As a high school student in New York City, Jaina Lee Ortiz has fond memories of reading out the morning message on Monday morning. She was the student body president, and it was her duty to inform her fellow students what was for lunch along with making other school announcements.
Those Monday mornings often followed a long weekend of traveling to and from various countries where she was competing as a professional salsa dancer.
“Dancing was great. I got to travel the world, to Japan, all over Europe,” Ortiz told Fox News Latino recently. “I was the only person in my class traveling internationally on the weekends and coming back to school, which was pretty awesome. I think I grew up really fast because of that.”
Ortiz, 28, danced professionally for more than a decade before falling in love with acting a couple of years ago. She was in college when another student asked her to be in a student film, and the acting bug caught on.
“It was a five-minute short. When I went to the screening, I realized how terrible I was,” she said.
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This inspired her to study the Meisner acting technique for a couple of years before moving to Los Angeles. On Wednesday night, Ortiz makes her professional acting debut on Fox’s “Rosewood,” opposite Morris Chestnut.
“I always wanted to play a role with so much range like [Det. Annalise] Villa,” she told FNL. “She’s strong. She’s smart. She’s tough, and she’s sexy. She’s your leading lady. And she’s Latina. It’s always been my dream.”
Ortiz went on to describe her character: “She can be feisty. She’s got an attitude. She’s impatient, but she’s loyal and she’s smart. I love her. I have so much respect for her. She’s like my alter ego.”
The show centers around Dr. Beaumont Rosewood (Chestnut), a pathologist who helps the Miami Police Department solve crimes. Ortiz's Villa is partnered with him.
“[Rosewood] is charming and smart and super optimistic – which really gets on her nerves,” Ortiz said. “But together they solve crimes in Miami. They are complete opposite people, but they realize they need each other to get the job done.”
She continued: “It’s not your typical cookie-cutter procedural. It’s a procedural, but it has elements of a serial show because it’s all character-driven. It’s all about the relationships, and it’s less about solving the crimes.”
Ortiz said getting ready for the role was a lot of fun, especially that she has a “cheat sheet” in her dad, who is a New York Police Department detective.
“I call my dad constantly. ‘How do I talk to this victim? How do I handle this situation?’ He has all the answers,” she said. “I use him for everything.”
She joked: “I got promoted faster than he did. He’s been doing this for 22 years, and boom! I became a detective in a year.”
Ortiz joins a short, but growing list of leading Latina actresses on TV, and it’s something that she could not be prouder of.
“It’s so empowering. It’s so refreshing,” she said. “I didn’t see Latinas on TV growing up. There was a point when I started acting … that I dyed my hair blonde, and I considered sticking blue contacts in my eyes because I didn’t see myself on TV. I thought: ‘I can’t be myself. I can’t show this side of me. I can’t show my culture because that’s not what they want.’”
Ortiz would like to see more roles and characters like Villa.
“When people see me on TV they can go, ‘Wait, that’s me. I can relate. I can do that.’ And it’s amazing,’ she said. “We [Latinas] are smart, successful people … We are not what people think we are.”
"Rosewood" premieres Wednesday at 8 p.m. on Fox.
Lucia I. Suarez Sang is a Reporter for FoxNews.com.
Follow her on Twitter @luciasuarezsang