For Ana Ortiz, the star of “Devious Maids,”, telling the story about what it’s like to be a Latina maid in the U.S isn’t just important—it’s personal.
“My grandmother cleaned houses her entire life,” Ortiz told Fox News Latino. “She put my father through college, through Columbia Law School. These are women who have rich, full, incredible lives.”
So it’s no surprise that the 42-year-old actress, best known for her role as Hilda Suarez (America Ferrera’s loveable sister) on the ABC dramedy “Ugly Betty,” disagrees with critics who argue that a show about five Latina maids is the last thing TV needs right now.
“I reject the premise that a woman is…because she’s a maid she doesn’t deserve to have her story told,” Ortiz said.
“Sometimes the hero is not the doctor saving a life or the lawyer getting the guy off—sometimes the hero is somebody that you recognize or that touches your heart. So we’re giving you all of that.”
On Sunday, the new series produced by Marc Cherry and Eva Longoria premiered on Lifetime with a respectable two million viewers, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
From the moment the trailer for the show was released, “Devious Maids” has been met with criticism from some in the Latino community (including Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, author of "The Dirty Girls Social Club," the site Latino Rebels and entertainment blogger Tanisha L. Ramirez, who called the show “a wasted opportunity.”)
Ortiz said she understands where the criticism is coming from. After all, she had the same reaction to “Devious Maids” when she first heard about the project.
“Totally, I get it,” she said. “I completely understand the controversy because, to be honest, I had the same reaction when I saw the script for the first time. I was like, ‘Devious Maids?’ Really? Are we all called Maria?”
But Ortiz, who wants viewers to “give the show a chance,” said she quickly changed her mind about the show when she read the script.
“I loved it,” she said. “We’re really trying to address issues. I don’t think we just want to be the soapy novela fun. I mean, yeah, we’re that. But we’re something so much more and that’s why I think this show is really special.”
One of those issues was featured prominently on Sunday night’s premiere. In a heartbreaking scene, Dania Ramirez’s character (a loveable maid named Rosie) makes a call to her young, estranged son in Guadalajara and talks about her ongoing efforts to find an immigration lawyer, how much she misses her son and how she plans to send more money back home, as she fights back tears.
“It’s a beautiful scene,” Ortiz said. “I think this is everyday for a lot of people, especially in California, and [Dania] does a beautiful job of finding the humor in this character but also that incredible heart. Dania’s remarkable on the show.”
She said all the Latina actresses were trying to “represent in a truthful way.”
On the show, Ortiz plays Marisol, the only one of the five characters who isn’t an actual housecleaner.
“She’s undercover as a maid,” Ortiz revealed. “And she’s trying to undo a wrong that has been done to someone that she loves very deeply.”
Ortiz said she befriends “these wonderful maids” and becomes close to them and to some of the people in the household.
“But she’s lying to them the whole time,” she said. “You know how Latin girls are when we get lied to – we don’t play! So there’s a lot of drama, a lot of fun.”
Ortiz says the role of Marisol is a dream come true.
“I’ve always played strong characters but not like Marisol. Marisol is such a departure for me,” she said. “I’m always strong, but like sassy and brash and sort of always the sidekick and the best friend.”
It’s also a dream come true, she says, to work with fellow Latina stars Judy Reyes, Roselyn Sanchez and Dania Ramirez.
“These are women that, you know, I’ve been auditioning against them forever,” Ortiz says. “And I respect them greatly. They’re at the top of their game; they’re the best in the business. And to be working on the same project with them, with each having unique characters, we’re just having so much fun, it’s incredible.”
Like their characters on the show – who get together for lunch and share bochinche – Ortiz says she and her costars rely on each other.
“We lean on each other hard,” she said. “This is five Latinas in the lead and we’re all pretty Alpha. We’re strong women and there have been bumps along the way, there have been feelings that have gotten hurt, but the thing that’s so wonderful is that we’re able to just talk to each other. We’re able to go right to one another.”
And, she and her fellow Latina costars are also making sure the show stays true and authentic to the community it’s representing.
“I think Marc [Cherry] was smart in hiring us,” says Ortiz. “Because we’re not going to sit down and let people write something that’s not right. And Marc knows that, thank goodness, because he’s really open to us and hearing our input on the show.”
Loosely based on a Mexican telenovela, "Ellas son la Alegría del Hogar," “Devious Maids” is the first English-language TV show to ever feature five Latinas – Ana Ortiz, Judy Reyes, Dania Ramirez, Roselyn Sanchez and newcomer Edy Ganem – in lead roles.
And Ortiz, who calls the show “groundbreaking television,” said she and her co-stars are working hard to ensure this isn’t the last time that happens.
“We do feel a responsibility to it,” Ortiz says. “I know I can speak for the ladies when I say that. We feel such a responsibility not only to the characters, but to the show. I don’t want it to be like, if it doesn’t work, “oh, we tried, We gave them a shot."
Adding, "we don’t want to mess up this opportunity.”
Lee Hernandez is the former Entertainment Editor for Latino Voices at The Huffington Post and the former Deputy Editor, Digital at Latina Magazine. He can be reached at Steinbecksletters@gmail.com or on Twitter.