(Click here to see the article as published in Statement magazine.)
It takes a lot of confidence to portray someone who embraces plunging necklines, pleather outfits and big hairstyles, but that kind of audacity is what drew Ana Ortiz to Hilda Suarez, her character on ABC’s “Ugly Betty”.
“I live vicariously through ‘Hilda’ she’ll say anything as crazy as her life is, she still thinks she’s this fearless thing,” says Ortiz, who landed the part of the single mom and aspiring beautician after auditioning for the role of Betty.
"Hilda will walk into the (fashion magazine) Mode offices in a crazy pleather outfit"– purchased at Strawberry for $70 "that she thinks is fierce. She thinks she looks better than anybody. That confidence is invaluable.”
Ortiz inherited a similar self-assurrance from her father, Angel Ortiz, Philadelphia’s first Puerto Rican city councilman and her mom, an occupational therapist who started a school for autistic children in New York.
Which is something the 37-year-old actress says she learned from her father,
“I got my outspokenness from my dad, the love of being among people from both my parents," she says. "Dad was among the first to support gay rights in Philadelphia. When he believes in something he goes after it full force.”
Ortiz brought that same conviction to her pursuit of a performing career. She studied ballet for eight years, attended New York's renowned LaGuardia Arts High School as a voice major and went on to do theater before scoring roles on such television shows as NYPD Blue, ER and Boston Legal. But with her portrayal of Hilda, a character close to her roots, she’s hit her stride.
“She’s someone I know well—someone in my family." says Ortiz, who is also part Irish. “My cousin Francesca will call me up after watching and say ‘I know you were imitating me.’”
Since “Betty” has moved to New York this season, Ortiz will be able to settle into her old digs along with her husband Noah Lebenzon, a musician.
Ortiz, who is a member of the LAByrinth Theater Company, hopes the move east will allow her to do more stage work, and to put some of her other talents to use “I’m really open to something different than Hilda," she says. "I’ve got her and no one else can write her like the writers on Betty. But I’d love to do a musical or a period piece.”— Katherine Tolford