Michelle Ortiz is pulling double duty, lighting up the screen and the stage.
Between you and us, she's one of the primary scene-stealers in Hulu's upcoming working-class Latin comedy, This Fool, based on stand-up comedian and executive-producer Chris Estrada's life.
We caught up with Ortiz to discuss the relatable aspects of this raunchy, irreverent comedy, subverting Latina roles with her character Maggie and her debut in King Liz. Check it out!
I watched this show. It's funny. It's racy, sort of off-brow, and feels very Californian, Latin, and working-class. What attracted you to this project, and how did you get involved?
Well, first of all, that's a loaded question because when people ask, "How did you pick this project?" I didn't actually pick it; I auditioned for it and hoped I would book it!
It is very California. It's based on the working middle class in South L.A. and a pretty authentic portrayal of those Mexican-American neighborhoods there. It's based on Chris Estrada's actual life -- he is from South L.A., first generation, and it's about his stand-up.
A lot of the stand-up he did before the show was talking about getting beat up by his grandma and his tías and them being more hard-ass than he is and questioning his manliness.
I was born in Highland Park, Los Angeles, which is also, well, used to be like that since the '90s.
It's now a very gentrified neighborhood. It's really cute now. This Fool is a totally authentic portrayal of the working middle class in L.A
It was very refreshing to see another working-class comedy, families who are just living their lives and trying to make ends meet. Even when it's a family of color, which it's rare when you see those, it has a universal vibe. Everyone can connect to the working class element and find it relatable.
Yeah, absolutely. I think that the main goal of the showrunners and the creator, Chris, was that it centered on a mainly Latin neighborhood, but there are more races within the lower middle class than just Black and Brown people.
So, in that aspect, it is totally relatable. I think that's what they wanted to do first and foremost, put identity politics to the side for a second. It's also relatable because it humanizes the Latino thug stereotypes. Right?
It is about life after prison. We never see that side, showing how the past doesn't necessarily have to inform your future.
I agree. I love that aspect of the show.
We know there can be the same stereotypical roles for Brown and Black people. This Fool plays with the stereotype and subverts it in a way that makes it really interesting, realistic, and authentic.
Yeah, and to go back to that, if we're going to talk about maybe class and not race -- if you are in the lower-middle class, you may have somebody in your family who went to prison, or maybe a friend, or the neighbor, or whoever, something.
I think that is what's so special about this show. It's life after and a non-judgmental look at people who have done some prison time set in a comedic setting.
Absolutely. Now Maggie is such a fun character, and she's a total scene-stealer every single time she's onscreen. Tell me a bit about her character. Do you have any similarities to her that you sort of draw from?
I don't know if this is something worth saying, but often when I get a character breakdown, it's a strong, strong-willed, fierce Latina. It's always like she's got to be feisty, you know? And it's kind of annoying.
The thing I liked about this character is that it didn't feel like the character description was that way. But then I looked back at the character breakdown in the initial audition, and it did have the word "feisty." So never mind.[Laughs]
No, but what I liked about Maggie was that when I read the script, I kind of immediately already knew who this girl was. The best part about it was when I got a callback, they said, "Hey, take into mind that she's more of a rocker chick. She listens to punk." And I was like, "Yes. Finally!"
Yes, I loved that element too. Her whole aesthetic was fun.
There's a huge subculture and rock scene in L.A. where people don't realize that there are a lot of Latino rockers and Goths. Even during the pilot, I came with all my mood boards of what I wanted her to look like. Luckily, once we got greenlit for the season, I pushed her more in the alternative direction, which is refreshing and something we never see.
It feels like, with Latinas, we only see either Sofia Vergara or America Ferrera, and there's no in-between. There's no nuance. I don't know. I wanted to at least visually break the stereotype of what a Latina on T.V. looks like.
I think you do that. Maggie feels real. She feels like people that you know. If you don't know Maggie, then you are a Maggie.
Yes! It's funny and great because now whenever I'm out and about, and I see a Latina with some funky hair color, red, or blue or something, I'm like, Oh, there's a Maggie in the wild.
I appreciated that about Maggie in the show in general. It both plays with certain expectations while subverting the usual stereotypes, which is fun and refreshing.
Chris and Frankie definitely play up the whole odd couple situation in the show. That's how they are in real life, too, though. On set, they're always roasting each other because they're both stand-ups and did a tour together.
In some ways, it's different from the show because Chris is more of an asshole to Frankie, always ripping him a new one. He's like, "Damn, Fool, you're so short." They're just always roasting each other. It's really funny.
The entire cast dynamic is great. You guys had great chemistry, which made it fun to watch because everyone played off each other so well.
Maggie has such a very fun relationship with Julio's family. Did you enjoy playing that dynamic? You capture the on and off-again girlfriend who is part of the family no matter what well.
Totally. Even after they break up --
They'll take Maggie over Julio.
Yes, exactly. It's so easy. Laura Patalano, who plays the mom, is so amazing. The sisters, played by Anna Lamadrid and Sandra Marcela Hernandez, we were all so excited to be there and be making this show that I feel it translated onscreen. It comes naturally.
Maggie and Julio have one of the most entertaining codependent relationships I've seen. What is it about Julio that she just can't seem to quit? They're both aware of their codependency, but they're stuck with each other.
Right. I think they'd rather focus on each other than deal with their own individual problems. If they have to move on from each other for good, they would have to face whatever demons they have as individuals.
In season one, we don't get into what Maggie's background or her family life is like too much, but .her crutch is Julio's family more so than her own. They say you can't pick your family, but you can pick your friends. That has a lot to do with it for Maggie. Julio's family and home are Maggie's home base.
It's interesting because she even mentions spending holidays with Julio's family versus her own.
Yeah, because otherwise, Maggie is pretty independent. She's a paralegal at a law office.
Yes. Maggie getting involved with the Hugs Not Thugs storylines would be fun. Those guys are a blast, and Maggie incorporated into things with them sounds like a great time.
I agree. It was crazy to have Michael Imperioli, who plays Minister Payne. He's so amazing. He's such a brilliant actor.
A lot of days, we were on set at the same time, but we didn't have scenes together, so hopefully, we'll see that in season two. That would be awesome.
Now you also had your major debut in King Liz. Congratulations on that!
Yes, thank you! I'm so excited. We are fully open for business until August 14.
How is theater work different from filming a T.V. series or doing sketch comedy work? It seems like you get to scratch different itches.
Yeah, definitely. First, doing a play at the Geffen has been a dream. The great advantage of theater is that you get to work linearly. When you're on set, you're shooting it out of order. You have to be able to do the same tear that comes out of your left eye for five takes consecutively, whereas, in theater, you only get one shot.
And it's such a joy. It's such a joy for me right now to be on stage with Sabrina Sloan, who just came off the Hamilton tour. And I just get to go on this journey with her every night.
It's so cool because every night, it's a different layer or a different version of the same thing. But it always comes from a very authentic place because we could get there in chronological order, so that's what I'm enjoying right now. That and there's nothing like having a live audience. Are you kidding?
I'm sure. You feed off of that. So what advice would you have for those coming into acting, theater, and so forth?
My main advice would be to be as well-rounded as possible. I feel like a lot of actors are like, "Oh, I only want to do T.V.," or "Oh, I only want to do movies," or "I don't want to do voiceover. I don't want to do commercial."
I think every genre is an opportunity for your own rehearsal. It's practice for what you really want to be doing. I think you should be open to all genres.
And you got to find that agent even though it's a catch- 22 because nobody wants to sign you if you don't have credits.
It seems to be the case with all jobs. You need the experience to get a job and a job to get the experience.
Yeah, exactly. For me, I feel like I've had to knock down a lot of doors and do a lot of things I didn't want to do. I was an assistant to a manager in exchange for representation, and I would pitch myself over the phone.
So you got to find creative ways of getting to where you want to be and following your dreams. You got to hustle. You gotta hustle. And you still hustle even once you feel like you're making it.
Of course, it never ends. It's always a grind. So what other teases can you give us about This Fool, and why should people tune into it?
Oh, my God. Well, we have some really great guest stars. Fred Armisen, our executive producer, guest stars. It's definitely worth bingeing just to get to Fred's episode. That's a really hilarious episode; it's so good.
Since this is TV Fanatic, what are some of your favorite series?
Okay, so definitely binged Ozark. I'm excited about Nathan Fielder's The Rehearsal. There's also a lot of garbage reality that I enjoy too.
Of course, you gotta have a little tossed in to appease both sides of the brain.
During the pandemic, I started watching Wife Swap from the early 2000s. Highly recommend. But yeah, definitely The Rehearsal and Ozark.
You can catch Michelle Ortiz as Maggie on Hulu's This Fool dropping it's full season on August 12. Keep up to date with her projects and give her a follow on Instagram.
Jasmine Blu is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.