The true enemy of the Writers Guild of America strike is, of course, the networks and studios (represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, or AMPTP).
Big bosses like David Zaslav are the typical target for picket line jokes, but some writers have found another, more unlikely target: Wednesday star Jenna Ortega.
The origins of Ortega’s unfortunate scapegoating are the infamous interview she did on Armchair Expert earlier this year, wherein she cast aspersions on the quality of writing on her hit Netflix series.
“There were times on that set where I almost became unprofessional in a sense, where I just started changing lines,” she said. “The script supervisor thought that I was like going with something and then I would have to sit down with the writers and they would be like ‘Wait, what happened to this scene?’ And I would have to go through and explain why I couldn’t do certain things.”
Writers took umbrage with this omission at the time, and some of them held on to a grudge. “Jenna Ortega better be back from NY for her afternoon shift on the picket line,” writer Nick Adams (BoJack Horseman) tweeted following Ortega’s appearance on the Met Gala red carpet on Monday. Karen Joseph Adcock (Yellowjackets) retweeted with the comment, “Rewriting is writing! See you at the line, Jenna!”
Variety shared a photo from the picket line of Brandon Cohen (Disney Channel’s Just Roll With It) with a sign that read: “Without writers, Jenna Ortega will have nothing to punch up!”
“Just Roll With It” and “House Party” writer Brandon Cohen’s #writersstrike sign:
“Without writers, Jenna Ortega will have nothing to punch up!”
— Variety (@Variety) May 3, 2023
It’s understandable why Ortega’s comments ruffled feathers, and she is likely one of the better-paid stars in the business compared to the average working actor. Nevertheless, Ortega’s tales from the Wednesday set actually illuminate how even a project’s lead actor can be overworked and ill-used.
The schedule was about eight months of non-stop work in which she was not only acting for 12-14 hours a day, but was also trying to fit in cello lessons to make her character more realistic.
She was either explicitly or implicitly (by way of serious pressure for a young woman to be carrying an entire production) encouraged to work even while sick, an illness that turned out to be COVID-19. “I did not get any sleep. I pulled my hair out,” she recalled of the shoot at a Q&A for the series. “There’s so many FaceTime calls that my dad answered of me hysterically crying.”
Ultimately, though Ortega could have chosen her words more wisely (or at least been more discerning about sharing them), the entity responsible for all of this is Netflix.
After all, the notoriously poor conditions for writers at that streamer are surely not conducive to creating the best work, which is one of the issues WGA is protesting. If Hollywood treated its writers fairly, perhaps the Wednesday set would be much more harmonious.