Johnny Ortiz is everywhere. You can currently see Ortiz alongside Kevin Costner in McFarland, USA — an inspiring film about the unlikely success of a high school cross country team composed of the poor children of Hispanic migrant workers. Ortiz told me that working with Costner was a fabulous experience and that the month of grueling physical training in addition four months of filming in the hot sun, —while wearing a wig — “was pretty intense.”
And, starting March 5, you’ll be able to see Ortiz in American Crime, ABC’s gripping new drama that explores race and prejudice. Ortiz joins an amazing ensemble cast that includes Benito Martinez (The Shield), Felicity Huffman (Desperate Housewives) and Timothy Hutton (Leverage). The cast is also rounded out with impressive performances from relative newcomers Elvis Nolasco, Richard Cabral and Caitlin Gerard. The series is directed and produced by Oscar-winning writer John Ridley (12 Years a Slave) and created and produced by Michael J. McDonald.
Babyfaced Ortiz creates a character who is easy to root for and utterly heartbreaking to watch. “Tony is a young teenage kid that lives in a single parent home and he just tying to grow up, he’s trying to be free from his strict, hardworking father, played by Benito Martinez,” says Otriz. “A bad decision he makes leads to his arrest as a suspect in a murder.” Tony’s arrest in the show’s pilot is one of the most riveting scenes I’ve watched in a long time. But the entire series is a masterclass in acting, with long scenes, with minimal cuts that made the viewer feel like they are in the room observing the characters as they live each moment.
“We oftentimes have scenes that run three or four minutes without a cut. I didn’t put that in there to try to razzle dazzle,” says Ridley. “I put it in there because I think it’s essential to be able to sit with these characters, be able to feel what they’re feeling, to not look away, to not feel like it was merely created later, but to oftentimes have scenes where it’s really about people dealing with each other.”
“I love challenges. Ain’t nothing better than a challenges,” grins Ortiz. “This is an intense show. There’s a lot of stuff happening in this show that happens to everybody, not just my character. In other shows, it’s all about the detective, it never shows that the suspects are humans too. They may have done something wrong, but there are still beautiful moments. In American Crime, you meet a beautiful couple who are Meth-heads, but they love and care for each other deeply. They do bad things, but you also see the beautiful parts of them.”
Ortiz says that the show doesn’t present characters as either good or bad, as everyone is allowed to have moments of lightness as well as deep moments of darkness. “It doesn’t make you hate the characters, it makes you understand them,” he says.
In American Crime, viewers will be privy to the emotional roller coaster experienced by each of its characters. And his character, Tony, experiences a lot, says Ortiz. “In the show you see this sweet, innocent kid trying to do good. And through 11 episodes, there’s a long arc, there’s this ride to Tony. You are going to see a big change. He goes through a lot of struggle, and lot of peer pressure, a lot of racism and you’ll see how he deals with it.”
Johnny Ortiz red carpet image credit: Matt Petit © 2015 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.
American Crime images credit: Bob D’Amico © 2014 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.