Athlete turned actress, Janelle Ortiz, has a lot to smile about these days. With a major film, PROM, scheduled for release in a few weeks, Ortiz could possibly become Disney’s next teen movie star.
I Am Entertainment spoke with Janelle about her transition from sports to the big screen.
Please tell us where you’re from and what got you interested in the entertainment business?
I was born and raised in Los Angeles (California) to Cuban-American parents. Before getting into acting I was an athlete. I played softball, lacrosse, tennis, and just about any other sport imaginable. I was actually set to attend Yale and play softball, however, my junior year in high school I got injured and that ended my sports career.
I was really upset and unsure of what to do with myself, because sports had always been a major part of my life. So I took up acting because it gave me an outlet for all of the pent up aggression I had inside. Acting allowed me to get out of my own head and experience life through someone else’s eyes. I fell in love with the craft (of acting), trained for about a year and a half, and then PROM came along. It was only my second audition.
How were you able to get an agent without any credits?
To be honest with you I didn’t have an agent when I booked PROM, and I still don’t have one. My manager randomly submitted me for PROM and I ended up getting the audition. I’m probably one of the few who actually landed a role without an agent.
Tell us about the audition process you went through in order to book PROM?
I went in about 3 times. The first time I met with Gail Goldberg and Marcia Ross (the casting directors). The second time I met with the director, Joe Nussbaum and the casting directors. The third time we did the mix and match and I read with all of the other people who were being considered for the film. The process went really quick and I received the call within 2 weeks that I had booked the role. It was very overwhelming for me to know that I beat out 1500 girls for this role. I heard from some of the other cast members that they waited 2 months before hearing that they booked the role. Everything just happened. I guess it was my destiny to be in this movie. [laughs]
What is the movie about, and tell us who your character is?
I play Alejandra Gomez, a.k.a. Ali. She is the loud, obnoxious Latina of the school. She’s the gossip girl who is always texting, tweeting and wants to be the first person to know what’s going on in the high school. Ali is the best friend of Nova Prescott (played by Aimee Teegarden).
Tell us about who you’ve trained with and what techniques you’ve learned?
I trained with Cynthia Bain at the Young Actor Studio in Los Angeles. She was fantastic and she taught me the Uta Hagen technique. Cynthia is really great with children and teen actors. I also trained with Richard Brander Acting Studio in Studio City. He was great as well. With Richard I learned the Meisner technique. I’m more of a Meisner student as opposed to Hagen, but I enjoyed learning both techniques. I’ve also worked with Tess Kirsh and she’s incredible. She coached me for my PROM audition.
How important is it to see an acting coach before going into an audition?
I think it’s incredibly important, but finding the right coach is more important. This is especially true for younger actors, or anyone just starting a career in acting. Some teachers have you practice the role a specific way and that can be a hindrance to your performance in the audition. If the casting director asks you to do it again, but different from the way your teacher said you should do it, it could hurt your chances of getting the role. So finding the right teacher is more important than just going to someone before you audition. But going to classes, as well as into an acting coach prior to an audition, is important because you will be so comfortable with the character and his/her words that it will become second nature by the time you audition. It’s all about being prepared.
What types of movies or TV shows would you like to do?
I’m so grateful that my first movie was a Disney film. I’m glad I got a chance to be a part of the Disney family so soon (in my career). I would love to continue being a part of Disney, if they’d like me to be. Ultimately, I would love to do more character roles because they’re so much fun. People say I kind of look like Sandra Bullock so working with her would be great. Besides, I love her to death. Overall, I’m interested in any film or TV shows that come my way as long as they’re good projects.
So what is your ultimate goal with your acting career?
I love acting. Being able to authentically portray a character and tell this elaborate story from that character’s point of view is exciting. But you never know where life will take you. I mean, just a year-and-a-half ago I was considering a career in children’s law and now I’m a lead in a major Disney movie. I’m just excited to be a part of this industry and I welcome whatever it brings my way.
What’s a cool fact about Janelle Ortiz that you’d like all of your fans to know?
That’s a good question. What people may not know is that I’ve been playing the drums since I was 8-years-old. I wanted to be a rock star when I was younger. I love playing the drums.
[Originally published on April 12, 2011]