Almost a decade ago, Bella Ortiz came close to attending medical school. But instead of advancing her education, she took a risk to pursue her lifelong passion for acting. The risk paid off, with Ortiz now battling sinister senior citizens in the brand new horror-comedy flick, American Carnage, released in theaters and digitally on July 15, 2022.
Written by Diego and Julio Hallivis, and directed by Diego, American Carnage begins with Gov. Harper Finn issuing an order to arrest the children of undocumented immigrants and have them deported by Election Day. The detained youth have the chance to have their charges dropped under one condition—they must volunteer at an eldercare facility. Seems simple, right? Well, not exactly.
We recently caught up with Ortiz to chat about American Carnage, working with an all-Latinx cast which includes Jenna Ortega (Scream 2022 – our review) as Camila, and the pure joy she felt over getting to sport her first fake, bloody nose.
PopHorror: Can you tell me a bit about how you got involved with American Carnage?
Bella Ortiz: It was 2019; I think it was in the springtime. I had an audition that came through my manager. I was based in Chicago at the time, so pre-pandemic auditions really only happened in-person and self-taped wasn’t the norm. But I auditioned out of Chicago. I taped myself for it, and I heard back that they were really receptive, but they wanted me to audition for a different role. So I filmed myself on tape for that. Fast forward two weeks, and I received the call from my manager that we had booked it.
I started crying, honestly. I had been working with my manager [Carlos E. Hernandez] at that time for about three years, and this was the first thing that we had booked. I really felt like it was an accumulation of our hard work, especially his hard work. Agents and managers, it can be a thankless job because they don’t get paid unless we get paid. This one really holds a special place in my heart.
PopHorror: I can imagine! So you didn’t originally audition for the role of Micah?
Bella Ortiz: No, I had originally auditioned for the role of Camila, and it just made more sense for me to audition for Micah. That’s the direction that it went in.
PopHorror: Can you tell me more about Micah and what drew you to her character?
Bella Ortiz: She is a child of Argentinian parents. Micah really represented me, you know, a young woman who is trying to find where she fits in the world. It’s the exploration of our lives where we try to figure out who we are and what kind of lives we want to live. I think she’s the type of person that, ultimately, everything she does, she truly believes is for the best cause. She follows through with the things that she believes to be the best decision or the right one in her life.
PopHorror: I saw that you’ve had one time roles on Chicago Fire and Chicago Med. Is this your first horror film?
Bella Ortiz: Yes and also my first principle, big role. In a lot of ways, it checks the first boxes for a lot of different things.
PopHorror: How did you feel going into the experience? Nervous? Excited?
Bella Ortiz: It was really exciting. I remember the director, he had reached out to all of us individually to discuss our characters. I really noticed at that moment that I was about to work on a project where everyone was really collaborative. It felt great to feel like I was part of something where my thoughts and opinions were taken seriously, or even just that they were curious about my perspective and were willing to hear what I had to say about my views for the character. Obviously, not all of that sticks, but it really was a conversation in terms of finding the character.
PopHorror: Was there anything you suggested that became part of Micah?
Bella Ortiz: I’m an immigrant myself. I became a citizen of the United States when I was 17. My mom and I moved from Chile when I was 4 years old, and that is sort of a similar starting place where Micah’s character started with immigrant parents as well. But I looked at it with a lens of how my life could have gone differently in the circumstances that I did experience. It was really interesting and fascinating for me to put myself into a place to carry out different scenarios of choices and what could have been in a different parallel universe.
PopHorror: It really seems like the movie hits on real world topics underneath the crazy elderlies.
Bella Ortiz: Definitely. I think the comedy and horror serves as access to talk about something that is so serious and affects the Latinx community in terms of using the storytelling element of hyperbole and pushing it to extreme to say this is our reality. This is what’s possible and what else could be possible. That’s a really cool space of creating stories, especially in the horror genre, where you start with something grounded in reality, and you just push the envelope of where that could go.
PopHorror: What was it like starring alongside Jenna Ortega and a Latinx cast?
Bella Ortiz: Everyday on set was just so meaningful and so great, because we were just able to connect from that kind of groundwork, even though we didn’t know each other. It can be scary going into something, working with new people, and not knowing if it’ll be fun or if you’ll get along. But it was an enriching experience, because we all had that common groundwork and familiarity in that sense.
PopHorror: I have to ask since this is your first horror film… are you a fan of the genre?
Bella Ortiz: I definitely am. And as a fan, I think I was always timid about it. When I first started getting into acting, I looked at a trajectory of how I wanted my career to go. Horror, that genre, was the thing I was probably distancing myself most from, not necessarily intentionally, but just not actively searching for it. Because I am a huge fan, I was just scared to tackle it. But I’m really glad that I did.
PopHorror: What was your favorite part of the horror experience?
Bella Ortiz: My mind started racing in terms of what special effects there was going to be! I always had this dream of having a bloody nose, and that actually became a reality on set. It was really cool. I remember that day, after we wrapped, they had kindly offered to remove it for me, and I told her that I was going to wear it out for the rest of the day. I wore it out in the streets of Madrid, went to coffee shops and got a lot of strange looks. But I told myself, this is a good exercise for not caring so much what people think, allowing myself to be vulnerable, do something silly and just owning it.
PopHorror: Where exactly was American Carnage filmed? Was production impacted at all by COVID?
Bella Ortiz: It was filmed in the summer of 2019, so COVID didn’t affect it, at least while we were filming. I know in post-production, it changed the trajectory of their timeline with editing and everything. But we filmed in Spain in Madrid, so I was there for two months.
PopHorror: That sounds so scenic!
Bella Ortiz: I remember after a trip there, I vowed to myself, “I don’t know how I’m gonna do it, but I’m going back.” And then I took a look at my life and said, “What do you do? What are you good at?” And I thought, “I’m an actor,” so I guess that’ll be my way of getting myself back to Spain.
PopHorror: I understand that acting wasn’t always your primary goal?
Bella Ortiz: Medical school was the plan after graduating from undergrad. I studied cognitive neuroscience with the intention to follow it with medical school. In college, I did research at the University of Chicago. I had always been interested in psychology and science. Those were things that I really enjoyed. But my junior year of college, I realized how much I missed acting. I had grown up doing theater, and I just had a moment where I thought, “You know what? School will always be there.” I don’t want to regret not trying. So after I graduated, I decided to pursue acting, and I haven’t looked back since. This was around 2014.
PopHorror: Where there any actors growing up that inspired you?
Bella Ortiz: A wide range, but for me, what made me fall in love with acting was the storytelling. I remember when I was probably in junior high, I was watching a Lifetime movie with my mother. I couldn’t even tell you the movie title or who was in it. But I just remember being left with such an overwhelming, powerful feeling like I wasn’t alone. The main character in the movie was going through something that I was experiencing in my life. It was one of those realizations that your own experience in your life is unique to you and therefore it can feel isolating, but then taking a step back and seeing the world in its entirety, see that there are other people out there that are also going through similar things. That’s what made me want to tell important stories and help people feel that they’re not alone in what they’re going through.
PopHorror: Is there anything you hope audiences will take away from American Carnage?
Bella Ortiz: I think how we have seen the Latinx community portrayed in popular media, TV, and film, has been very one-sided. With this movie, it expands on that and shows that there’s a lot that we can do as a community, that we can tackle all sorts of genres, like horror comedy. We don’t have to be pigeonholed. We can tell stories across the board in a very wide range that can be artistic, thought-provoking, and slapstick funny at certain moments.
PopHorror: What are some of your career goals moving forward?
Bella Ortiz: I really see myself moving into the comedy genre. Since the pandemic, I’ve really been stepping into and embracing improv and my unique characteristics in my personal life and weaving that into my professional life and acting career. So hopefully, I’ll be able to utilize that skillset, that area of my life. I really enjoy making people laugh, whether it’s at my expense, I don’t care. I think laughter in another human being is the most beautiful thing that I can experience.
PopHorror: Especially with all the horrible things happening in today’s world!
Bella Ortiz: It’s a humbling exchange to take yourself out of the monotony of every day or the harsh reality that we see in the news. When we can take a little moment to just connect with somebody else and laugh, it feels like the world stops.
PopHorror: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?
Bella Ortiz: I’m just so excited to have this opportunity to be speaking with you! It feels so surreal. I think the one thing that pops up in my head is that I hope everyone is kind to one another. We need to be kind to one another. Let’s all take some time in our day to laugh.