Nothing's more refreshing amid a dizzying spell of addictive TV shows and budding stars than a young, vibrant actor who still becomes speechless at the thought of her success, and has a ways to go before she'll ever grow out of it. Luckily, 22-year-old Valery Ortiz — known for her role as popular cheerleader Madison Duarte on South of Nowhere — was in the mood to gab when TVGuide.com asked her about South of Nowhere's tragic upcoming finale, her stint on ABC's What About Brian (starting tonight at 10 pm/ET), and "dating" Hollywood hotties.
TVGuide.com: I'm definitely excited to see you on What About Brian!
Valery Ortiz: I watched the promo last night and my whole family was like, "Oh, my god!"
TVGuide.com: You know, I really like Rick Gomez's Dave, so I'm a little apprehensive about him dating someone younger. How was it playing that role?
Ortiz: Coming from doing a show like South of Nowhere, where everybody's around my age, I was hesitant — a little scared, to be honest. It was weird. In real life, [Rick's] married, and he has children, and I was like, "I'm 'dating' an older man. This is a little awkward." But it was so much fun. He is amazing and wonderful to work with. I was going into a show that already has their cast and their chemistry, and I'm the new girl, so I was a little nervous.
TVGuide.com: Were the love scenes awkward?
Ortiz: You know what? I worked with the director on South of Nowhere, and that made it so much easier. And [Rick's] pretty goofy, so it was actually not as hard as I thought it would be.
TVGuide.com: Anything really steamy?
Ortiz: Not that I know of! It gets really good, pretty intense. I discover some things about him in later episodes.
TVGuide.com: How many episodes will you be appearing in?
Ortiz: I've already shot three. I was actually supposed to shoot a fourth this week, but they rewrote that episode, and I'm not in that one. [But] my character hasn't had an end. The last time I shot [an episode], something was revealed, and it was pretty dramatic, so I don't think they can just leave it like that. Unless they just have him say, "I'm never seeing her again," which could be easy.
TVGuide.com: Will your character interact with Dave's wife, Deena, at all?
Ortiz: Yes, she does, which is very interesting. I interact with the children later on.
TVGuide.com: Sounds intense.
Ortiz: It was just a different experience from my South of Nowhere character. And the show is just so much more mature and targeted for a whole different audience. I felt bad, because we were doing one of the scenes and this woman [was there], a huge fan of [Brian], and she was upset that I was playing this character. She was like, "No, their marriage needs to work! You're the home-wrecker!" But it's great.
TVGuide.com: On South of Nowhere, do you hope that Aiden and Madison end up together?
Ortiz: In a way, I want her to end up with somebody else, because he's involved with everybody! I would want her with Ashley, because toward the end of the season, you can just tell she really, really, really loves her. [But for] Madison, it was more of a physical thing. I want Madison to find the boy next door; I want her to find somebody not in the limelight. [Glen is] so perfect for her and treats her so well, but I want her to find somebody outside the group.
TVGuide.com: We've heard that there is a tragic season finale. Are you involved, and if so, how?
Ortiz: We all are involved! What I can tell you is that we'll be at a big party. My character, toward the end of the season, goes bananas — not in a needs-to-go-to-a-mental-institute kind of way, but she just stops caring about her looks and things get out of whack. But this finale involves everybody, so it's kind of tragic for the show and for us as actors, because we're all kind of like, "We don't know what's going to happen, either!"
TVGuide.com: How do you feel about playing the bad girl?
Ortiz: Looove it, because it's such an excuse to be mean and bold. I'm definitely not like that, and it's always fun to play somebody different than yourself. But you know, playing Roxanne on What About Brian — she's really giddy, really fun, really youthful — was cool, because I was like, "This is so me." I could kind of feel her.
TVGuide.com: Madison actually had to get a job this season, and we got to know a little more about her. Will we learn more of her backstory?
Ortiz: We do. Not too, too much. In the beginning we learned about the drama with her dad embezzling [from] the charity. She loses her job, and she's off the cheerleading squad. So not only is she going to be poor now, but her popularity is going way down.
TVGuide.com: Do you just have a ball on the set? Do you just stare at Matt Cohen (Aiden) all day long? Because I would!
Ortiz: [Laughs] I get that from fans all the time — he is so freakin' hot, and he's an awesome guy. We had really good scenes this season, and he's such a sweetheart. I feel bad for him, because since he's so damn hot, everybody just sees him for what he looks like, so he gets stereotyped into "that guy," that jock, that role, that hottie. But he's so intelligent. He's not like, "I know I'm hot." I mean, he works out, he does what he does to stay fit, but he's not cocky in any kind of way.
TVGuide.com: And how does it feel to be named one of the Top 25 Latinas of 2006 by Maxim en Español?
Ortiz: I don't even know! Oh, my gosh! I've only been in L.A. for two years.
TVGuide.com: Is it just a whirlwind to you?
Ortiz: Totally. It's so freakin' surreal. Just seeing that little promo for What About Brian... I get fans who message me on MySpace, and they're like, "I can't believe it, you're so amazing, I want to be like you one day." It's weird, because I'm just me. It's scary that other people see you more than just a person, so you feel like you have this responsibility. Never in my wildest dreams did I think any of this was ever going to happen! I never thought I'd be 22 and have done what I've done already. In Hollywood, it feels like people are in a rush to do things. If you're not 18 and a megastar, then you're a failure, and that really sucks. That's what I try to tell the kids on MySpace. I'm like, "Dude, you can be 30 and still do it!" Seriously, it's so cheesy and corny and cliché, but because I still feel like the same girl, I'm still really shocked by it.
TVGuide.com: What else is coming up for you?
Ortiz: I start a pilot next season. I don't know how much I can say about it. It's in the works, and we start filming in February. It looks like it's going to be on The N, but the premise [follows a] Latina girl who has these big dreams. She wants to be a model, but she's caught in the stereotype that models have to be size 0 and 60 pounds. She's kind of finding herself in this big world with a family back home saying, "Are you crazy?"
TVGuide.com: And you're the lead?
Ortiz: Yes, I will be, which is really exciting and scary at the same time.
TVGuide.com: Well, I hope it goes well!
Ortiz: Yeah! I'll probably be talking to you about it, hopefully!
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Pick up the Dec. 18, "My Big Year" issue of TV Guide for reflections on 2006 from all of your favorites, including America Ferrera (Ugly Betty), Matt Dallas (Kyle XY) and Today's Meredith Vieira.