Exclusive: Michelle Ortiz on What it Was Like to be Surrounded by Her Culture in This Fool
It's not often that you get to walk into a work environment and be unapologetically surrounded by your culture and hertiage.
Well, for This Fool actress Michelle Ortiz, the Hulu show which premieres on August 12 was her lucky pick of the draw.
When recalling what it was like working on the Fred Armisen-backed show, Ortiz reveals that the experience was "magical" and that working alongside fellow first-generation Latino and comedian Chris Estrada added to that magic.
In an exclusive interview with People Chica, Ortiz dives into the joys of being able to give meaningful input in her role as Maggie (Estrada's on-screen girlfriend) and the advice she'd give her "more youthful self" about how her story would eventually unfold.
You're in Hulu's new show This Fool, which premieres on August 12 and centers around the rehabilitation of gang members in a really unique and humorous way. This show is backed by comedian, writer, actor and producer Fred Armisen. As an actress, what has that experience been like for you?
It's been amazing. This came during pilot season, like every other audition that comes through, I saw that the showrunners were the guys from Corporate, it was a show on Comedy Central, and I was a big fan of that show. So I was like, "Okay, let's go and then read the script."
It was amazing just because these characters were like fully fleshed out. I just feel like it's so cliche to say they're just as complicated and nuanced as real humans, but, what's funny about the show is that it is everyone just being they're flawed selves. And so my character, in particular, Maggie, I always wanted to play like punk rock [and] alternative type chick on TV. When the audition first came, I read the role as a very specific type of L.A. Latina.
But then I got a callback and they gave me a little redirection like, "Oh, Maggie actually listens to punk." And I was like, "Okay, I know this girl." So it's kind of like an homage to my 12-year-old emo self. So, it's been really great.
It's been really great also creating the look of Maggie, you know, because it's a mostly male-centric show and they really let me run wild with it. I've never been in a situation that's allowed for that much collaboration and freedom. So I came in hot with my mood boards and [with how] I wanted her look to be. And I feel like that punk rock attitude shines through in the performance.
You mentioned that the role of Maggie was really the first time you were able to have true collaboration on a character that you're bringing to life. You've been billed as very, very different characters over the years, what was it like for you to bring Maggie to life? How was she different from all your other roles?
I mean, first and foremost, [let's give] a shout out to that Latino subculture that does listen to rock, that does listen to—Chris [Estrada] is going to hate me for saying this—Morrissey. They're misfits, they love The Cure. You know there's this, and I wouldn't even call it a subculture, because in L.A. or like the Southwest if you were a Latino that grew up in L.A., you went through that phase of like emo or rock. Whereas I don't think on the East Coast there is much of that.
Oh, so how did they [differ?] For example, I did a little recurring on Gentefied and for that show, I had auditioned for all the leads and then they wrote Connie for me, which was crazy. I had no [idea]. I didn't even know until after shooting all three episodes that I'm in that they did that.
So obviously they had a vision for what they wanted that character to be and they were like, "Oh, Michelle's perfect for this." But [with This Fool,] I just feel so grateful that, yes, I'm in a cast of all men, but they just let me do my thing.
What's it like walking onto a set and being surrounded by this display of your culture and your heritage?
You know, it's so funny, so Chris and I [did a] chemistry test over Zoom because I was in New Zealand shooting a guest star on this show. So I was like, "Oh my God, how is this going to work?" Luckily it did work. I feel what's been so great about shooting a show specific to working class immigrant culture [is that] Chris and I are both first-generation, so there's just a different way that we joke around because we can joke around in both languages.
Yeah, like there's [a] very specific type of humor that somebody else who's not bilingual will not get, obviously because of the language. But it's also like we—and it's funny, he mentioned this in another interview [and] I had forgotten about this—but I think the way that we really bonded and created that Julio/Maggie chemistry was we were sending each other memes in Spanish. You know, memes that we couldn't send anybody else.
Again, I just feel so lucky [and] grateful. I was a series regular in 2016, but it's been highs and lows, highs and lows. When you think you're on something, you think you're going to be working forever and then it just gets twice as hard. So again, like I said, maybe now talking to you, I'm realizing how magical that really was because when you're on set you're just like, "Stay focused, stay loose, let's, you know, create some spontaneous magic in the moment of the scene."
And luckily the showrunners and Chris they let me change lines and ideas in the scene to accommodate what I really thought the scene should be in order to make it more relatable for audiences.
You participated in King Liz at the Geffen Playhouse in L.A. where you portrayed the overachieving, and somewhat disgruntled, Gabby. What has that experience been like for you?
So after college, my goal was Broadway, but there was no way I could afford to move to New York. I felt like on Broadway, I mean, theater already is so not accessible to the masses. Tickets are so expensive. The goal has always been Broadway, so I was like, "Oh, I'll just make this easy, I'll make a name for myself in TV and then I'll go back home."
So doing a play at the Geffen has been also a dream of mine—a little mark on that checklist. But it's been great to be in front of a live audience after all this time. You know, there's this immediate satisfaction you get in performing live. You're listening to the laughs as opposed to being on set where you'll rehearse, and if the crew laughs, you're like, "Okay, I'm doing something right."
But after take ten, they're not going to find it so funny, right? Yeah, so there's just this instant exchange of energy when you're onstage. The fact that I'm having to hold for laughs, there's no other high [like] that, and then I get to share the stage with Sabrina Sloan, who just came off of the Hamilton tour. That's been amazing.
But it's also this play, [which is] weird because it's not technically a comedy. I'm definitely the comedic relief of the show, but it almost feels like more of a roller coaster ride than shooting a film and shooting TV just because of the rehearsal process. And then leading up to it, doing the same show, the same lines every night, but finding different nuances, different subtleties, different intentions to change it and keep it fresh. I think that's what's so great about theater.
Actors always say that there a huge energy shift when they do theater and mention how you get to interact with the audience even though you're not breaking the fourth wall.
Yeah, exactly. Where as opposed to [film and TV where] once we shoot the scene, we shot it. It's done and we'll see it on the editing/cutting room floor. And you'll never do that again.
You don't often hear about Latinas participating as voice actresses for video games. You've lent your voice and talent to two Star Wars games. What was it like for you to be part of such a diverse and amplified universe of storytelling?
Okay, well, I'm going to be honest with you, the first role was for an ethnically ambiguous mechanic. So I was like, you know, I don't have an accent, but I can do accents. So it's cool, and I'm so glad I booked it.
But because of that, [the door was opened] for the [voice of the] first female Mandalorian in the next game, which was amazing. And also voiceover, especially video game voiceover, that's a different animal, too, because you're in the booth, you won't get the script until maybe the day of.
So you just got to make choices in there, and luckily I obviously have a [director who's] amazing, gives great direction, great notes, and he just guides you through it. And again, that [was] also a dream come true. And there's nothing more satisfying than seeing the actual footage of the game and trying to match the mouth and the intention behind the scene.
What's a piece of advice that you'd give a younger version of yourself about what lay ahead for her?
I've been thinking a lot about this lately. Like, I feel like I worked so hard and I was under so much like financial stress like I feel like I really sacrificed a social life for [a] career through most of my 20s. And, I mean, obviously, now it's paid off.
But I guess to just keep trusting yourself. I feel like a lot of people get so discouraged. Even once you get to a really good place, it's still going to get hard in different ways and more nuanced ways.
I would just tell my younger self, my more youthful self, to just trust that you're on the right path. And if you still wake up the next day thinking you can't do anything else, go back and keep working at the wine bar and the catering service because you're almost there [laughs].