Jenna Marie Ortega was born on September 27, 2002, in Palm Desert, California, United States, the fourth of six children. Her father, a former sheriff who works at the California district attorney's office, is of Mexican descent; and her mother, an emergency room nurse, is of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent. Ortega's maternal great-grandmother was an illegal immigrant from Sinaloa, Mexico, and her maternal grandfather was from Puerto Rico. Ortega grew up in La Quinta, California. She wanted to act from the age of six; for three years, she begged her mother to let her pursue a career. Her mother attempted to distract her with activities such as soccer and school. Ortega almost quit pursuing acting to participate in the former. Her mother later bought her a monologue book and posted a video of a nine-year-old Ortega performing one. A casting director noticed the video and signed Ortega to an agency.
Jenna Marie Ortega (born September 27, 2002) is an American actress. She began her career as a child actress, receiving recognition for her role as young Jane in The CW comedy-drama series Jane the Virgin (2014–2019). From 2016 to 2018, she had a leading role as Harley Diaz in the Disney Channel series Stuck in the Middle, for which she won an Imagen Award. She played Ellie Alves in the second season of the thriller series You in 2019 and starred in the family film Yes Day (2021), both for Netflix.
Ortega made her acting debut in the sitcom Rob (2012). She subsequently made an appearance in the CSI: NY episode "Unspoken" as an accidental shooting victim. In 2013, she made her film debut with a minor role in the superhero film Iron Man 3 as the vice president's daughter. That same year, Ortega appeared in the horror film Insidious: Chapter 2 as part of the supporting cast. Both were successful at the box office, with the former ranking among the highest-grossing films of all time.
In 2016, Ortega organized a meet and greet for fans to raise money for a young girl with cancer. In 2018, at the Radio Disney Music Awards, Ortega wore a jacket displaying the words "I Do Care And U Should Too" in response to first lady Melania Trump's apparel when she went to visit immigrant children who were being housed without their parents, which read "I Really Don't Care. Do U?". The stand gained significant media coverage. Of the action, Ortega told the Associated Press that Trump's apparel displayed "poor judgement" and "as first lady of the United States, she should [care about migrant children]". She later explained: "We should all care about each other and our country. ... We are one country under God." In 2019, Ortega appeared at numerous WE Day concerts across the U.S. and Canada to benefit WE Charity.
Commenting on her off-screen persona, Who What Wear wrote in 2022 that Ortega is "poised, mature, and wise beyond her years" while providing "an essence of relatability". A 2023 Harper's Bazaar story described her as "quiet and contemplative". Megan Park, who directed Ortega in The Fallout, stated she has the knowledge of "when to give her all and when to hold back", explaining that "to have that understanding of herself as a performer at such a young age" is extremely rare. Burton compared her acting style to silent film acting, saying that she expresses emotion through her eyes and without words. In 2018, The Hollywood Reporter listed Ortega as one of "Hollywood's Top 30 Stars Under Age 18". The magazine dubbed her the "Next Big Thing" in 2022. Media publications have referred to Ortega as "Gen Z's scream queen". In 2023, MovieWeb ranked her among the best scream queens of all time.
From 2016 to 2018, Ortega led the Disney Channel sitcom Stuck in the Middle as Harley Diaz, an aspiring inventor who is the middle child of the seven siblings. She said booking the role was "one of the best days of my life". Ortega drew inspiration from her own family and relationships with her siblings; she felt her experience starring on the show was akin to reality television. Common Sense Media praised her performance, asserting that she "commands this role, pleading her case as a long-suffering middle kid while finding the humor in the many calamities that befall her efforts to shine". Ortega garnered three Imagen Award nominations for Best Young Actor – Television, including a win in 2018. She also voiced Princess Isabel in Elena and the Secret of Avalor (2016) and Elena of Avalor (2016–2020).
In 2018, Ortega starred in the film Saving Flora as the lead role of Dawn, the daughter of a circus owner. She aimed to act in more mature projects following the conclusion of Stuck in the Middle, but found that people assumed that Disney roles were "all you can do, or all you were meant for". She considered quitting acting several times, stating she "was too old for the young roles and too young for the older roles". In 2018, Ortega was cast as Ellie Alves on the second season of the Netflix thriller series You, which was released on December 26, 2019. The season, alike to the first season, received positive reviews, with The Hollywood Reporter's Robyn Bahr noting Ortega as "a standout performer". Retrospectively, Ortega said that the show was "easily one of my favorite sets that I've ever, ever been on" and appreciated that she was given creative freedom. She was slated to return for the third and fourth seasons but was unable to due to scheduling conflicts.
In 2020, Ortega was named a brand ambassador for Neutrogena and was the face of its "My Quinceañera Journey" campaign. In 2023, she became an ambassador for Adidas and Dior. She was the face of the former's Adidas Sportswear, its first new line in 50 years, and one of the faces of the latter's #DareInGrisDior campaign.
Ortega played Phoebe in the Netflix horror film The Babysitter: Killer Queen, which was released in September 2020 to negative critical reviews. Ortega also voiced Brooklynn in the Netflix animated series Jurassic World Camp Cretaceous (2020–2022). In 2021, she made her writing debut with the book It's All Love. Ortega subsequently starred in the Netflix comedy movie Yes Day (2021), portraying a stubborn teenager who wants more independence from her parents. She appreciated that the film's representation of people of color since it was shown in "a casual setting where it's acknowledged" in lieu of "shoving it down your throat"; she stated it "could be a really good thing for young people of color to see". Yes Day was released in March 2021 to mixed reviews. IndieWire lauded Ortega as "very capable", and the Associated Press referred to her as "an impressively poised young actor".
Ortega has said that she feels taking more varied roles in acting is important to her, so as to not be typecast; she told Entertainment Tonight in 2021 that she did not want to be "pigeonholed as an actor", and that her desire to do the most diverse roles possible made the transition to mature roles easier for her. She has said that horror works are what she feels most comfortable starring in, describing such projects as "very therapeutic". In 2023, Ortega stated she is mindful of not "over-indexing on the gore scale" and feels "very conflicted" about her interests as there is "a part of me that always feels like the girl in the Coachella Valley".
Ortega was initially inspired to pursue acting after watching Dakota Fanning in the 2004 thriller film Man on Fire. Unable to understand how a young child could perform in a way that could scare her so much, Ortega analyzed the film several times and decided she wanted to be "the Puerto Rican version of [Fanning]". She also admired Fanning's sister, Elle, and followed both of their careers as a child. As she matured, Ortega aspired to be "the female version" of Denzel Washington, who appeared alongside Fanning in Man on Fire. She also looks up to Rodriguez, and fellow Disney stars Selena Gomez and Zendaya. Ortega said she admires Rodriguez as they are both Latina actresses who struggled to break into the acting industry due to their lack of connections. In 2021, Ortega cited Riz Ahmed as a career role model, and praised his manner of speaking and activism, as well as his acting.
Ortega led the high-school drama film The Fallout as a student navigating her emotional trauma following a school shooting. To prepare, she looked a photos, and watched videos and interviews about school shootings; processing such events afterwards "kind of came naturally". She also tried to participate in the March for Our Lives movement, which led demonstrations in support of gun control legislation. Ortega, who describes herself as "such an insecure individual", found portraying her character's relatability to be easy. The Fallout premiered at South by Southwest on March 17, 2021, and was released on HBO Max on January 27, 2022. It received a positive response from critics, and Ortega's acting was lauded. Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times described her performance as "grounded and deeply moving", while The Hollywood Reporter wrote that her "beautifully nuanced turn understands the nothing-to-look-at-here façade and the chinks in the armor".
In May 2021, Ortega was cast as Wednesday Addams in the Netflix comedy horror series Wednesday (2022), which she called a "new chapter" in her career. The creative team sought a Latina to play the role to align with Gomez Addams's heritage. According to casting director John Papsidera, Ortega was one of the best young Latina actresses in Hollywood at the time. The casting team felt Ortega gave the character the empathy they were seeking, and director Tim Burton said he could not picture another actress portraying Wednesday. She rejected the role several times, as she wanted to focus on film acting and feared that working on another television series would prevent her from booking the roles she wanted. Ortega reconsidered after learning of Burton's involvement. To prepare, she underwent "the most physical transformation I've ever done", cutting and dying her hair black, as well as altering her mannerisms, style of speaking, and facial expressions. Ortega also learned to play the cello and speak German, read the original Addams Family comic, and watched the 1960s television adaptation.
Ortega received critical praise for her performance in the teen drama film The Fallout (2021). She went on to star in the slasher films Scream and X (both 2022), and Scream VI (2023), which established her as a scream queen. In 2022, she began starring as Wednesday Addams in the Netflix horror comedy series Wednesday, for which she received nominations at the Golden Globe, Primetime Emmy and Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Ortega reprised her role as Tara Carpenter in Scream VI. She said her character had more personality in this film, unlike the previous installment in which she "was screaming and crying the entire time". When creating Tara's personality, Ortega considered several of the character's traits, including her favorite color, fashion style, makeup, and sense of humor. Released in March 2023, Scream VI grossed over $169 million on a budget of $33–35 million. Deadline Hollywood partially attributed its box office success to Ortega's star power. In a review, Variety's Owen Gleiberman praised her "surly spunk"; Slant Magazine thought that she "fantastically embodie[d] the role". Ortega also hosted an episode of the NBC's sketch comedy series Saturday Night Live. In November 2023, Ortega reportedly exited the Scream franchise due to scheduling conflicts with filming Wednesday's second season. The Hollywood Reporter later stated that she left after an unsuccessful request for a seven-figure pay.