Ana Ortiz on the Importance of 'Love, Victor' Arriving 10 Years After 'Ugly Betty' (Exclusive)
By John Boone
Love, Victor arrives as a warm embrace during uncertain times. Hulu's adorable new series -- about a swoopy-haired teen on a journey out of the closet -- is full of swoon-worthy meet cutes and well-meaning sensitivity, providing viewers 10-episodes of joy in a time when joy is in such short supply. "Amen!" star Ana Ortiz says by phone. "That's my hope for the show."
This is not Ortiz's first time raising a gay teen onscreen. For four seasons, she starred as single mother Hilda Suarez on Ugly Betty, a fierce champion of son Justin (Mark Indelicato) as he came to terms with his sexuality. Here, she plays Isabel Salazar, the far more conservative mom to the titular Victor (Michael Cimino), who likely won't share Hilda's initial reaction upon her son coming out. But that intersectionality -- of sexuality, race and religion -- is what intrigued Ortiz about the series.
"I thought Love, Simon was very sweet and cute. It had been a while since I had seen it when they came to me with the show," Ortiz says of the 2018 movie this show spins off from. "This show takes Love, Simon and just really deepens it. I think this show is a lot more timely."
In a chat with ET, Ortiz reflected on Ugly Betty and discussed Love, Victor, authentic Latinx representation and getting a chance to sing Selena.
ET: When you played Hilda on Ugly Betty, who was this supportive mother to a young, gay son, it was revolutionary. Ten years later, Love, Victor is still groundbreaking in representation for the Latinx community. These are very different roles, but what does it mean to you to see where we've come from and once again be involved in a coming out story for the community?
Ana Ortiz: It's been a blessing to play these incredible mothers. I feel really lucky. And Hilda was so different from Isabel. Hilda knew her son was gay before he did, I think. She would have fought anybody who tried to come for him and she was trying to raise him to love himself and be proud of who he was. Whereas Isabel is really in the dark with it, in terms of Victor being gay. It was really interesting to have those two sides of the same coin.
What's so important about Love, Victor right now is that our culture -- being Latino, being Latinx -- that machismo thing is still very strong and with us, and I think representation really does matter. I know we hear that a lot but it's true, and I know people in my family who can benefit from sitting down and watching this and maybe being able to start a dialogue for the first time. And for me to play Isabel, it was so interesting, because I had to be someone totally different from who I am and yet be someone who is also very close to who I am. I am a Catholic, I am Puerto Rican, I do have children. So, it's been incredible, and I think they handled it really beautifully.
And I think the reception to this will be beautiful. When you do look back, what sort of stories did you hear from people or reception did you see when you did Ugly Betty?
Betty was so revolutionary in a lot of different ways, not just because Justin was gay but because this was the first time a brown family had been the lead of a show like this. I mean, god. Ugly Betty changed my entire life on so many levels. The reception that we would get just walking down the street in New York, I would hear guys screaming, "Hillldddaaa!" and it would be, like, three gay men across the street like, "I wish you were my mother!"
The whole experience was incredible. We got so much love, and there wasn't really any backlash at all. I'm really curious to see how Love, Victor is received, because the family is not open to Victor's situation -- they're not cool about it -- and I think it's good to see that on TV. I think if we're lucky enough to get a season 2, now that we're on Hulu, we can even go a little bit further with it and get a little bit more raw with it. Disney+ is a great place, but they do have sort of restrictions. They have to. So, with Hulu, I think we'll be a lot more free to really get into it. But it's going to be interesting to see. I can't wait to hear what my own family thinks, because there are so many people on both sides of the spectrum within my own family!
Your showrunners said there was a number of Latinx writers in the writers' room. Were there certain qualities that you personally brought to Isabel, though, or you thought were important to highlight?
Definitely, and the writers and creators were so generous and so open to any suggestions that we had. When they wrote the characters originally, we were a Mexican family. So, when they hired me -- I'm Puerto Rican -- and the actor James who plays my husband is Colombian, they fit the characters to match who we are culturally. That really opened us up to be who we are, to add little things here and there. There's so much in the show -- just these little family moments, little things that we say that are very specific to us -- that we were able to throw in there. It just brought us all closer, not only the cast but the writers as well. They were so open to us saying, "Well, we would really say that" or "This isn't in our house," you know, things like that.
Do you have an example that particularly meant a lot to you?
It's a really small thing, but it matters. At least being Puerto Rican, it does. When there are scenes of Victor leaving for school and he would just leave, and I remember James and I looking at each other and being like, "We would never let him leave without giving us a kiss, like ever." [Laughs] I told the director, I was like, "He's got to come give me a kiss, or I have to say, 'Bendición'" -- which is every time you leave a Latin house, you say bendición, it's asking for a blessing -- so I threw that in there when he was leaving and they decided to keep that. To me, it's so specific and it really adds another layer to the show and to the family.
Another special moment I want to talk about is in episode 7, you get to pay tribute to Selena and sing "Dreaming of You." What did that mean to you?
That was so incredibly special. The fact that Selena's family gave permission for the song -- they don't do that very easily, they don't want her music be exploited so they're very cautious on who they let use it -- and that they let us use that song in particular was incredibly moving. Selena is such a huge part of Latin culture and Latin music. She's just iconic, and it just brought the whole thing together for me. That song was the perfect choice, and I never really get to sing on camera, so that was super exciting for me. Anytime we can remember Selena and remember her music and bring it back out here so that a new generation can really get more familiar with her, I'm here for it.
Obviously, Isabel will have her own reaction to her son coming out. But Jennifer Garner's "You get to exhale now" speech was the part of Love, Simon that made everyone cry. Are you itching to get a big speech like that?
The simple answer to that is yes, but we have to see Isabel's evolution. It's not going to happen right away. It's not going to be him saying, "I'm gay," and her just being like, "Oh, OK! Great! Never mind everything that I've been taught my entire life and believed in my entire life! That's fine!" What I'm actually really itching to do is to have the onscreen representation of that conversation a young Latin kid can have with his religious family, and how do we negotiate it? I do not envy the writers. [Laughs] They have to really negotiate how they're going to do it, because it's going to be interesting. So, to answer your question, yes. I can't wait to do something like that, but I know that it's going to be a long journey to get there, and I'm feeling really eager to act that journey.
Is there anything else you're personally excited to explore moving forward?
I mean, there's just so much! I have no idea where I'm going to be with my marriage in the show. Do we work it out? Do I start dating? Does he start dating? I'm a very jealous person, so I'm already very, very possessive of James, the actor who plays my husband. We've become very close, and I'm, like, pissed. I'm like, "Wait a minute. You're going to be dating?!" [Laughs] So I think just the fact that they're going to have to deal with going through a separation, dealing with their son coming out, their daughter is a morose teenager and then there's this little happy fellow, their youngest son, who you don't want to get lost in it all.
The actor, Mateo Fernandez, who plays your youngest son is such a hoot. I love him.
Isn't he just munchable? I adore him. I can't. You can't even believe it, he's such an old soul. He'll just be on set, like, reading a newspaper. He's so brilliant and he's kind and he just has adult conversations. He's like a little grown-up, a little tiny little grown-up. He's more mature than any of us. But there's so much there to mine, and I just pray that we get the chance to do it.