Isabela Merced Is Never Going to Call You “Papi”
Isabela Merced’s acting career was inspired by her love for young old-Hollywood actresses, Judy Garland and Shirley Temple. Following closely in the footsteps of these immortalized artists in cinema, Merced began acting at the age of 6 which eventually led her to Broadway. Isabela’s first production was with the one and only Ricky Martin, where she performed a song in Spanish and danced alongside Martin in a modern rendition of Evita.
But Isabela’s star is shining brighter and brighter. You may recognize her from billboards for the latest film adaptation of your favorite cartoon as a kid — Dora the Explorer. She’s also starring in a new Netflix movie that you’ll probably binge over the holidays: Let It Snow.
And if TV and movies aren’t your thing, Isabela still has something to keep you entertained. Her first single and music video for her song, “Papi,” was just released in early November.
Isabela Merced’s impressive repertoire of versatile dance moves, catchy melodies, and outstanding performances makes her a true triple threat in Hollywood — so naturally we wanted to talk to her face-to-face and find out her secret (and her plans for world domination).
See the full interview, as well as our exclusive shoot with Isabela Merced below!
What about acting and music captivated you at such a young age?
When I was growing up with my two brothers, my dad didn’t want us to have cable, he wanted us to spend our childhood years outside. We weren’t Amish or anything, I just think he didn’t want to pay for it. So, I would go to my friend’s house and watch hours of TV, and every weekend I’d go to the library to pick up movies. I gravitated toward the more classic movies. I absolutely loved Shirley Temple and Judy Garland. I would watch their movies over and over again, like kids do. I mimicked their singing voices and dance moves. I thought, “Hey, if they can do it, then I can do it too.” Coincidentally, the first musical theater production I ever did was The Wizard of Oz. I wanted to be Dorothy, but I ended up playing a munchkin.
What was your first love…acting or music?
Definitely plays and musical theater. I just loved performing with an audience. I was a middle child, so maybe it was an attention thing, but I’ve never pictured myself doing anything other than performing on stage.
Who would you often emulate when performing on the big stage?
My favorite voice in the whole world was Whitney Houston’s. I loved confident women. I would emulate Beyoncé, Shakira, or Britney Spears. I felt empowered watching them in their cute little outfits. I would create looks that I wanted to wear in my performances, but for my dolls. I didn’t like the original outfits the dolls came with, so I would cut their shirts into crop tops and give them mini-skirts, accompanied with tattoos.
What about your Peruvian culture do you love to showcase the most in all of your roles or performances?
I love the textiles, fabrics, colors, and patterns. The traditional garments are so unique and beautiful. My friend who happens to be an extremely talented Peruvian designer, Ani Alvarez Calderon, captures everything I love about Peruvian fashion, but she makes it edgy and modern. Ani adds her own flare and I’m in love with everything she creates. The first time we met was at her house in Peru and we played dress up for hours.
Recently, I’ve been experimenting with a lot of the traditional dances of Peru. I found my choreographer for the “Papi” music video (Galen Hooks) through Instagram. As someone who used to be a dancer, I knew that I wanted her for the video as soon as I saw one video of hers. We talked extensively about my vision for the video. I wanted to mix the traditional Marinera with her unique, expressive, and modern style of dancing. I want to experiment with other dances in future projects. Peruvian culture is so rich and there is so much history that has yet to be told in pop culture. I’m just completely fascinated. A Peru fan girl who happens to be lucky enough to have the sangre in my veins.
How has it been being immersed in Hollywood for most of your early life?
Weird. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s a unique lifestyle. Acting as a child definitely lays the foundation for instability in the future. I think the reason for this is because it’s purely business… and when you’re so young, it’s hard to tell the difference. You confuse false affection with true intentions, but I feel like my mom and the people closest to me wouldn’t let me become a victim of my circumstances. I think your tribe is what it’s all about, they keep me stable and grounded.
What project did you have the most fun being a part of?
Dora was crazy. We were out in the middle of the jungle in Australia. It was full of crazy bugs, animals, and beautiful trees I had never seen before in my life. I did most of my stunts and I learned so much. It’s crazy how much I got to experience, and I had only just turned 17.
Did you ever watch Dora as a kid growing up? Was it hard to tap into that character or did it come naturally to you?
It felt pretty natural. As soon as I read the script, it was like an ‘aha’ moment for me. The script had a very interesting take on the story, but I knew exactly what I wanted to do with the character. I think because I was so familiar with the original Dora, having grown up with her.
What genre of movies are your favorite to play a role in?
I love action. Doing my own stunts gives me an adrenaline rush every time, it’s addicting, but my dream is to do a movie musical. I’ve been writing it down in my journal because, manifestation.
If you could play a biopic of any Latin artist, who would it be and why?
Probably Jennifer Lopez… she has a stage presence that can’t be taught. It’s a little soon because her career is still thriving, but I’d pick her because I admire her versatility and I think she’s a very smart business woman. Plus, my makeup artist is always doing glam on me inspired by her iconic looks.
What does the ideal future look like for you in music and acting?
My ideal future would include an album, a movie musical, a worldwide tour, a directorial debut on one of my music videos, and no scandals.
Finally, what words of encouragement do you have for other young artists who look up to you?
I am just a prototype. I, and so many other artists, exist for the sole purpose of being channels for your creativity and expression. I’d say just be yourself every step of the way. Enjoy every minute of the journey because I promise you’ll appreciate it way more than the destination.
What your beauty regimen?
I wash my face like crazy. I moisturize excessively and use the smallest amount of tea tree oil mixed with vitamin E for pimples. It’s super important to know your skin type. I’ve got a cheap mindset but I’ve found that getting facials every month or so is worth the investment, especially because I’m always wearing makeup for work.
What beauty products do you love at the moment?
I love Neutrogena makeup wipes. I’ve been using those since the beginning of time. My favorite makeup product is probably my Nars foundation.
What can we expect from you on this new musical journey?
You can expect pop music with a Peruvian flare. I would also love to do a concept album as my first full project.
Tell us more about your character on Let it Snow on Netflix.
Julie is a pessimistic small-town girl who does not like Christmas and the false hope associated with it. I loved this character’s attitude and heart that she usually keeps hidden. I could really relate to her storyline.
What are your holiday plans?
I am going to Peru to spend Christmas and the New Year with friends and family. It’s my first Christmas in Peru. I’ve got so many cousins, I don’t think I’ve met them all. It’ll be crazy fun.
What do you love most about the holidays?
I love that I get to spend time with family. I love the food and the traditions.
What would be your ideal movie role?
Something that incorporates singing, dancing, and acting in one. A movie like Moulin Rouge or In the Heights.
If u could have starred in any 2000s show what would it be?
The Office. Or Hannah Montana. I know, very different demographics.
Dream collaboration on music?
Frank Ocean, Whitney Houston, Beyoncé, or Rosalia. All of the above.
When you win an Oscar how will you start your speech?
I cry a lot so I will probably be a sobbing mess. Also, I’d say, “thank you” a million times.
What’s your girl power motto?
It’s just something my mom used to tell me and I remind myself when I’m worried, stressed, or anxious. It’s “Lo que es tuyo, nadie te lo quita.” It just means, “What is yours, no one can take from you.” If it’s your moment, no one can take it from you. If you’re meant to be with that person, the universe won’t stop it. There’s no coincidences. It’s simple, but effective for when I feel out of control.
What is next for you on this amazing journey?
Nothing but good things, I hope. I hope my tribe grows stronger, I hope everyone stays healthy, and I hope everyone gets their sh*t together and helps save this planet earth.
What advice would you give your 14 year old self?
I’m gonna steal a quote from Winne the Pooh:
“You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”
Photo Creative Direction: Prince and Jacob
Shoes: Dolce Vita
Styling: Bianca Agruso
Makeup: Allan Avendano
Hair: Chad Wood
Interview: Malik Peay