If you think it might be an overstatement to call many major character Ana Ortiz has played on TV revolutionary think again. As Hilda Suarez, Betty's glamorous and confident big sister on Ugly Betty, she wooed millions of American viewers for four seasons, showing a Mexican-American woman being the backbone of her family and fierce protector of her gay son. On Lifetime's Devious Maids, her Marisol Suarez showed the power of trusting your instincts and never giving up. And now, as Isabel Salazar on Hulu's Love, Victor, she plays the flawed but nurturing mom whose faith and old-school Peurto Rican upbringing may put her at odds with her son's exploration of his sexual identity.
In each of those examples, Ortiz portrayed Latinx women with grace, lots of heart, and lots of humor. They've been unforgettable too. partially because each was at the time, one of very few Latinx characters on TV shows about Latinx people. She's been building community in Hollywood off-camera too. Having been surrounded by fierce Latina creators and leaders such as America Ferrera, Eva Longoria, and One Day at a Time co-showrunner Gloria Calderón Kellett since her first big gig, Ortiz has been one cell in a big body of Latina women in Hollywood who help lift each other up -- and bring other Latinx people behind them.
A native of New York City, Ortiz grew up as a Puerto Rican girl studying ballet and aspiring to work in theater, never, in her recollection, seeing a woman like herself on TV. Now, she's the fabulous Latina actor she never got to see for millions of other Latina girls, and she's shattering stereotypes of Latinx people in the process -- both their own kind of small revolutions.
As part of an ongoing series throughout Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month (Sept. 15 - Oct. 15), TV Guide is speaking to some of the most prominent Hispanic and Latinx voices in TV today, from actors to producers, writers, and other creatives, to dig into the state of the industry and more. Here's what Ana Ortiz had to say.
The first thing I'd ask you is, with so few Latinx/Hispanic people on television in general right now, I'm kind of wondering how you felt about that. How'd it get to this point? What needs to be fixed?
It's crazy. It's amazing. Because that on one hand, I feel like we're sort of on the precipice of having this incredible Renaissance for Latinx representation, especially in TV. And on the other hand, you're right, I mean, we got completely shut out of the Emmys, which is insane to me. Especially in comedy, One Day at a Time is doing such amazing work. Love Victor, we have this incredible cast of Latin talent. I truly do believe that we're on the precipice, because there's so many Latinx people coming up -- a lot of them women. We realized that we have to promote ourselves, we have to be the ones out there pushing our work. We are, it's not reached critical mass yet.
I read that you have or had a development deal at ABC. And that made me wonder, with you being in the driver's seat, what kind of stories do you want to tell? What do you want to see more of in regards to Latinx stories?
That was back in the day. Now, we have to sort of develop our own product. In the Latin female community here in LA, there's a bunch of artists -- Eva, America, Gina Rodriguez sort of spearheaded it -- it's called She Se Peude And it's really a network for all of us to sort of develop our work, network with each other, and empower each other. We have these meetings with, there's probably 40 or 50 of us women in a room together talking. Everyone is like 'You have a project? Send it to me, I'll read it, I have this person, oh, [you] have to know this person.' That's why I really firmly believe that like, the wave is coming. We're just building it up right now.
I guess the projects that I would really like to be involved with...I've been blessed. I mean Love, Victor is such a spectacular and unique opportunity, and I'm really happy to be involved with that. That's never really been done: a gay Latin kid struggling with his sexual identity and what that means in our community. I'm playing the flip side of Hilda from Ugly Betty in the sense that like, it really does go against her "values." And I'm really excited that we got a second season to explore it. And I think any family can now see it and maybe start a discussion and have this conversation with your family. I really, truly believe reputation matters. So in terms of projects, one of my dearest friends, Judy Reyes, who is an incredible actress and was on Devious Maids, and I are producing some projects together. I think right now it's starting off with more documentary-style things. I've never done anything like this, but I'm lucky to have this network of women to help guide me through it. The projects I want to see are about the women: mothers, grandmothers... I think that that's sort of the direction I want to go in.
You grew up in New York City and I read that you said your role models were just people around you. But in terms of TV, did you see any?
That's such a good question. You know, I don't think I saw myself represented at all when I was growing up. And I think what ended up happening is that I wanted to be like the people that I saw on TV. I didn't want to be like by myself. I wanted to be like, you know, Chrissy Snow on Three's Company. I wanted to be like the blonde dum-dum. I thought that that was something to look up to. I would watch reruns of Sanford and Son and he had a Puerto Rican neighbor, Julio, would always come on and argue with Fred Sanford a lot. These were all '70s reruns that were playing when I was growing up. There was Chico and the Man with Freddie Prinze. I would see Juan Epstein on Welcome Back Kotter. Then in the '90s John Leguizamo on House of Buggin'. I was in college. I was like, 'Oh, there's some girls up there, being funny and being crazy and being stupid.' I don't think I never had anybody who reminded me of myself or my family on television. Never at all. don't think I consciously missed it. I definitely did not feel represented. So it's an exciting time to be a part of TV know that we have the ability to change that.
I don't think your big characters have been written as overly ethnic; they're people who hang with their family, have love affairs, etc. like everyone else. I read that you were presented with opportunities where people have asked you to 'cha cha' it up but the flip side of that, how do you convey and represent for Latinx culture without going too hard in the representation?
I've been really lucky when I first started out that would happen. Quite often America [Ferrera] and I have talked about going into an audition and them being like, 'Oh, you're so good. Oh, my God, you're so funny. Can you [be] a little bit more Latin?' And you just sort of roll your eyes. America, when we did Ugly Betty -- that was kind of my first real job for any length of time. And even as young as she was, I think she was 22, she really wanted it to be about us being a family and not about us being a Latin family. She was like, 'Yes, we are Latin, but ultimately, I want this to be about our family. It's not always about being Latin; it's not like, a pinata in every scene.' And the same holds true for Devious Maids. Eva, Longoria was executive producer on that, and she was really careful because there was so much controversy surrounding the show. There was so much vitriol and so much going back and forth about the show. She really wanted to make it a point that we were all really grounded characters. I've just been really lucky to have worked with so many incredible people like Gloria Calderon who was a writer on the first season of Devious Maids -- that's how we met her. We had advocates in the room, which I think is really important as an actor.
Love, Victor digs into Isabel's feelings about her child questioning his sexuality. But the show also deals with the other side of machismo in the sense that her husband can be very traditional and rigid in terms of rules. Is that something that you find to be true from personal experience?
: Definitely growing up. There's a scene we had in the first season where we're in church, and, you know, a guy comes over in church, and my husband says, he's gay and [Isabel] was like, 'What are you talking about?' And, you know, that was my childhood growing up. Even though I come from a very, sort of lefty, progressive group of people. But we had family members that were gay, friends that were gay, it still was ridiculed. These are people that we love and accept, so imagine if you're not accepted into that family how difficult that would be. I think a lot of communities have been able to have those discussions but it's all mostly geared towards Anglo, right? It's all like the white boy thing. Occasionally, we have a Black story being told, but we really haven't had a Latinx story being told. And for me, it's interesting to play this character because she's the flip side and to really explore what that's like for her to love her children more than anything on this planet and to be willing to die for them, yet to have this one block about this one thing because of the way you were raised, your religion. So I'm so thankful for this role, not only because I get to explore something that I'm not familiar with. But to have that traditional role of like, your husband thinks you're the mom, so you stay home, you take care of the house. That is not, I wouldn't say, a stereotype because that is so much a part of our reality growing up in Latin home.
How have you been keeping yourself kind of sane, assuming you are sane?
Well, it's now the quarantine is really messed up a lot of work for all of us. [When Love Victor isn't shooting] I would be able usually to do a guest star on a show that shoots in New York, but because of quarantine, you just can't. It's been tough for everybody: camera guys and sound mixers and service people. The whole country. If I'm looking on the bright side [I, my husband and two kids] have really become so close as a unit as a family unit. I'm really seeing my children grow at such a microscopic pace. There's so many days where we're ready to kill each other, but my kids haven't murdered each other yet. I've been cooking a lot more than I've ever cooked. I'm trying to keep exercising. And I started taking Spanish classes because my Spanish was so terrible. I said, 'Oh, I can get my Spanish better.' When they ask me to give an interview in Spanish I can't do it. I start sweating, stuttering, I can't get through a sentence. It's just awful. So embarrassing. So are my kids, I'm making sure they are learning Spanish now.
Love, Victor is currently streaming on Hulu.