Isabela Merced | You Look Away and It’s All Growing by Leaps and Bounds

Via Issue 191, Fresh Cuts

Photographed by

Ian Morrison

Styled by

Chloe & Chenelle

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Isabela Merced signs onto our interview from the car on her way home from the airport. She is currently filming the second installment of The Last of Us in Alberta, Canada. She wrapped at 11PM the night before, took a morning flight to LA to squeeze in a photoshoot with FLAUNT, and then will head to Atlanta for a table read for James Gunn’s upcoming Superman: Legacy. After that she flies back to the set of The Last of Us to continue her work as Dina. “It’s exhausting,” notes Merced, “but it will feel amazing once all the hard work is done, and these projects come out and hopefully receive the attention they deserve.”

The young actors adventures as DC Comics’ Hawkgirl to David Corenswet’s new Superman are only just beginning, with her first Superman fitting happening while in Atlanta this week. She is most excited to meet her castmates and start this ride together. “I am a huge fan of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” blushes the actor, “I love Rachel Brosnahan. I think she is the perfect Lois Lane casting.” Similarly, her time on The Last of Us began only last week, but she is already eager, describing the environment as equally professional, as calm as it is casual. Even with long filming hours, she is energized by the passion on set. “I am bringing my A-game right now,” she beams.


Isabela was a huge fan of the first season of The Last of Us, and when she found out that Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann, the creators of the show, wanted her to audition for the second season, she went in full-force, completing the whole two-part video game in one weekend. It was tricky because she didn’t know who she was auditioning for, as they didn’t mention any specific character—their instructions only included: If you want to know more, you can see the character in the game. “I guess I could’ve just gotten on YouTube and watched scenes from the game,” she contemplates, “but it’s just so different. I am so glad I did play the game, because now when I am on these sets that look just like the game, I am familiar with it.”

Merced is joined by her Rosaline co-star Kaitlyn Dever in this new season of the game adaptation, as well as Bella Ramsey, who the public already fell in love with during the first season, and with whom Merced clicked immediately. “I got some really good advice from Bella,” comments Merced on her preparation ahead of joining the cast. “She really just laid it all out there and her advice has been great and true. They put people first on this set, and that’s a really lovely and often rare thing to see in this industry.”

GENNY dress.

The Last of Us and Superman: Legacy are coming in 2025, but until then, Merced’s next action project, which will be released in August of this year, is Alien: Romulus, a horror film by Uruguayan director Fede Álvarez. Starring Priscilla’s Cailee Spaeny, the film follows a group of youngsters facing off with otherworldly foes. “I am really excited for that movie,” shares Merced. “I’ve already seen a lot of the scenes from it, and it’s truly terrifying.”

Lastly, Hannah Marks’ adaptation of John Green’s book of the same name, Turtles All the Way Down, is being released on Max this spring. In short form, the movie is about a teenager that tries to solve a mystery surrounding a fugitive billionaire. In long form, it is about Aza, portrayed by Merced, a girl who has anxiety and OCD, and shows a first-hand experience of how these mental illnesses can affect a person and their loved ones. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen it depicted this way in cinema,” affirms Merced, “I think it’s going to change a lot of people’s lives.”

“My mom is someone who proclaims to never have struggled with any mental illness,” explains the actor, “but I have struggled with anxiety, and have always had a hard time having her understand me. And she’s had a hard time understanding me because these things can’t be conceived just through explaining them.” The movie aims to show the struggles that come with anxiety and OCD by living them through Aza on a first hand basis, without romanticizing them. “It’s a very real look at it,” continues Merced. “After seeing the movie my Mom was like, ‘I get it. I cried so much. I understand now.’”

THOM BROWNE jacket, top, and skirt.

Merced is coming off of three days of press and the premiere of the anticipated Madame Web, starring Dakota Johnson and FLAUNT-featuree alum Sydney Sweeney. “The best part of the experience was the girls,” she highlights about the film, which did not meet expectations at the box office. “The girls and I—that is the thing that I am most grateful for when it comes to the movie. It made it all worth it. Because it was chaotic, we didn’t know what was going on half the time. So we just stuck together. We were confused together. And supported each other. And if we ever had a concern, we had solidarity. And that was amazing.”

Merced grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, where she first discovered her love for acting in the living room of her family home. “Family Video was our local movie rental spot,” describes the actor, “and they had this deal where you could get a movie for a dollar on Fridays, and so we would always do that.” She first loved The Wizard of Oz and then The Sound of Music, watching them on repeat, and pretending to be the characters in those stories. Then, a local community theater production of The Wizard of Oz came about. “I got to audition for Dorothy, but ended up playing a munchkin,” laughs Merced. “I remember the moment where I first walked on that stage, it was so perfect I fell in love.”

Merced first starred in Nickelodeon’s 100 Things to Do Before High School in 2014, but 2019’s Dora and the Lost City of Gold is regarded as the actress’ big break, and she isn’t bothered by it at all. “I am really proud of Dora,” comments Merced, “and I love the impact that it’s had. I think it has a great message.” She was filming 2018’s Instant Family when she was given the chance to do a director session for the role. “I felt like it just clicked. I felt like I accessed Dora and who she was in an easy way. It’s almost like the script was so well-written that I knew exactly what to do, and there was no room for doubt.”

At only 22 years old, Merced has not stopped working since her role in Instant Family. Balancing multiple projects at once, on a high from her successful career, Merced has learned a lot, and has much to say about the ways of the movie industry, and how she hopes it changes. “I am quite critical of the movies I am a part of,” begins Merced. “A lot of the time, though, as actors, you don’t really have much say. You are really placing a bet, because, most times, you don’t get to see the script until you sign the contract, so you don’t have a choice. If they choose you, and the script is not what you thought it would be, you are stuck to the project still. I just don’t think that’s fair. It makes it feel more like a business than an art and a craft.”

DOLCE & GABBANA jacket and shoes and GIVENCHY earring.

Merced believes in a good script. She believes that the script says it all. If the script is weak, there’s really hardly anything you can do to make the final product good. But if the script is amazing, then it’s a playground. And that is how she describes the aforementioned film Turtles All the Way Down. “You can take as many risks as you want because you know the groundwork is solid,” explains Merced.

While her first love for musical theater—and creating music overall—seemed to have taken a place on the backend of her career, her personal life constantly involves the two. “I am always making music,” she shares, “If I am not making a movie, I am usually working on music. That has not stopped happening.” However, it might be a while before we can add her songs to our Spotify playlists. “I have such a weird relationship with music professionally.” Merced continues, “The thought of taking music, which to me is a hobby and a passion, and making it into yet another job, and yet another thing to schedule into my life, doesn’t really sound that appealing right now.”

As for the future, the actor is hopeful: “With all of these projects coming out, I might get the upper hand in the future and potentially produce my own projects.” Her next career goal is to produce her own movie, as she teased a secret project on Instagram last year. “Hopefully it’ll happen in 2025,” she shares. “We have a great team assembled. The hard part now is making sure everyone’s schedule fits, because you obviously want amazing names on it, but then that makes it harder to schedule, and if you don’t have amazing names, then people don’t want to fund it. It’s really a miracle for a movie to get made. It’s giving me a new perspective and a new respect for everything that happens behind the scenes.”

It’s all hard work, but Merced is no stranger to the grind, and not one to back down either. “I really just can’t wait until I am in charge of my projects,” she re-asserts, “because I know I have good instincts.” We hang up as she enters the home she recently purchased in LA—the first of many dreams that have come true for the actor, and of many more to come. 

FERRAGAMO jacket and stylist’s own earrings.

Photographed by Ian Morrison

Styled by Chloe & Chenelle at A-Frame Agency

Written by Constanza Falco Raez

Hair: Sylvia Wheeler at Forward Artists

Makeup: Allan Avendano at A-Frame Agency

Flaunt Film: Cheersdude

Digi Tech: Michael Seeley

Art Direction: Randall Mesdon

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Flaunt Magazine, Issue 191, Fresh Cuts, Isabela Merced,