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Michelle Ortiz: I am Grateful For Everything

Michelle Ortiz: I am Grateful For Everything

There are infinite angles in which to experience reality. From their own unique vantage points—a unique collection of memories, beliefs, and habits—no two people experience life the same. The vast variety in our outer world, especially with the lightning speed of information we receive nowadays, stimulates and evokes emotions that simply show us the relationship between us and what we observe. Emotions are our brilliant guiding system, a compass that indicates our focus at any given moment—directing the energies that create worlds.

Artist Michelle Ortiz who can be seen as Maggie in Hulu’s all Latino cast comedy series This Fool says about herself, “I’m a pessimist who finds the funny in the darkness. We mostly define ourselves by what we do. Now during this publicity about the projects, I am involved with, looking on my Instagram, I realized that I only post about my career. I maybe share a couple of photos here and there with friends, but I don’t give any insight into what is going on behind. People would be surprised to know that I’m extroverted when it comes to being on set, but in real life, I’m private. I’m introverted. And I feel like I disappoint many people when they meet me because they might think that because I am a comedian, I am doing comedy all day long. And then they meet me, and they expect, ha-has, joke, joke, joke, but instead, I’ll make you laugh more with a funny filtered profile photo on my Zoom account than myself.”

All ranges of emotions have equal value, because even the most pessimistic person, at the moment of feeling any discomfort, will feel a desire to experience something that feels better. When we are aware of it, we will softly stop beating on ourselves for feeling the way we feel, and feeling our most empowered, we will recognize that we have the choice to shift our flashlight of attention—therefore our emotion—to something that feels good.

About the process of turning the gears towards joy and fulfillment, Michelle says, “Since I was a kid, I realized that I wanted to do acting. I remember the reason I liked acting was that it was the only time when I wasn’t thinking about all the negative thoughts or whatever was happening in life. It was the only time I was in the moment because I was focused on thinking the character’s thoughts and not being myself. As I got older, I had to find ways to get comfortable in my own skin; that’s why I like acting because sometimes I feel more comfortable living someone else’s truth than my own. However, as much as I’d like to think of myself as a character, I am finding that living that character is also a new side of me. Maybe that’s not me daily, but it’s somewhere inside me.”

This zest for wanting to know more, wanting to master and experience a variety of expressions from within ourselves, creates an open channel for us to experience life—as we have lived many lives already. We are born to bask in a variety of expressions. We are born to create and express ourselves in as many ways we want to. We are born to enjoy the natural expansion of who we are continually becoming.

“I did one semester at the Moscow Art Theatre School, which was a dream come true because it’s like the Juilliard of Russia,” says Michelle. “And that’s where I really solidified that I wanted to be an actor, no matter what it was going to take. I was willing to do it however long it was going to take. I was willing to strap in for the journey. And then, when I was in Germany, I studied opera with a Swedish opera singer Fransiska Herzel. And then, I graduated from Loyola Marymount University here in Los Angeles. I was a super in LA opera, which sounds fancier than it is. I was a glorified extra on stage. My music theory skills are not that good. I can’t read music well so I couldn’t make it into the chorus. And even though you’re not allowed to sing as a super, I would sing the mezzo-soprano part because I knew the song. But my opera days are long gone. Maybe hopefully, in the future, I can revisit some classical singing. Right now, it’s TV, film, and theater.”

We often measure our own journey of success by comparing it to others. It’s Ok to do so; we all do that from time to time. But being honest and aware about the intention behind everything we do will make us sense the power of our choices. When we do what we do because we love being in the process of creating and flowing in the expression of it, then everything becomes a masterpiece.

“Even as a kid, I always thought that if I wanted to be an actor, I had to be well-rounded. I got to know how to dance. If somebody asks me to make an impression, I should know how to do it. I should just be able to pull that out no matter the project. I should be ready. So, I feel the discipline in Russia it’s so intense, but it’s also so inspiring. So, I felt like the discipline in Russia was so intense but was also so inspiring. Seeing the Russian students versus American students, they just took everything so seriously. And they were so specific about the smallest things. And so, that ignited more of my passion for theater in general. And they’re so specific about the smallest things. And so, that’s ignited more of my passion for theater in general. I feel like I try to bring that discipline into everything. After that, I did MadTV, and I was a series regular, but the show got canceled after eight episodes, I didn’t work for a year and a half, so I had to go back to catering. And while I was catering, holding a tray of quiches, I ran into my first agent. So, I was like, ‘Okay, well, this can’t happen again.’ So, I got back into commercials. And I feel like I sold my soul a little bit. Still, even with commercials, those are one-to-three-day shoots, and maybe there’s not much dialogue. However, I feel like I still treat everything as if this project is going to get nominated for an Oscar, even though it’s just a car insurance commercial,” muses Michelle, and then continues, “I also started coaching kids on the side to make extra money and self-taping them as a little side business. The couple of kids that I still coach, they’re so talented. They don’t even need me. I just like to give them a little extra sauce for whatever auditions they have. But I talk to kids like adults, and they will respond to that.”

We live in an all-inclusive Universe. Whether we say no or yes, it’s always a yes. When we give our inner power away by arguing for our own limitations, we say yes to that. When we unconditionally include ourselves regardless of what the predominant societal context says, we say yes to that. The world is where it is, and sometimes too much regurgitation of what doesn’t work brings us to experience the same old tired things. By saying yes to including ourselves, we tune into our inner power and become a leading example of the type of inclusion that is changing the world.

“I used to be very jaded on the topic of inclusivity and diversity. Because in 2014, I did the ABC diversity showcase. And that showcase was either you’re not white, you’re gay, or you’re handicapped. And those are out of 7000 actors, we’re going to pick 20. And you have to hit one of those categories, right? It’s like, ‘Oh, my God, just to get the same audition as my friend Sarah; I have to do this showcase.’ To show them I’m worth it. And then, in 2016, I did the CBS diversity showcase, but that one was sketch comedy. And because of that, luckily, the MadTV casting director saw me, and that’s how I got MadTV. But before, I felt almost gross about it. Why do I have to work twice as hard to get the same audition to get cast? I realized now that it was a big deal to book those projects because many of the actors in those diversity showcases tried many times, and I got it on the fifth time. But now, looking at it, I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for those showcases. However, in Hollywood’s effort to promote diversity and inclusion, the way it goes, sometimes it doesn’t feel genuine.  And I think the only way to fix that is to have diverse creators write their own projects like I do now,” says Michelle.

Confidence comes from within. Knowing that we uniquely can express something that resonates with us, we can put aside all doubt and fear so we can enjoy the process of expressing ourselves. There is nothing more empowering than knowing that every moment is a perfect moment because we get to experience exactly what we are ready for.

Michelle says, “When it’s your role, it’s your role, and it’s nobody else’s. Because when I got the audition for the series This Fool, and I saw the sides and the character breakdown, I was like, ‘Damn, I know exactly what I want to do with this. Even though it’s another audition out of four that I have to do today.’ And I thought, if I don’t get a callback, then good luck to whoever gets it. But I know what to do with this. And luckily, we are where we are. And I felt the same way with this role at The Geffen Playhouse. I’m kind of the comedic relief of the play. And it was the same thing, if I don’t get this, that’s going to suck, but I don’t think anyone else will do what I’m going to do with this. Those have been the two times where I decided that I’m not going to be mad if somebody else gets this role because I know my take on this is going to be really original. And I don’t think anyone else can do what I can.”

Even within what is considered a cultural or racial identity are infinite layers of unrepeatable expressions. We tend to look and affirm that people who are from a specific cultural environment are all the same, and that simply can’t be true. We all are continually changing; without expansion, we would cease to exist.

About breaking stereotypes, celebrating diversity, and the uniqueness of expression, Michelle says, “The cast of This Foolis all Mexican American. When I first got the audition, the way it read, I thought it was one of those characters when you go into a weed dispensary in Los Angeles, there’s a certain type of little cholita with acrylic nails which kind of doesn’t know what she’s talking about when she’s trying to tell you what kind of weed to buy, like, ‘No, yeah, that ones for sleeping. That one’s for if you want to go to the park.’ That’s how I read it. Then I got the callback, and they gave me the note that Maggie’s a girl who maybe listens to punk. She’s a rocker chick. And I said, ‘Okay, let’s go. I like that even better.’ So once we did the pilot, I came in with all my mood boards. If Maggie is a rocker chick, let’s push it. I want Bettie Page bangs. I want her to have red dye in her hair. Because there is this subculture of Latinos, especially in LA, that are rockers, who may or may not have rockabilly style but listen to The Smiths. So I really wanted to put Doc Martin shoes on for this role, and I feel we don’t see that on TV. So in the pilot, I tried to push it that way, and then once we got greenlit, I was like, ‘Okay, guys, this is what I want to do.’ Luckily, the showrunners and Chris were super down. And that’s the one thing that I’m most proud of, because unfortunately, most costume designers and makeup people see Latina, and they want to put you in braids, or the big wavy hair, flowery prints, colorful. And that’s just not what this character is. And I felt like it was an opportunity to put my 12-year-old emo goth kid on screen. And it’s funny because now when I’m out in the street if I see a little Latina with Bettie Page bangs or color tips, I am like, ‘Oh, there’s a Maggie in the wild. I see a Maggie.’”

Michelle honors her contribution to the series This Fool by saying, “I hope that this show wasn’t made for just Latinx audiences. It’s a half-hour dark comedy about the working class in South Central LA. And because it is based on Chris’s actual life, like most of his standup is about his family. I feel like it’s an authentic portrayal of the lower-middle class in LA. And I feel like that’ll resonate anywhere, not just in California. And then also, the fact that it talks about dealing with ex-prisoners who’ve done time and are now trying to rehabilitate and assimilate back into society shows how that person was incorporated into society. So, I hope that people find it funny and entertaining, and heartfelt at the end of the day because the topics that Chris touches upon are real. Especially my character and Chris’s character in our relationship or codependent relationship, we’d rather focus on other people’s problems than deal with our own, which is also why we’ve been together for so long and on and off again within the series’ storyline. His family is more my family than my own. It’s taking the Mexican thug stereotype and flipping it on its head. I think Frankie will be the breakout star of the show. He’s hysterical in it. Same with Maggie. It kind of equalizes the visual of what Latinos are on TV.”

Michelle continues to embrace who she is becoming as a person and as an artist by taking on different roles and projects that bring her satisfaction and fulfillment. She tackles the different layers of expressing herself, benefiting from the value that each of them adds to the others.

“The main difference between being on set and being on stage in theater is that on set, you have to be able to do the same, change the nuance of how big you’re doing something for 10 takes in a row, and keep it fresh. In this show, I’m finally going linearly on the stage. And I have the lead Sabrina Sloan who just came off Hamilton, and she’s amazing. So, it’s such a joy to go through this story. Every night, there’s this one scene that we have, without giving it away, where she asks me to finally come work for her. I was her assistant for years. And it gets really emotional. And every night, I’m like, ‘Oh, are we going to be able to get there? Are the tears going to come?’ And they do it in different ways. And it’s so great to create an exchange of energy with the audience, after two years of the pandemic, and hearing live applause and laughter,” Michelle says.

Appreciation allows us to see everything from the perspective of things that are always working out for us. Being in a state of appreciation equals being in a state of love; love for ourselves, for others, and for life at large. About appreciation, Michelle says, “I will say this: I find myself now, no matter which way the wind blows, maybe, it’s not something I booked, but I got a callback, or maybe it’s not even career-related, I’m just so grateful for everything. Especially after quarantine. I’m just so grateful for the smallest things now.”

Like Michelle, what are you appreciating today? Look around you, from the eyes of love—everything looks good.

Photography // Drake Hackney
Connect with Michelle on Instagram 

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