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Wednesday: Secrets from the Set of Tim Burton and Jenna Ortega’s Addams Family teen reboot
The cast and creators of Wednesday, including its star Jenna Ortega, reveal set secrets from the making of Netflix’s new Addams Family teen drama series.
From cartoon strip and TV series to classic ‘90s Hollywood movies, the Addams Family are one of the most recognisable pop culture clans.
In 2022, Netflix are turning the focus on teen daughter Wednesday Addams, the pale-faced, gothic, death obsessed member of the family, played by Jenna Ortega.
The series turns the Addams Family into a coming-of-age story for Wednesday as she finds herself caught up in a supernatural mystery at her new school, Nevermore Academy.
Find out more about the making of the series from Ortega, her co-stars and the creators – including executive producer Tim Burton - as we reveal Secrets from the Set of Wednesday…
Creating a new Wednesday Addams for 2022
The germ of the idea for show creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar came when they started exploring Wednesday Addams' journey into adulthood.
“For us, it’s not dissimilar to what we did as the creators of Smallville, where we explored a part of Clark Kent’s life that had not been expanded on before in the Superman universe,” said Gough.
Millar said: “All too often in stories about teenage girls, the heroine starts out as weak or ugly, and then she grows and blooms into a butterfly. This is not that. What we love about Wednesday is that she is a really strong, independent, opinionated, incredibly smart and funny young woman who is fully realized at the beginning of our story.
“She is someone who knows who she is and will never apologize for that. She also isn’t defined by romance or boys. To be able to give life to such a powerful character felt very rewarding, it’s a show we wanted our daughters to be proud we created.”
The importance of Tim Burton
Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice) being on board as an executive producer for Wednesday feels like the perfect fit for an Addams family project.
“When you say ‘Tim Burton’, you immediately conjure up a visual aesthetic. His visual legacy and body of work speak for themselves,” said Gough.
“Tim really brought his unique style to this show. He is truly an iconic director and the quality of his filmmaking is extraordinary. He was able to elevate the project in such a fantastic way while also being a really wonderful and open collaborator.”
Burton revealed that he jumped at the chance to get involved in the project because he believes the character of Wednesday is the “ultimate outcast”.
“It’s easy for me to relate to, and it’s quite cathartic to keep working on those themes, because that’s how I feel,” said the Hollywood director.
“I felt very close to her, because when I was a child, I used to play in a cemetery near my house, and loved horror movies, and felt like Wednesday in a certain way. And that’s just part of who she is, and it’s part of The Addams Family world, too. That, again, is something that I felt very close to.”
Catherine Zeta-Jones, who stars in Wednesday, described Burton as an “auteur” with a “great vision” that she gravitates towards.
“To have Tim Burton's vision on television, and streaming on Netflix, specifically for this genre, is very important,” said the actress.
“And to be part of Tim Burton's first streaming venture with an episodic series is very exciting. We usually only get to capture that in a movie, which is 90 to 100 minutes long.
“Now we get to really enjoy it and to relish it over hours, which for any Tim Burton fan is going to be a treat. For any Addams Family fan, it’s going to be a treat.”
Casting Jenna Ortega as Wednesday
Miles Millar claims that from the first Zoom call with Jenna Ortega, the creative team knew that there was “nobody else on this planet” better placed to play Wednesday Addams.
Burton, no stranger to some of the world’s greatest actors, described the young actress as “one of the most talented” stars he’s ever worked with.
“She’s like a silent movie actress in the sense that she’s able to convey things without words. Her words are very strong, and she’s got a very strong point of view, but to show the subtleties underneath that was very, very exciting.
“It’s exciting to see Wednesday as an older character. We usually see Wednesday as a younger girl, and so it was exciting to explore those weird feelings you have as a teenager that sometimes never really leave you. Jenna just gives it a real reality, which is fun.”
Catherine Zeta-Jones, who plays Wednesday’s mother Morticia Addams, also sings the praises of her young co-star for being so “engrossed” in the role.
“Jenna inherently has a dry sense of humor, and she's incorporated that into Wednesday, and she truly is a dream,” said Zeta-Jones.
“I've gotten to work with a lot of young women over the years, and she is profoundly special in the way she is on the set - her professionalism, her joy of acting. In this show, she has the hardest schedule of any actor I've ever known.
“She's in literally every scene, and she comes prepared with ideas, she’s creative, and she's fun. It really is a dream. Now I get why Tim said Jenna’s special. She really is.”
7 secrets and Easter Eggs from Wednesday
- The back wall in the Weathervane Cafe features imagery from Tim Burton’s past movies.
- To prepare for her role as Wednesday, Jenna Ortega took lessons for cello, fencing, archery, and German. She also went canoeing. She would walk or run as Wednesday in her everyday life, trying out different postures and stances so that she looked certain and assertive.
- Principal Weems’ costume design was influenced by actor Tippi Hedren’s look as Melanie in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 film The Birds.
- The Nevermore Academy location shots were filmed at Cantacuzino Castle in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania.
- The stuffed bear in Principal Weems’ office is a little nod to the stuffed bear in the Addams' house in the original ‘60s TV show.
- Victor Dorobantu, who plays Thing, is a magician by trade, and Wednesday is his first acting role.
- Composer Danny Elfman’s work on the show’s score was inspired by Charles Addams’ original drawings. He also uses a harpsichord throughout the show’s music as a link to the music in the original Addams Family TV show.
Jenna Ortega on making a teenage Wednesday
Ortega said that there were a couple of key inspirations for taking on the role of Wednesday and the big drive was to “try to do something different”.
One big part of signing up for the role was to represent Wednesday as a Latina.
“That’s never been represented. Anytime that I have an opportunity to represent my community or give other girls that look like me some relatability or connection on screen, I think that's really important,” said Ortega.
“Not only just for building confidence and self-esteem, but for anybody who has a creative mind or is an artist of some sort. So that's why I did this job, because I want that to be seen.”
Secondly, Ortega was intrigued about playing a teenage Wednesday with more snark and snide.
“That was a balancing act. We didn’t want to make her sound like every other teenage girl, but we also didn’t want to make her too ignorant,” she said.
“And we've never seen her on screen this much. Any other time you've seen Wednesday, she's been the one-liner, the end of a joke, she always hits it, and I think that's what people really love about her. But in this show, every scene is Wednesday.
“There's an opportunity to give her a bit more dimension, and she becomes a bit more of a real person, which I don't think we've ever seen before.”
The secret of Wednesday’s stunning costume design
Tim Burton’s long-time collaborator Colleen Atwood is the secret MVP of Wednesday, bringing her distinct style and iconic costume design to the series.
“No detail was too small,” said Miles Millar.
“Everything about her look was intentional. Wednesday’s shoes, for example, are next level. Every teenage girl in the world is going to have serious shoe envy once they see them.
Alfred Gough added: “When you first meet Wednesday in the show, we start with the iconic look everybody knows: the white collar and black dress. Then it evolves with her Nevermore uniform and all of her other outfits.
“We loved the idea that her school uniform would be unique because everybody else is wearing the very vibrant purple, and she’s wearing a black and white version. She always stands out from the crowd.”
Tim Burton said it was “fun” to play with the style of Wednesday while maintaining the vibe and spirit of the character.
“With the character Wednesday, she usually has just this one look,” said the director.
“We tried to expand on that a little bit with Jenna to create different kinds of looks, so it wasn’t just one look, one dress. It gives her a bit more of a range.”
Watch Wednesday on Netflix from 23 November