The 20-year-old actress is starring alongside Jason Momoa and Adriana Arjona on Netflix's Sweet Girl.

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Isabela Merced and her parents had no idea that the fire that ravished their Cleveland family home when she was nine would become the launchpad into her acting career.

In an interview with Elle magazine, the 20-year-old actress tells all about how she started acting and her transition from life on stage to screen, including her new starring role opposite Jason Momoa and Adriana Arjona in Netflix's Sweet Girl.

"My parents were like, 'How do we distract her in a way that's healthy, so she's not so bothered by the fact that we lost everything?'" she told the publication. 

Their instincts were to enroll her in a local production of The Wizard of Oz, where she landed her first role as a Munchkin. A local theater director told her parents they "needed" to take her to New York, where she could pursue her Broadway dreams.

Merced's parents slept in air mattresses and navigated the subway for their daughter's aspirations. Soon enough, Merced was singing in Spanish, a language she grew up speaking at home with her Peruvian mother, alongside Puerto-Rican artist Ricky Martin in Evita. 

After Broadway, she decided Hollywood was the next step in her career.

She became an icon after playing the bilingual Dora in Dora and the Lost City of Gold—a role for which she even learned Quechua, a language spoken by the Indigenous peoples in Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador. She told Forbes she was determined to get the language right.

"Between scenes, I'd call my great aunt in Peru to ask her about certain phrases and how to say them in Quechua," she said.

Isabela Merced
Photo by Victor Chavez/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures
| Credit: Photo by Victor Chavez/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures

The actress has also played various roles, including Nickelodeon's 100 Things to Do Before High School, Netflix's Christmas flick, Let it SnowTransformers: The Last Knight, and Sicario: Day of Soldado. She is currently filming a remake of Father of the Bride alongside Andy Garcia and Gloria Estefan.

In addition to her theatrical pursuits, Merced studied psychology for two years after enrolling in college at age 15, which helped prepare her for her current role in Sweet Girl.

"I was ready to delve into this." She told Elle of her role as Rachel, a character who is recovering from trauma. "She got through it, which is sometimes all you can do."

This star is undoubtedly on the rise!