Jenna Ortega and Elle Fanning Share Tears and Laughs Over Bad Auditions, Being Child Stars and Social Media’s ‘Manipulative’ Dark Side

Elle Fanning, 25, and Jenna Ortega, 20, have learned a lot from their roles as Catherine the Great and Wednesday Addams (respectively). Hulu’s “The Great” and Netflix’s “Wednesday” have educated them about their craft as actors, but also about how producing can liberate them from toxic workplace dynamics. These former child stars let each other in on how they’re navigating adulthood and the pressures of social media, a topic that makes Ortega teary.

ELLE FANNING: Are you a good auditioner? I’m terrible. I fainted once. I think I was 12. But I got Pinkberry and Burger King afterwards, so I was like, “This is great!” They make me so nervous.

JENNA ORTEGA: I had really awful experiences with screaming and things like that. The first time I ever had to scream for an audition, it was a three-hour drive, so my mom was saying, “Hey, do you want to practice?” And I told her, “No, I got it.” I went in, did not have it. My voice cracked. She was so frustrated, because she was sacrificing so much for me to be out there. I felt awful. Have you been yelled at by a casting director?

FANNING: No, I’ve never been yelled at.

ORTEGA: I apologize too much.

FANNING: So they yelled at you for saying you’re sorry?

ORTEGA: Yeah, because I just kept cutting off my monologue by going, “Oh, I’m sorry. I’ve messed it up.” Did you go to public school?

FANNING: I was homeschooled up until the fourth grade. And then, when I was about 9 years old, I was like, “Mom, I have no friends.” So I got to go to a private school in L.A. I did not go to college.

ORTEGA: Neither did I. I really wanted to.

FANNING: We gotta talk about “Wednesday.” You are absolute perfection. There is not a single word or physicality that’s out of place. I love the snap.

ORTEGA: I thought it was cool they integrated that into the story. You’re so funny in your show. For me, comedic acting is a lot more difficult.

FANNING: I agree. Sometimes I would read scripts in “The Great” like, “Oh, I want people to laugh at that moment. I hope they do.” But I’ve gotten a little more comfortable in the comedy world now that we’re on Season 3. I’m so curious about your physicality as Wednesday. It’s a little spidery.

ORTEGA: Because I think that I look like a pug. I was like, “What could make me more intimidating? I should never move and I should stare at people really intensely, and maybe that will work.”

FANNING: Talking about stillness, “The Neon Demon” was a film I did. There’s an opening shot and I’m playing dead and I have contacts, so … I’ve never lost a staring contest, ever, but it was 11 minutes or something and my eyes were open the entire time and the lights were so bright — and they melted my contacts all over my eye. They burned into my eye.

ORTEGA: No way. I don’t even come close. The whole staring thing, it was just that you blink on other people’s lines.

FANNING: I know you’re a producer next season.

ORTEGA: This is my first time. It was a natural progression. With a character like Wednesday, who is so beloved, I didn’t want to get her wrong. So I tried to have as many conversations as possible with the writers. We’d decide what works and what doesn’t. In preparation for a second season, we wanted to make sure that we could start the conversations earlier. I’m just so curious: I want to see the outfits, new characters, scripts. It’s your first time producing a television series as well.

FANNING: Yes. When you start acting young, you start to realize, “I want to have more agency.” And the advice is always “Produce your own work.” For a long time, I felt like, “Oh, gosh, I should listen to the adults.” But when you think about it, we’ve been acting for a very long time, and we’ve been on a lot of sets. We’re allowed to have opinions. I’ve learned to assert myself.

ORTEGA: “Wednesday” forced me out of my shell. Being a young woman in the industry, sometimes people don’t take you as seriously. I’ve had insane conversations with people where I stay in my place because I’m just an actor. You become a puppet. But the most beautiful experiences that I’ve had on a job have always been the ones where everyone’s voice is heard. Everyone pitches in.

FANNING: And you can be wrong too!

ORTEGA: One hundred percent. I feel like a kid in a candy store. But at the same time, I’m in the phase where I’m still sending the wrong email to three different people.

FANNING: I love the whole editing process.

ORTEGA: Oh, I haven’t even considered that. So they send you dailies every day and things like that

FANNING: Yeah.

ORTEGA: I’ve never been sent dailies before.

FANNING: Oh, my gosh. It’s so fun. I would love to be an editor. For Season 2, what spoils can you give me?

ORTEGA: It’s still coming together, but we’ve decided we want to lean into the horror more. We’re ditching any romantic love interest, which is really great. We’re going to get bolder, more dark. I’ve never had to do a serious period piece before. Was there anything you have to do to make sure things are accurate?

FANNING: I threw out the history books. She was reduced to this rumor that she had sex with a horse. It’s the first form of slut shaming, in a way, because she had a lot of lovers and loved sex. I had to create our own version of Catherine, who was not always the strongest woman in the room. I love complicated women. I want to play evil women.

You have an Instagram. Did it blow up after “Wednesday”?

ORTEGA: Yeah. There was a very obvious shift in my life, maybe three days after the show came out.

FANNING: What’s your relationship with that stuff? For me, it can get toxic.

ORTEGA: 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.” You could go into an audition or meeting, and it was “How many followers do you have?”

FANNING: I didn’t get a part once because I didn’t have enough followers. They’re like, “You were great — but your numbers.”

ORTEGA: Even after shooting “Wednesday,” when I was auditioning, they would come to my team: “We like her, but we just don’t know if she has enough of a name.” 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…

FANNING: … it could be misinterpreted.

ORTEGA: Yeah. Because I naturally tend to be sarcastic or dry, it’s very easy for me to find myself in trouble. I want people to be able to get to know the people behind the camera and realize that people should never be put on a pedestal. And the more I’ve been exposed to the world, people prey on that and take advantage of that. They see your vulnerability and twist it in a way that you don’t always expect. [Starts to cry] It’s so strange. Sorry, I didn’t mean to do this.

FANNING: No, it’s OK.

ORTEGA: 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.

FANNING: You have to protect yourself, and also just know when to put it away and know it doesn’t matter. That’s not the real world.

ORTEGA: I still have this really intense urge to be human and honest and authentic. Another thing about this industry is you get in front of a camera and people want you to be something else — where it’s “Have more energy” or “Could you smile?” and it just feels gross. And I don’t want to feel gross. I would rather people see me cry and do whatever than be something I’m not.


Set Design: Lucy Holt; Production: Alexey Galetskiy/AGPNYC

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