Vico Ortiz Talks ‘Our Flag Means Death,’ Being a Non-Binary Actor & Working with Taika Waititi

Lead Photo: Credit: Aaron Epstein/HBO Max
Credit: Aaron Epstein/HBO Max
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Everyone is talking about the HBO Max show Our Flag Means Death. From Twitter to TikTok and Tumblr, it’s everywhere and the joy that people are getting from this quirky pirate comedy doesn’t seem to be dwindling anytime soon. And we don’t want it to if it means we get to see more of Rhys Darby’s Stede Bonnet, Taika Waititi’s Blackbeard, and Vico Ortiz’s Jim; the latter of whom Remezcla interviewed to talk about this glorious show.

Ortiz, a proud non-binary Latine actor and activist, plays Jim on Our Flag Means Death. Their character is a quiet badass (there are knives involved) who keeps to themself while caring deeply for those around them. And the more that we learn about them and their journey, the more we come to appreciate how badass they are and how much more of their journey there still is to explore when this show gets renewed for season 2. Because it has to.

But starting off, when you’re a minority or in a marginalized group like the non-binary or LGBTQ community, we’re seen as the bastions of information. We have to teach, we have to be patient, and we have to understand. And honestly, it’s a bit exhausting and we just pray that we can enter spaces without having to explain who we are and why we matter. That’s what Ortiz experienced stepping into Our Flag Means Death and they were surprised at what they found: a room with non-binary writers already there.

“There were already three nonbinary writers in the room.” Ortiz revealed to Remezcla, “It was truly so refreshing to just go into it already knowing that that’s what they were going to bring to the character. I didn’t have to, like bring it in or anything. Like, literally everything was already like, “Oh, this is what we’re going to do.” And then literally most of the stuff was like, me adding more Spanish stuff to it because that’s my first language.”

And it made Ortiz feel good to be on such a refreshing show.

If you haven’t watched Our Flag Means Death, then spoiler-warning. At some point, it’s revealed that Jim is disguised as a man. And for Ortiz, who was finding out what was happening episode by episode, they were certain that the scripts would change Jim’s pronouns to he/him instead of retaining the non-binary identity of this character. Our Flag Means Death surprised Ortiz again.

They went on and said, “When they were addressing Jim and they just used “they” I was like, “I didn’t have to ask for it. It just happened. We’re doing this.” And David [Jenkins], the creator and writer, was like, “Yeah.” And this casual nature to such an important part of Ortiz’s identity and that of Jim’s is what endeared this actor to their team and the journey they were on together on Our Flag Means Death.

Part of that team is Taika Waititi, who plays the titular character of Blackbeard while being a director on the show, and who is known for his directing work on Thor: Ragnarok and the upcoming sequel Thor: Love and Thunder. When we asked Ortiz about working with Waititi, they were quick to say that it was like working with Mary Poppins bag.

“Working with Taika is like working with Mary Poppins bag. You see it’s a nice bag. But then you open it and everything that you could possibly think of just keeps popping out of the bag,” Ortiz explained, truly enthusiastic to speak about this truly great creator, “His creativity knows no bounds. And it’s beautiful to witness both as a director and as an actor.”

But that’s not all we talked about with Ortiz, because there’s more to know about them than this show.

While interviewing them, they also talked about the importance of using the term “Latine” as it is a more inclusive term that doesn’t exclude them from the Puerto Rican community they love. “I speak Spanish, my first language. And I noticed that I was struggling to express who I was in Spanish with the same ease that I do when I speak English. And I felt disconnected to myself and to my culture and my family and my friends. And I decided to start teaching what inclusive Spanish can look like and sound like.” And that includes using the word “Latine.”

They also acknowledged that it’s not easy to use a new term and that they’re still learning. “I wasn’t born knowing how to do all this. I am learning as I go as well. And with that mindset, like opening up to families, family members, friends in Spanish and how to address their transgender, nonconforming, nonbinary kids, family members, friends.” Because the reality is, if we’re going to move forward, into a more inclusive and accepting world, we’re going to have to be open to learning more about the world around us for the rest of our lives.

And it’s people like Vico Ortiz that are leading the charge.

Our Flag Means Death is now available on HBO Max.