Jenna Ortega on Her Conscious Transition From Disney Star to Mature Roles (Exclusive)

The 18-year-old actress opens up to ET about her new movie, 'The Fallout.'

Jenna Ortega isn't worried about how her fans will react to her new role in The Fallout. In fact, as she tells ET's Deidre Behar, she thinks they'll "relate" to it. 

In the movie, the 18-year-old former Disney star plays Vada, a high schooler forced to navigate her emotions in the wake of a school tragedy. Relationships with her family, friends and view on the world are forever altered in the film, which was written and directed by Megan Park. 

Ortega's fans got to know her in shows like Disney Channel's Stuck in the Middle, but the actress notes that they've since grown up too. 

"Fortunately, they've grown up with me. They witnessed my puberty and then just followed," she explains. "I think that they're at an age where I think there'll be able to respect maybe some of the jokes and references we make, but then also just the reality of it all and how it is an actual fear that they have to experience." 

"I think that the subject matter in and of itself is enough for people to be able to relate to it," Ortega continues. "I don't think that it will in any way change their opinion or view of myself, because I'm still the same person -- just slightly older. And it's still that awkward, not so much nerdy character, but just  awkward and timid at times... I don't know how they'll see it, but I hope they like it."

The Fallout was awarded the Grand Jury Prize in the Narrative Feature Film Competition and the Brightcove Illumination Award at SXSW, and critics have praised Ortega's performance. 

The actress tells ET that getting the opportunity to portray a different character was a conscious decision for her. 

"That was part of what drew me most," she admits. "I do not want to be pigeonholed as an actor, and I want to do the most diverse roles that I possibly can and really switch up." 

"I think it's hard to find that in the teen category, because a lot of times people try to write the same stereotypical teen because they don't know any better. So, it was really nice to have a refreshing take by Megan," Ortega adds. "I want to be conscious of the roles that I'm taking on and make sure that they're challenging me in a new way." 

The Fallout definitely provided Ortega with a challenge. She cites scenes in which her character is under the influence as ones that were particularly difficult to act out. 

"I was really nervous about that. And [co-star Maddie Ziegler and I] had that conversation on set with Megan too, and Megan was saying, 'You could be crazier with it, even if you want to, you could walk like this, you can trip, you can do whatever,'" she remembers. 

Ortega and Ziegler took the "just wing it" approach to those scenes, while the emotional moments held a little more weight. 

"We wanted to make it as sensitive to the subject as possible, but also as real and grounded as we could. So it was really about finding that balance and trying to figure out what feels right in the moment. And what's most relatable, I guess," Ortega says. 

That relatability seemed to come naturally to Ortega, who says she shares a lot of the same insecurities held by high schoolers. 

"I am such an insecure individual," she confesses. "Whether it be my appearance or the way I carry myself, the way I speak, the way I walk, the way even my brain operates sometimes. I question why my brain says or does the things that it does, just things like that." 

"[But] I think something that I'm super fortunate and grateful about with my job is that my job allows me  that space to completely escape. Because as soon as you say action, you're a different person, you're in a different place. It is literally your job to not worry about the things that you're dealing with in your personal life," she shares. "So to have that escape, but then also to be able to have fun with it and see the world  from a different perspective and maybe gain some knowledge from it, I think that's something I'm very lucky to have." 

The Fallout is available to stream now via SXSW. 


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