In 1993, John made his film debut as Al Pacino's young cousin Guajiro in Carlito's Way. He went on to appear in over 30 films including El Cantante, Take the Lead, Before Night Falls, Amistad, Ransom, and Narc. His recent film performances include those in Ridley Scott's American Gangster as Russell Crowe's partner Javy Rivera, and Michael Mann's Miami Vice as drug lord Jose Yero.
In 1992, Ortiz formed Latino Actors Base with 13 other Latino actors to provide themselves with a place to work and an opportunity to become a tightly knit ensemble. Today, that ensemble is known as LAByrinth Theater Company: an award winning troupe of over 100 artists from a wide range of cultural backgrounds and creative disciplines.
Ortiz was born and raised in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York; he is of Puerto Rican ancestry. He graduated from John Dewey High School in Brooklyn, where he met his wife. Ortiz resided in that borough with his wife Jennifer and son Clemente until 2010, when Ortiz and his family moved to California.