Sleigha in the episode titled "Derp Vader vs. Princess Sleigha." She not only nails the Princess Leia look but is quite the little spitfire. You could consider this gig as a screen test, as it sets the foundation for what would become one of her early defining roles.

"Elena of Avalor" was first announced in early 2015 with plans for a debut in "Sofia the First" before its spinoff series a year later. It marked Disney's first-ever Latina princess. Ortega's Princess Isabel was first revealed in May 2016. In an interview with Celeb Secrets TV, Ortega described the importance of the character: "When I was growing up, I didn't have a Disney princess that I could relate to and I couldn't see myself as a Disney princess. So, now that young girls have someone they can look up to is something I'm very proud of." "Elena of Avalor" ran for three seasons, and Ortega also starred in two TV specials, "Elena of Avalor: Adventures in Vallestrella" (2017) and "Elena of Avalor: The Magic Within" (2019).

When Disney flew Ortega out to Disney World for a grand opening event, she noticed countless young Latina girls lined up to meet her. She described it as a "surreal" experience, adding how "such a big deal" it was, "especially when we [make] up a majority of audiences."

Stuck in the Middle

In 2016, Ortega scored the lead role as Harley Diaz, the middle child of seven, in Disney Channel's "Stuck in the Middle." It was arguably her biggest break at the time, and it's not hard to see why. Her performance is strong and displayed early signs of her chops as an actor. Coincidentally, she drew from her personal life; she's the fourth of six children in her family.

Heading into the series finale in 2018, Ortega gave an interview with The Hollywood Reporter and offered up that moment when she first heard the news she booked the role. She'd received a call from her agents, and they proposed a simple question: "Would you be upset if you had to do school on a Disney set?" She initially didn't realize what was happening, but reality sank in soon enough. "I dropped the phone and cried really hard. It was an ugly cry."

In the show's first episode, Ortega makes a reference to Wednesday — or that's what fans believe in a viral tweet. "This is what happens when there are seven kids, and you're stuck in the middle. If my family was a week, I'd be Wednesday," Harley shrugs. Whether she's prescient or it's simply a coincidence (most likely), it is a bit eerie considering her eventual explosion with "Wednesday." Regardless, Ortega's career leveled up with her role on "Stuck in the Middle," and she never looked back.

Saving Flora

As far as dramatic performances are concerned, Ortega's turn in "Saving Flora" is one of her most pulverizing. In September 2017, she revealed why she'd been hanging around with elephants so much and described how "incredible" the experience was. She also shared a slew of onset photos, giving a peek into filming in and around Ventura, California. Her co-stars included David Arquette and Martin Martinez. The story follows Dawn (Ortega) and her heroic effort to save an aging elephant named Flora, traveling 100 miles to an animal reserve.

Around the film's 2018 preview at Twin Cities Film Fest, writer-slash-director Mark Taylor gave an interview in which he explained how Ortega's presence made him think differently about the casting. Not only did Ortega bring character definition to the role, but it helped Taylor "define some of the tone of the film," he says, adding that her Latina heritage influenced the casting of the other characters. "It made us shake things up a bit and create a world that was a bit more representative of America."

"Saving Flora" is an acting showpiece many young actors would kill to have. Ortega doesn't take a moment of it for granted, as you can see in her grounded, emotional performance. It might not be her most acclaimed film (the Rotten Tomatoes audience score is an unfortunate 47 percent), but it did give her a chance to really flex her muscles and demonstrate the full breadth of her capabilities. It was only onward and upward from there.

Transitioning to horror

Ortega's first horror role came with a very minor appearance in 2013's "Insidious: Chapter 2." Blink, and you'll miss her. So, her switch to horror didn't properly come until "You," starring Penn Badgley. In Season 2, Ortega played Ellie, the younger sister to Delilah (Carmela Zumbado), and Joe Goldberg's neighbor. Ortega once told PopSugar that she felt playing Ellie was "a good role to really be seen in a different light and change people's perspective of me rather than just being this Disney princess."

During the first table read of "You," Ortega described being "nervous" and afraid she might get fired for not proving herself. "But after I did some reads with Penn, he looked at me and was like, 'You know what? I am so charmed by you,'" she added. It was at that moment that she realized it would be a "cool" experience.

In 2020, Ortega co-starred in "The Babysitter: Killer Queen" as Phoebe, alongside Samara Weaving, Bella Thorne, and Judah Lewis, and began her turn as Brooklynn in the animated Netflix series "Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous." Her star burned brighter than ever. On the set of "Killer Queen," director McG predicted Ortega would become the "biggest star in the whole world," and he most definitely was not wrong about that. In the film, Phoebe fights against a satanic cult with her co-star Lewis (as Cole), and gets a little bloody in the process. Both projects soon lead to the biggest roles of her career.

2022 is a banner year (part 1)

Ortega took the world by storm in 2022. The actor officially joined the "Scream" (2022) cast in August 2022. In the film, Ortega played Tara Carpenter, the younger sister to Melissa Barrera's Sam. A bit of an elevated horror aficionado, Tara commands the screen as much as Sam. On her first day of filming, Ortega shot the opening scene. "I've never played this kind of role in a film that's been released theatrically, so that was nerve-wracking," she shared. "I knew there was a big budget involved ... I didn't want to get fired."

In Ti West's "X" project, Ortega portrayed the mousy Lorraine, who helps her boyfriend RJ (Owen Campbell) on the set of his new adult film. It certainly was quite the departure. On shooting in New Zealand, Ortega described it as "one of my favorite filming experiences" to Complex. Interestingly, Ortega found out she booked the gig while working on "Scream" (2022), according to a Collider interview.

In 2022, Ortega also starred in "American Carnage" (as Camilla, a child of an undocumented immigrant) and the Dave Grohl-produced "Studio 666." A big Foo Fighters fan, Ortega leaped at the chase to play Skye, the first kill of the movie. While working on HBO Max's "The Fallout," she received an email about the role and immediately said yes. Fortunately, the creative team behind "The Fallout" gave her a week off, and she was able to make the "Studio 666" shoot. Talk about perfect timing.

2022 is a banner year (part 2)

Ortega reached dizzying heights when she played Wednesday Addams in Netflix's "Wednesday" series. Everyone knows that iconic dance, which went viral on TikTok, but Ortega's portrayal was much more than that. As part of her preparation, Ortega took cello and fencing lessons twice a week and walked around the set in character. As far as the dance is concerned, she drew from the likes of Lisa Loring (the original Wednesday from the '60s sitcom), Siouxsie Sioux (from the Banshees), and actor Bob Fosse's "Rich Man's Frug," Talk about dedication.

In her approach to Wednesday, she told Complex that she took "bits and pieces" from previous portrayals, namely Christina Ricci in the first two '90s films. For her audition, she performed only two scenes – throwing explosives with Pugsley (Isaac Ordonez) and when she first discovers Thing in her dorm. She pretty quickly received the call that she'd booked the role and then flew out to Romania to film for six months.

Ortega landing the role isn't surprising. In many ways, she's basically portraying herself on screen. "People never know whether or not I'm being serious," she revealed. "My sense of humor is a bit awkward at times, and maybe a bit too dark." If there's any role that now defines Jenna Ortega, it's most certainly her dark, twisted version of Wednesday Addams. With "Wednesday" Season 2 ordered by Netflix, you best believe she's going to take over the world — again.

Scream VI and beyond

Thankfully, Ortega reprises her role as Tara Carpenter in "Scream VI." Set in New York City, the film raises its stakes and promises to be even more violent than any other entry. Where in "Scream" (2022), Tara spends the majority of the time "crying and screaming on the floor," she told Deadline, she aims to "give her some sort of a personality" in the new film. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, she noted that her character begins the film by "avoiding her trauma and desperately trying to reclaim her teenage experience," adding that there will be "tension between her and Sam."

While the official "Scream 6" trailer gives very little away about her character, it shows glimpses of Tara perilously hanging over a building. Could Tara meet a grisly end? Well, for Ortega's sake, we hope not; her character, along with Melissa Barrera's Sam, anchors the new cast in a way Sidney and Gale did in the earlier films.

According to her IMBD page, Ortega's upcoming credits include "Miller's Girl" and the romantic drama "Winter Spring Summer or Fall," alongside Percy Hynes White. Her next foray into horror appears to be crime-slash-thriller "Finestkind," which also stars Tommy Lee Jones, Ben Foster, and Toby Wallace. It's still early to tell, but we have a hunch 2023 is going to be even bigger and better for Ortega.