Jenna Ortega interview: ‘The Fallout’
In the South by Southwest breakout “The Fallout,” which was released on HBO Max on January 27, Jenna Ortega takes on her first leading role in a film. The feature film debut for writer/director Megan Park, the coming-of-age drama follows the actor as Vada Cavell, a high schooler who navigates the devastating, emotional fallout from a deadly shooting at her school and the ripple effect the latter has on her relationships with friends and family. Even though Ortega understood the responsibility she had as No. 1 on the call sheet in terms of setting the tone on set, she “didn’t perceive it too differently [from] being any other number on the call sheet,” as she tells Gold Derby in a new webchat (watch our exclusive video interview above). “The weight of No. 1 wasn’t necessarily so much in place on set, I feel like the weight was more in performance and what I was going to do to carry the story that was incredibly timely and sensitive.”
In the wake of the fatal shooting, Vada forges friendships with Mia (Maddie Ziegler), a social media-famous dancer, and Quinton (Niles Fitch), whose brother was among the victims. After hiding in a bathroom stall together during the shooting, the three bond over their shared trauma in the aftermath thereof. That is especially the case with Vada and Mia, who appear to be complete opposites but have “a lot more in common” than you initially believe, highlights Ortega.
“I don’t think that Vada’s ever related to somebody harder. I know that she has her best friend Nick (Will Ropp), I know that they’re great, but they’re also very different people,” argues the actor regarding Vada’s newfound connection with Mia. Indeed, as Nick, who turns his trauma and rage into gun control activism, becomes increasingly resentful of his best friend’s post-shooting languishing, Vada begins to spend more time with Mia. Ortega adds, “I really think that Vada, too, is somebody who, as close as she gets to people, never really feels like she’s fully herself sometimes. And I think that Mia kind of allows her that — or Mia allows her to explore a certain side of herself without being judged. When Vada is so tired and so lost and is willing to do anything to feel any sort of normalcy again, Mia is kind of that outlet for expression and self-discovery.”
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Vada’s emotional journey in the film is bookended by two therapy sessions that she attends at her parents’ behest — and, as Ortega divulges, were among some of the first scenes she filmed as her character. In the first session, Vada has a difficult time addressing her emotions, telling her therapist (Shailene Woodley) that she’s a “low-key person” who can manage them well. “I don’t want to say it’s denial, because she’s not denying that it’s happening,” says the actor. “I feel like Vada is somebody who feels like anything that she does is a burden. And I don’t know that what happens to her helps, so she feels like she’s the last one to have an opinion on something. She didn’t lose someone directly like Quinton did, so there are all these excuses that you make up in your head as to why you don’t deserve something or why you don’t get something. And I think that that’s where Vada’s coming from when she doesn’t want to address her issues — she just doesn’t want to make a big deal, she doesn’t want to draw attention to herself.”
Though Vada is able to address her emotions much more by the second therapy session, she, initially incapable of explaining how she feels to her therapist, still slightly holds back. “I don’t know if she still doesn’t want to address it — I think it’s just ultimately a moment of weakness and exhaustion,” states Ortega. “There are so many times when you open up to somebody and you’re not entirely sure why you do, and you can’t tell if you regret it or not… and it’s just kind of awkward — I think that’s kind of one of those moments.”
During this session, Vada utters what is arguably the film’s most poignant line: “I feel mad because I had no idea one guy with a gun could f— up my life so hard in six minutes — f— up so many lives.” In regard thereto, Ortega explains that “it’s the first time that Vada ever expressed herself vocally on the subject like that.” She continues, “It’s an incredibly important scene and I think was [a] relief. But it’s kind of frustrating because she also wouldn’t allow herself to experience it fully. She cut herself off and stopped. So, it’s, I think, also a good way to start to put the end of the story together, just because there’s so much more that’s still to go and you never give the audience the satisfaction of seeing what that is.”
The film ends with Vada receiving a notification about a school shooting that occurred in Ohio and claimed the lives of 12 students. “It does not end,” punctuates Ortega when asked what this ending says about Vada’s journey in this film. “Megan realised that you couldn’t give people a happy ending with this one, because until somebody enforces change or does something to stop this awful epidemic that we have going on in our country, it never will end and people like Vada will always exist and are still existing today… People like Vada are carrying that with them for the rest of their lives. Something like that — it completely alters the state of someone’s existence and personality, the way they interact with people from now on, the way they carry themselves from now on — it will never be the same.”
This year, Ortega also starred in numerous other films, including Paramount Pictures’ “Scream” sequel. Later this year, she will appear on the small screen on Netflix’s “Wednesday,” a new Addams Family spinoff helmed by Oscar nominee Tim Burton in which she’ll be stepping into the iconic titular role.