NEW YORK, NY – MAY 15: Actress Ana Ortiz of The Whiskey Cavalier attends during 2018 Disney, ABC, Freeform Upfront at Tavern On The Green on May 15, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)
  • Interviews

Ana Ortiz On Her Career, Representation and Love, Victor

From Ugly Betty and Devious Maids to normal’>Love, Victor, which is an endearing spinoff series to the 2018 movie, Love, Simon.

Ortiz spoke to the HFPA on the phone from Los Angeles to discuss her groundbreaking new show, her career and to offer advice on the industry to aspiring actors. 

How would you describe your new Hulu show?

Love, Victor is a coming-of-age story and a coming-out story told from the perspective of a Latin kid, which is something I don’t think we’ve seen on TV before. The show follows the story of a teenager named Victor, who is growing up in a world that he considers being a little hostile to him. The show is about how Victor deals with the world and it’s also about how the people around him deal with it. I play Victor’s mom, Isabel Salazar.

What attracted you to the project?

I was attracted to the show by the creators. I am good friends with [Love, Victor executive producers] Brian Tanen and Isaac Aptaker, who are brilliant. When they originally spoke to me about the project, I was a little concerned because I didn’t want to be the mom who comes in and scolds the kids but has no impact on the story. However, they assured me that wasn’t going to be the case. Victor is Latino, so this was always going to be a very different story. Even today, being gay can be quite taboo in our community. The machismo factor still runs really rampant in our culture, so it was really interesting for me to play within that world.

How much do you relate to the story of a mother with an LGBTQ+ son?

I grew up very liberal. I have played characters like this before but on the other side of the coin. The character I played in Ugly Betty had a gay son, but she was very proud of him being gay and she was very protective of him. She always wanted him to be proud and out. My character in than that.

I appreciate you saying that because this was another one of my concerns. I wondered, ‘Is this just going to be a teen show?’ Well, it’s not. For adult audiences, there are really interesting dynamics in the story. We’ve got grandparents who are trying to grapple with the way the world is changing. We’ve also got family dynamics that are very real but haven’t been represented on TV enough. Love, Victor is an exciting show to watch and it’s an important show, but it’s also fun and lighthearted. It’s really amazing how the writers and the creators have managed to balance everything in such a beautiful way.

You mentioned how Latinx culture is rarely seen on television. Do you think Hollywood is opening up to more representation and diversity in 2020?

I think the industry is definitely changing. Up until now, it’s been changing very incrementally. I think the way the world has woken up in the last couple of months with everything that’s going on – with the police murders, with the pandemic raging and with the crazy political situation, young people are now becoming very active and they are making their voices heard. I think their voice is affecting every part of our society, which includes Hollywood. The industry has been changing and it has been growing to be more inclusive, but I think the process is now speeding up. Today, it feels like they are making an effort to put more of us behind the camera, as well as in front of the camera. We are filling more roles as writers, producers, storytellers, and directors, so it’s an exciting time to be here. But there’s always room for more. There’s definitely not nearly enough representation, but if When Michael Cimino was cast as Victor, there were concerns about hiring a straight actor to play a gay role. What’s your take on the argument?

I think Michael is such a brilliant, brilliant kid. And he is so right for the part. I know they really put him through the wringer when they auditioned him. And he really fought for the part. As artists, we’re always going to go for a part that speaks to us. We’re going to put our heart and soul into a part that we think is important; a role that we feel we can really bring truth and honor to. I think that’s what Michael did and I think that’s what any artist would do. He just happened to be the right fit for the part. As an actor, it’s the part of a lifetime for him. It’s the part of a lifetime for any actor. Like I mentioned before, it’s definitely time to get more representation in front of the cameras and behind the cameras when it comes to gay and trans and Latinx communities – but in this particular instance, this is the person who is right for the role and he’s done a beautiful job.

What inspired you to become an actress?

According to my parents, I always wanted to do this. I took ballet for eight years and then I went to a performing arts high school in New York as a voice major, so I think it’s always something I’ve aspired to be. There was never really a Plan B for me. When I saw the movie Fame with Irene Cara in 1980, it blew my mind. I thought, ‘I want to go to that school. I want to do that, whatever that is. That’s exactly who I am.’

Looking back at your career, what are the moments of which you’re most proud?

I’ve been very blessed. Being a part of a theater company in New York called LAByrinth was and is a point of huge pride and importance in who I became as an actor. I think Ugly Betty was a seminal moment in my life, not just as an artist but the people in the cast are still my family. That was such a special moment and such an incredibly special show. Much like Love, Victor, it broke down a lot of barriers and I loved the work we did on the show. I loved the characters and I loved the stories that we told. I thought it was very universal, too. I also loved working with five incredible women on Devious Maids. That was so much fun and it was so campy. And then I did a show in Prague [Who are your acting icons? And have you ever met any of them?

Julie Andrews is an icon of mine. The Sound of Music was one of those movies I watched as a little girl and I’ve watched it every year since. I got to meet Julie Andrews whilst doing a play in Los Angeles. She was as kind, charming, gorgeous, and wonderful as I needed her to be. In fact, I embarrassed myself and cried through the whole meeting. I’ve never met Cate Blanchett, but I love her. However, I have met Rosie Perez. When I was a young girl and I watched Do The Right Thing and White Men Can’t Jump, it was amazing to see this Puerto Rican woman being herself on screen. She was brave and bold, and she was from the same area that I came from. I’ve gotten to meet her and she’s so kind. She’s a fighter. She’s a Puerto Rican goddess and it was really exciting to meet someone like that, someone who paved the way for a lot of us.

What advice would you give to aspiring actors who look up to you as a role model?

My path was the theater. The LAByrinth theater group started out as a tiny little black box theater with very few members. We had a cause and we had a fight, and we did it. We became this really wonderful group of artists that had an impact on theater in New York. I go back to the theater every single time I’m out of work. It doesn’t matter if it’s a small theater or a big theater. I just try to get on stage because it really helps you flex your wings. My advice to aspiring actors is to start in the theater. I know the world is a little different from the pandemic and I don’t know when theaters will open up again, but train there. Read plays. Read scripts. Do scenes with your friends at your house. Keep on keeping on.