Photo by Drake Hackney
On Aug. 12, Hulu debuts its newest series, This Fool. Co-created by star Chris Estrada, the show centers on Julio Lopez, a 30-year-old gang rehabilitation nonprofit worker who lives in South Central Los Angeles and lives at home with his mom, grandma and older cousin Luis, who just got out of prison. In addition to avoiding dealing with his problems, Julio has been dating his girlfriend Maggie on and off since high school.
Maggie is played by Michelle Ortiz who you may have seen on The CW’s revival of MADtv, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson. She was born in Highland Park and moved around as a kid before ending up back in Los Angeles as a political science and theater student at Loyola Marymount University, after which she studied at the Moscow Art Theatre School in Russia.
Ahead of the premiere of This Fool, Ortiz spoke with LA Confidential about how Maggie is an homage to her middle school self, being part of play King Liz and her love for theater.
Tell us about Maggie! What did you enjoy about the role?
When I auditioned, I loved the script. I loved the character breakdown. I was a fan of the showrunners Pat Bishop, Matt Ingebretson and Jake Weisman. They had done a show called Corporate on Comedy Central before. And the thing I liked most about Maggie was that they wanted to make her a punk rocker kind of chick. And I really spent the majority of the season pushing that look to be as alternative as possible just because I felt like in TV we see either Sofia Vergara or America Ferrera. There's no nuance or subculture represented when you see Latinos on TV, so I think the most exciting part about Maggie's character is her look actually.
How would you describe Maggie and Julio’s relationship?
They're highschool sweethearts, so they've been together 10 years. They're on and off again. You can call them a codependent relationship. First and foremost they are best friends. My backstory was that they probably connected in high school because they both liked the same kind of punk bands and they probably connected through music.
At some point it can be toxic, but, again, it is based in the love of their friendship because they've grown up together. They've been together since they were kids. When it's good, it's good. When it's good, it's great. When it's bad, it's confusing, and it's almost like they'd rather focus on each other's problems rather than deal with their own.
Did you get to collaborate on building Maggie as a character?
Once I booked the pilot, I came in hot with my mood boards. Just because unfortunately still— not so much on this show— costume designers, at least in my experience, they always try to put me in like these really loud flowery patterns, lots of color. And in the show, I literally have those kinds of rockabilly little Bettie Page bangs.
If you're a Southwest first generation, second generation Latino kid on this side of the country, you definitely went through some kind of emo or goth phase, as opposed to East Coast Latinos. So that was really important for me. It's almost like an homage to my middle school self.
What do you hope audiences get from watching this show?
First and foremost, I want people to remember that this is a comedy. Just because it's a Latin cast doesn't mean that it's just for Latin audiences. If you are working class, you're gonna connect to this because at the end of the day, it really is about just people trying to make ends meet. Maggie is a paralegal and she has her own apartment, but Julio is working at the nonprofit and still has to live at home. Not because he wants to, but because he just hasn't figured out how to get his own career going and be financially independent. So I think that's what audiences are gonna relate to the most and what I hope they relate to the most.
Do you have a favorite scene or episode?
I will say this. Frankie Quiñones, who plays Luis, is hysterical. And the way that Chris and Frankie joke in the show is how they are exactly in real life. They roast each other all the time. What you’re getting on screen is pretty authentically accurate to how they are in real life.
There's an episode where I try to take Julio on a date and my idea of a healthy restart to the relationship is to Google “top 10 things healthy couples do for dates” and hiking was number nine, so we go on a hike, even though that's something that is so not punk rock of Julio and Maggie.
You’re also in the middle of your King Liz run at the Geffen Playhouse. How’s that been going?
Oh my god, it's a blast. It's been a dream of mine to do a play at the Geffen. I love my role. I play the typical overworked, super loyal assistant to Sabrina Sloan— to King Liz— and it's just cool to be in a show that's about a powerful woman in a male-dominated space. And my goals and ambitions and aspirations are basically the same as Liz’s because I want to be her one day.
Also I really wanted to do it because I wanted to see if I could handle the eight-show-a-week type of Broadway endurance. And let me tell you, it is really intense. I am so tired, but I'm so grateful and happy to be working right now and being in the theater again.
What do you find creatively fulfilling about theater versus television?
The immediate satisfaction of working linearly. And also you only get one take! No going back. What's great about doing theater is that I know exactly where my character's journey is going, where the character arc is going. And the exciting thing about that is that every night there are subtle nuances that change with different moments, as opposed to being on set where you have to do the same take 10 times and make the same tear come out of the left eye at the exact same moment. And also, I think, the rehearsal process. We spent, I think, three weeks rehearsing for King Liz and sometimes on set you don't even get time to rehearse. There's also something thrilling in that where you kind of have to just throw all the paint on the canvas and hope something sticks.
And also right now we have a live audience. Are you kidding? It's crazy to be walking out, taking a bow and also just hearing laughter right now. It's pretty crazy enjoying that.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photography by: Drake Hackney; Gilles Mingasson/Hulu