LOS ANGELES – Even in her own famously odd and macabre family, Wednesday Addams has always stood out, beginning with her appearance in the 1960s television show that first launched The Addams Family from a comic strip to the screen.
And in the live-action movies The Addams Family (1991) and Addams Family Values (1993), she is depicted as a young girl with morbid interests, sadistic tendencies and a startlingly dark personality.
So when Wednesday, the upcoming supernatural comedy series by American director Tim Burton, sees the character enrolling in a new school, it is no wonder she struggles to fit in – even if her classmates include other oddballs such as werewolves and sirens.
But former child actress Jenna Ortega, who plays her on the show, says the teenager’s refusal to conform is one of her best attributes.
Debuting on Netflix on Nov 23, Wednesday co-stars Catherine Zeta-Jones as her mother Morticia, Luis Guzman as her father Gomez, and Christina Ricci, who portrayed Wednesday in the 1990s films, as a teacher at the school.
Chatting to The Straits Times over Zoom, Ortega, 20, says she fell in love with this strange family watching those movies as an eight-year-old.
“I thought they were so weird and perfect. And I loved the fact that they were so non-conventional in their interests, but still were probably the healthiest American family out there, relationship-wise and emotionally.”
The series shows Wednesday reluctantly enrolling in Nevermore, an academy for the supernaturally gifted, and instantly becoming an outcast even in a school designed for them.
But she quickly distinguishes herself with her intelligence, wit and, when a series of murders blights the local town, her sleuthing skills.
“She just can’t help it,” says Ortega, who appeared in horror flick Scream (2022) and teen drama The Fallout (2021). “I think it shows how special she is.”
And the character knows it.
“One of the best things about Wednesday, and why people love her so much, is because she’s aware that she’s different,” Ortega explains.
“It’s not that she’s blind to it. It’s just that she feels no need to shape her identity or conform to societal expectations strictly because, ‘Oh, maybe people think I’m weird.’”
It helps that the character also has a strong misanthropic streak.
“Wednesday doesn’t really like people, so it’s probably better if she doesn’t get along with them and no one wants to spend time with her. She’s a very independent young girl and she wants to keep it that way,” Ortega says.
The series was created by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar alongside Burton, the acclaimed film-maker behind quirky fantasy and horror films such as Edward Scissorhands (1990) and Beetlejuice (1988) who also directed Wednesday.
Ortega says he was a delight to work with.
“Tim is one of the sweetest directors I’ve worked with – genuinely nice guy, remembered everyone’s names and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t even realise his name is Tim Burton,” she says.
He brought his signature Gothic aesthetic to the series, and Ortega learnt just how carefully he conjures it up on screen.
“I’ve never had a director do this before, but he would draw out shots that he wanted to have of me in the show, whether it was me playing the cello or reading a book, and he would sketch me doing that and say, ‘This is what we’re going to do.’ And that would be our conversation,” Ortega says.
But Burton was also extremely collaborative, she adds.
“Other times, he would call me to his trailer and we had a lot of great conversations about the character. Not everyone’s an actor’s director, but he definitely is.
“He was a really great collaborator and made it very clear that he wanted to engage and have it be something that we did together.”
Also set at a school for the gifted and trafficking in the supernatural with a light-hearted touch is the fantasy film The School For Good And Evil, currently showing on Netflix.
Best friends Sophie (Sophia Anne Caruso) and Agatha (Sofia Wylie) find themselves whisked away to an enchanted school, which teaches aspiring young heroes and villains to preserve the balance between good and evil.
However, the girls end up on opposite ends of the spectrum and not at all where they each expected.
Despite yearning to be a princess, Sophie is deposited at the School for Evil under the leery eye of its dean Lady Lesso (Charlize Theron). And the grungy Agatha is assigned to the School for Good, overseen by the sunny Professor Dovey (Kerry Washington).
The friends then scheme to have their destinies righted, but the bigger theme of the movie is that the line between good and evil is not so clear.
Director and co-writer Paul Feig, who adapted this from the 2013 young adult bestseller of the same name, says the movie pokes holes in many fairy-tale tropes – especially “the entire concept of ‘good versus evil’, which I find very ripe to be taken down”, he tells ST in a video call.
Storytelling along those simplistic lines “has put us in the world we’re in right now, where we’re so polarised”, explains the 60-year-old American, who helmed comedies like Bridesmaids (2011), The Heat (2013) and Ghostbusters (2016).
“There’s no nuance in it, and I’ve never liked the idea of villains who are just completely villainous for no other reason than to be evil.
“Every person on this earth has some reason why they’re doing what they’re doing, and to them, it’s good even though it can be something terrible. I think that kind of nuance is needed versus just ‘You’re good; you’re bad; and that’s how it is.’”
American actress Wylie, whose character Agatha resents her princess makeover, says the film revels in “making fun of traditional princesses and princes”.
“In the past, they have been portrayed as very one-dimensional and superficial at times,” says the 18-year-old, who starred in the Disney Channel comedy series Andi Mack (2017 to 2019).
“So it’s nice to see that there can be depth to a princess and a prince and those fairy-tale relationships, rather than it always being so perfect and straightforward.
“I hope young girls can look at Agatha and see that confidence does not come from your outward appearance.
“We see her transform into a princess throughout the film, but it doesn’t make her any more confident about herself.”
Sophie, on the other hand, “transitions from this little village princess to this cool Gothic princess and then into a hag – and she actually gains more confidence even though her outward appearance isn’t always getting better”, Wylie says.
“So it’s more about your inner dialogue and inner belief.”
This story of these two girls is not just about finding Prince Charming, either.
The focus is more on the friendship between the two and their journeys of self-discovery, says American actress Caruso, 21, who starred in a 2019 Broadway production of Beetlejuice.
“And my favourite part is the bigger message about girls being best friends, and how that’s what really matters.”
The School For Good And Evil is available on Netflix, while Wednesday debuts on Netflix on Nov 23.
Netflix and chills
The streaming service is shaping up to be the home of horror, serving up a vast slate ranging from true-crime to the supernatural. If you are looking for a good scare this Halloween, here are some highlights which are all now available on Netflix.
1) The Watcher
Serial-killer drama Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story spent three weeks at the top of Netflix’s global viewing charts in early October.
But it was finally unseated by another hair-raising true-crime tale, The Watcher, about a couple (Naomi Watts and Bobby Cannavale) whose move to their dream home in New Jersey becomes a nightmare when they start getting threatening letters from a stalker.
Created by Ryan Murphy, who also originated Dahmer, it features a superb supporting cast that includes Jennifer Coolidge, Mia Farrow and Margo Martindale.
2) The Midnight Club
Based on a beloved 1994 young adult novel by Christopher Pike, this horror-mystery thriller created by Mike Flanagan (The Haunting Of Hill House, 2018) is set at a hospice for terminally-ill young people.
Every night, eight of them gather to exchange sinister stories. And they make a pact that the next one among them to die will give the rest a sign from beyond the grave.
3) Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet Of Curiosities
This is the first season of a new anthology series by the Oscar-winning film-maker behind fantasy movies such as Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) and The Shape Of Water (2017).
A collection of eight stories meant to challenge conventional ideas about horror, the episodes showcase the work of acclaimed directors such as Jennifer Kent (The Babadook, 2014) and Ana Lily Amirpour (The Bad Batch, 2016).
The cast includes Andrew Lincoln, Ben Barnes and Rupert Grint.
4) Wendell & Wild
Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas, 1993) directed and co-wrote this stop-motion-animated horror comedy with Oscar-winning Jordan Peele (Get Out, 2017).
It follows two demon brothers – voiced by Peele and fellow comedian Keegan-Michael Key – as they scheme to be summoned to the Land of the Living with the help of a teenage girl. But the pair get more than they bargained for.