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'Wednesday' star Jenna Ortega: 'We need weirdos in the world'

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Jenna Ortega's "Wednesday" premieres on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Netflix
Jenna Ortega's "Wednesday" premieres on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Netflix

NEW YORK, Nov. 22 (UPI) -- Jane the Virgin and Stuck in the Middle alum Jenna Ortega says her latest show, Wednesday, is about a teen who is macabre and inappropriate, but also oddly relatable.

Inspired by Charles Addams' 1930s Addams Family drawings, as well as the TV, film and stage franchise they spawned, this new incarnation follows psychic sleuth Wednesday Addams during her years as a student at Nevermore Academy, the alma mater of her mother Morticia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and father Gomez (Luis Guzman).

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The eight-episode series, which features music by Danny Elfman and costumes by Colleen Atwood, premieres Wednesday on Netflix. It was directed and produced by Tim Burton.

"All generations see themselves in Wednesday and want to be Wednesday, but we've never spent so much time with her before, and putting an emotional arc to a character that essentially has no emotion was really interesting," Ortega, 20, said during a recent panel discussion at New York Comic Con.

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"She's a creepy little freak, but her impact is absolutely unparalleled," she added. "I've never seen a normal person bring a group together like this. It's just a testament that we need weirdos in the world and they are what make the world go round. So be weird, watch the show."

In the past, Wednesday has been a scene-stealing supporting character, usually portrayed as a young girl or 20-something woman.

This is a fresh take on the iconic figure and new territory for Ortega who has never played a character another actress has inhabited before.

"It was an interesting balance. We've also never seen her as a teenager before. So, that was a cool little endeavor. It came around very light-heartedly. I had a 10-, maybe 20-minute conversation with Tim. I read a couple of scenes for him," the actress recalled.

"It's an honor to be approached by someone who has the resume and platform and legacy like he does," she said. "So, I felt very very lucky.

"I can't think of many iconic characters or characters who reach as wide of an audience as Wednesday, who is also Latin. So, any time you have that sort of opportunity to do something like that, it is a great honor, and I jumped on it."

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Showrunner Miles Millar said he thinks Wednesday is a strong role model for kids and young women.

"She's weird. She's really smart. She plays instruments. She reads books and she is very knowledgeable and she's fearless and she's unapologetic about all those things," Millar said.

"That is a great character for everybody to aspire to, and she's not afraid to say what she thinks. We live in an age where people -- writers in particular -- are self-censoring. You're told what you can and cannot write. And the idea that Wednesday is told what to do? That is anathema to her. She will reject that."

Wednesday's new life at Nevermore throws her for a loop because the other kids there are almost as strange as she is.

"She's an outcast in a sea of outcasts," Ortega said.

Adding to the stress is that the usually bold and confident Wednesday's parents were superstars when they attended the school years earlier, so she has a lot to live up to.

"Any teenager can relate sort of to wanting to create an identity outside of the family or kind of being thrown out into the world for the first time on your own and wanting to be independent," Ortega said.

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"To be thrown into an environment like Nevermore, which is where Morticia and Gomez reigned as they had their education there and created quite the legacy, is really frustrating or obnoxious to be stuck in this shadow."

Game of Thrones actress Gwendoline Christie plays Larissa Weems, Nevermore's principal and Morticia's former roommate/rival.

"Many people have said I've been typecast," Christie joked about being the headmistress of a school for outcasts.

"She has achieved her dreams of being in charge of the school," the actress said of Larissa. "But she has to deal with not only the bureaucracy as a woman in power, trying to navigate that, but the arrival of Wednesday Addams represents a strange and discombobulating dynamic between the two women."

She described working on Wednesday as a "surreal experience," revealing she had wanted to work with Burton her entire life because his quirky characters and stories seemed easier to connect to "than more mainstream, cookie-cutter things" she watched growing up.

"His work means so much to so many people. It was a huge honor when I was walking across a field and got a text saying, 'Tim Burton wants to speak with you,'" Christie said.

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Actually working with Burton exceeded Christie's expectations.

"He truly recognizes you as a person. He sees you and liberates you and he is willing to collaborate with you, and the beauty and freedom of that is all over the screen in this show," she said.

Guzman said he was a fan of The Addams Family, as well as the Batman movies Burton helmed in the 1980s and '90s.

The actor said he met the filmmaker via Zoom, and then was "blown away" by the script Burton sent him.

"I called him back and said: 'Absolutely, Bro! When do we start?'" Guzman said.

He wore a wig and fake mustache and teeth for the role.

"In 20 minutes, I look in the mirror and say: 'I love you, Papi. Let's go!' I was Gomez-ready," he said.

Guzman also loved that Zeta-Jones was Morticia.

"He's about the love and about the passion; that came very easy for me," Gomez said, praising his co-star's beauty, talent and professionalism.

"I've been doing this a long time. She still taught me tricks about the camera," he said.

Gomez calls Wednesday his "little thunder cloud."

"She scared me. She's my daughter. I'm scared of her because [Ortega] was spot on. Her flow, the chemistry that she brought to Wednesday, I'd never seen anything before like that," Guzman said. "That, to me, is what makes this so unique."

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Working on the show was a fun and creative experience, but also a lot of hard work, Ortega admitted.

"We spent eight months in Romania away from our families, really trying to create something that did Wednesday Addams justice and also creating a new world and introducing her to a new generation, while also welcoming back other people who have fallen in love with her from previous generations," Ortega said.

"Another beautiful thing about cinema and TV is that it should be reflective of what the real world is, but it is a break from reality," she added. "We want to leave our jobs and go home and watch something that makes our brains turn off for a little while and gives us adrenaline and makes us happy and makes us sad."

The Addams Family TV series in the 1960s starred John Astin, Carolyn Jones, Lisa Loring and Jackie Coogan as Gomez, Morticia, Wednesday and Uncle Fester, respectively.

The 1991 movie, The Addams Family, reimagined the intellectual property with Raul Julia, Anjelica Huston, Ricci and Christopher Lloyd as Gomez, Morticia, Wednesday and Uncle Fester. It was followed by a sequel, Addams Family Values in 1993.

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