Ana Ortiz Talks Being A Latina Through Someone Else's Eyes
She's best known for her work on ABC's “Ugly Betty” and Lifetime's “Devious Maids”, but what Ana Ortiz really wants to be known for is lighting up the Broadway stage. This native New Yorker has navigated her way through Hollywood from an early age and has learned that you can't always define what being Latina means. MBG spoke with Ortiz about what inspires her, what she would tell her younger self and how she finally realized that she was "enough".
You began your career in the theater. Did you always know you wanted to be a performer?
I thought I was going to be a ballerina, then a singer, and then I discovered musical theater. I don’t think there was ever a doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t perform. There was no Plan B for me.
Who were your personal role models growing up?
I grew up in Manhattan, and growing up in the 70's and 80's, the city itself was a huge influence. It was such a booming and creative place. Being Latina, the art scene was so colorful. Salsa was invented around that time (the 70's) and the streets were alive. There were so people that looked like you performing on the streets, it was all around us every day. Every year, for my birthday, my mom would take me to see one Broadway show. And, of course, “The Nutcracker” every Christmas. New York was my inspiration.
New York was definitely a vibrant environment then. Was there a culture shift when you moved to Los Angeles?
It was a huge culture shock, but an exciting one. When I first came to L.A. a lot of the shows that were being filmed were set in New York. So they were looking for real New Yorkers and Puerto Ricans. The culture shock for me was not having people in your face all the time. It can be a very lonely existence in Los Angeles. The language aspect was also different. Mexicans and Puerto Ricans speak Spanish differently, and I had to learn the nuances. I’ve spent a lot of time here now and I’ve met a lot of wonderful people. I've created a life here and I love it.
Did you ever feel like you had to change who you were in order to land certain roles in Hollywood?
That is literally my everyday existence! When I first came out here in the 90’s, amping up your "Latina-ness" was encouraged. You were either the sassy sidekick, the Latina with a chip on her shoulder, or you'd add some over-the-top emotional aspect to the scene and let the white lead take over. Also, I’m slim and I don’t have a lot of boobs, so I had to pad my bras and be more "cha-cha." I always felt like I wasn’t enough. I was always lacking. I was trying to be a Latina through someone else's eyes. It can really take a toll on you. What does it even mean? To be Latina?
That's a great question. How do you define being Latina?
I think that to define any kind of people is close to impossible. We’re all so unique and incredibly versatile. But I will say that I’ve worked with so many wonderful Latinas in my career. Everyone has been so completely different, but the one thing we all had in common was that we were all very close to our families and gathered around food and were always the loudest at restaurants!
I want my kids to be around my family and I want them to understand how inspiring and important family is. As a society, we seem to be so separated. I feel like Latinos are very family focused and I want to pass that along to my kids.
You were on Lifetime's “Devious Maids” as Marisol Suarez. How do you think that show helped debunk Latina stereotypes?
Honestly, I think the writers were great at not hitting it [the maid aspect] too hard all the time. The main characters of the show just worked, and it didn't define their characters. It was such an amazing cast. The writers didn’t spend a lot of time really playing up that stereotype. I think their vision ended up being different than what was first promoted. It was a show led by 5 Latinas, but it wasn’t in your face, it was just a show, and a great show. It wasn’t promoted as a Latin show, but if you think about it, it was. Having a cast of 5 Latina leads has never been done and I don’t know how soon it will be done again, and I’m really proud to have been a part of it. We were the networks [Lifetime's] highest rated show for 4 years.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would tell her not to worry so much! God, there are so many things! I would tell her that things are going to be fine. I would also say, not to sound vain, but to appreciate your strength and your beauty. I wish I didn’t spend so much time second guessing myself.
If you could trade places with one person for a day, who would it be and why?
There are so many people whose eyes I'd love to see through. One person is Meryl Streep. I wonder what it would feel like to be so creatively free and at the prime of your career? She’s so effortless. And who wouldn't want to be Gwen Stefani or Beyoncé? Dominating the stage like they do? I also wouldn't mind stepping into JLo's closet!
What is one song that always puts you in a good mood?
Any Marc Anthony song will do it for me! George Michael's Freedom and any song by Prince. My daughter and I have gotten into Demi Lovato's Confidence, which we sing along to. Of course, Beyoncé. What can I say? I love a good pop song.
What are your career bucket list items?
I’d love to do a Broadway show. To me, that’s the ultimate. Going back home to my roots. I'm open to any genre, a musical, a play or both; I just know I would love to be on Broadway.
What is one thing people don’t know about you that they'd be surprised to learn?
I’m pretty boring. But I am learning to surf!
Follow Ana on Twitter & catch her as the voice of Rafa on Disney's “Elena of Avalor”.
Images courtesy of: Getty Images | GEF Entertainment