Jenna Ortega knows the good and bad of being the middle child of six children in her own family. The good part is that both her older and younger siblings find it easy to confide in her. The down side is that she always ends up in the middle of the back seat in the car stuck between the two youngest members of her family.
She’s getting to use all her insight as the star of the new Disney Channel series, “Stuck in the Middle.” The 13-year-old actress plays Harley Diaz, an inventor, experimenter, mediator and persuader who’s the middle child of seven children. The cast includes Isaak Presley, Ronni Hawk, Kayla Maisonet, Nicolas Bechtel, Malachi Barton, Ariana Greenblatt, Cerina Vincent and Joe Nieves.
“It helps that I’m a middle child (in real life) because I would really relate to Harley more,” Jenna says. “Everything she does or sees, I am like, ‘Oh my gosh! That’s me. That’s my real life story.’
“My TV family and real family are a lot alike.’”
Jenna describes her real family as being “wacky” but not anywhere near as crazy as her TV one. But they are still a great reference for her to use in playing the role. It’s not as if Jenna needs a lot of help because although she’s barely a teenager, Jenna has been working professionally for half a decade.
She’s known for her role in the Golden Globe-winning series “Jane The Virgin.” The California native loves it when people think she looks like a younger version of “Jane the Virgin” star Gina Rodriguez because she admires her both as an actress and as a person.
Other roles for Jenna have included “CSI: New York,” “Days of our Lives,” “Insidious: Chapter 2” and “Iron Man 3.”
Despite being from a big family, Jenna is the first to get into acting. She saw a commercial on TV and decided she wanted to be an actress. It took her a year to convince her mother, who thought her daughter was just going through a phase, but acting was something she really wanted to do.
“Once I have my mind set on something, I will not stop,” Jenna says. “I also want to be the first female president and have started a petition in school so when kids get older, they will vote for me.
“I have written letters to Obama, but he hasn’t answered them. That’s OK because I still sent them. I fell in love with acting, and I have never stopped.”
Before settling on an acting career, Jenna considered a career in engineering where she could build things.
Although she no longer plans to be an engineer, with “Stuck In the Middle,” she gets to be a pretend inventor as her character is adept at building things as she is dealing with her large family.
“I wish I had Haley’s inventing skills,” Jenna says with a laugh. “I can’t do any of that stuff. I tried to make a paper airplane and couldn’t do that.”
She’s not having any problems acting, even on a show with such a huge cast. The key to why the show is so much fun for her is that even with so many people, the show moves smoothly because everyone comes ready and prepared to work. That’s one of the big lessons she has learned in her young career.
Another thing Jenna learned with all the other roles is to never look at the camera. She’s had to make a big adjustment for “Stuck in the Middle” because often her character will turn to the camera and speak directly to the TV audience.
“It’s fun and interesting at the same time to get to talk to the camera,” Jenna says. “I had gotten pretty used to not looking at the camera. It was difficult at the start to look at the camera, but now I’m used to it.
“The camera is my best friend now and someone I got used to having a conversation with.”
Stuck in the Middle
- 9 p.m. Friday, March 11, Disney Channel