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Meet Jaina Lee Ortiz of FOX’s Rosewood

November-December Issue 2015

By Gisel Habibnejad

Professional salsa dancer, makeup artist, and actress—Jaina Lee Ortiz can do it all. She began her career with dance lessons at the age of nine, and then proceeded to travel the world as an instructor and performer by the time she was 15. Soon after, she returned to her true love of acting. The Puerto Rican-American actress began by appearing in student films and studied at the Maggie Flannigan Studio. She made her theatrical debut in an off-Broadway show before being cast in VH1’s season two of Scream Queens, a reality show with nine actresses competing for a role in an upcoming film in which Jaina placed first runner-up. Currently, she stars opposite Morris Chestnut as homicide Detective Villa in FOX’s Rosewood. The show follows the life of Dr. Rosewood, a private pathologist living with an illness leading him to live his life with a positive outlook. Dr. Rosewood and Detective Villa work side-by-side solving murders together and learning about life along the way.

Photographed by Justin Stephens/FOX
Photographed by Justin Stephens/FOX

MSM: When and how did you realize you wanted to make the transition from professional salsa dancing to acting? Would you ever star in a dance film?
Jaina Lee Ortiz: It was about the time I was 21. I was traveling internationally performing and teaching salsa. I envisioned myself having a dance studio, but I didn’t want to be a dancer for the rest of my life. I said to myself, “Let me return to studying student film and actually take it seriously.” That’s when I quit dancing for good. I would love to do the remake of Flashdance. That would definitely bring back a lot of memories.

MSM: What was the road to success like as a Puerto Rican-American in the acting business?
JO: I never spoke any Spanish growing up, so the challenging part was having to audition for roles in Spanish. People thought: “You’re Puerto Rican, you speak Spanish.” But I guess I could make up for it because I can dance [Laughs].

MSM: Which actor or actress would you like to work with most?
JO: I would love to work with Paul Giamatti and Viola Davis.

MSM: What similarities and differences do you share with Detective Villa on Rosewood?
JO: I’m very much like Detective Villa in that she is tough and strong-willed. I can relate to her drive and determination. I also feel a special connection because my dad was a homicidal detective for the Bronx. But I’m more optimistic than she is, she can be a bit closed-minded and pessimistic.

MSM: How much does your character grow throughout the season?
JO: She has a lot going on. This woman is struggling emotionally; she has a lot of personal issues she’s dealing with. You sort of find Villa in a very dark place in her life and she’s on this road of hope and happiness, because there are so many things that are missing in her life, like love and family. She hides that void in her work, but she’s going to grow throughout the season. She’s going to become a better person, be
more optimistic, and see the glass half full.

MSM: Have you learned any valuable lessons from the show?
JO: Yes, in terms of Dr. Rosewood’s character, he has an illness so he cherishes every moment in life. I think it helps to remind yourself every day that tomorrow is not guaranteed. You have to live today as if it were your last, you never know what’s going to happen, so be grateful, be humble, and be appreciative of everything you have.

Follow Jaina Lee Ortiz on Instagram & Twitter: @jainaleeortiz
Rosewood airs on Wednesdays at 8:00pm on FOX

Click here to view this post in MSM’s November/December 2015 digital issue

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