In an exclusive interview with People Chica, Mercado dishes why acting was the career that made her soul feel most fulfilled and how she is changing the game with her barrier-breaking role on Showtime's The L Word: Generation Q.
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Jillian Mercado
Jillian Mercado attends the 2022 Easterseals Disability Film Challenge Awards Ceremony at Sony Pictures Studios.
| Credit: Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images

As children, we grow up looking for heros—the kind you see in fairy tales and spellbinding novels. But what happens when the charming and brave heroes don't look like you or represent your truth?

Well, then you're just gonna have to become your own hero just like actress, model, and activist Jillian Mercado did. The L Word: Generation Q actress has gone on to carve out a career and platform that has granted a beautiful voice to a group that is very often not seen in the overall narrative folks see play out on the TV and film screens.

The Dominican American Chica Boss shares, "I think that at the age of 14 or something like that, I kind of had a very—I want to say probably the toughest moment in my life. And as an adult now, I know that it's depression. It was a very dark time for me because I just didn't feel like the world was accepting me authentically, because nowhere that I was looking at or experiencing did I see representation for me, specifically being Latina, being disabled—[there] just was nothing anywhere."

So, shielded with her determination and faith that there could and would be better representation for disabled people within the media, she set out to inadvertently become the hero she always wanted.

In an exclusive interview with People Chica, Mercado dishes why acting was the career that made her soul feel most fulfilled and how she is changing the game with her barrier-breaking role on Showtime's The L Word: Generation Q.

Jillian Mercado
Jillian Mercado at an event.
| Credit: Araya Doheny/Getty Images for Inevitable Foundation

The road of an actor is one that's paved with lots of highs and lows. What was it about this career path that really spoke to your soul and why did you feel that professionally, this was the journey that you would feel most fulfilled with?

First of all, I love that question. I feel like from a young age there was something that I wasn't able to grasp on in life or understand in life that people were seemingly getting perfectly. But my point of view was just very different from other people. I couldn't find anyone who I saw I could relate with, so it was very confusing at first. And I knew that get excited with fashion and I was excited with movies, and I had like a schedule of TV shows when I was younger, like 3:00 this, 4:30 this, 6:30 this, you know, which included like [Cuban-American journalist] Cristina [Saralegui,] Caso cerrado, and Primer Impacto, when I was younger.

But still, there is there's something missing. I think that at the age of 14 or something like that, I kind of had a very—I want to say probably the toughest moment in my life. And as an adult now, I know that it's depression. It was a very dark time for me because I just didn't feel like the world was accepting me authentically, because nowhere that I was looking at or experiencing did I see representation for me, specifically being Latina, being disabled—[there] just was nothing anywhere.

So, I come from a Dominican family and we're very proud, loud, [and] very stubborn sometimes, but we're very determined people. And I think that all of those [powers] kind of like exploded in me when I was 14. I soon realized that even though I was 14 I knew that life was so short and I had to stop focusing on the negative things in life and focus more on the positive things and what do I have available to me and the privileges that I had. Which could have been as tiny as like—you know, my mom used to say, you have a techo or you have comida, you have family and that's such a foundation to start anything you're doing.

Jillian Mercado appears on the runway for The Blonds
Jillian Mercado appears on the runway for The Blonds during New York Fashion Week: The Shows at Gallery I at Spring Studios on February 09, 2020
| Credit: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for NYFW: The Shows

So I gathered myself with a list of things that just make me happy. And that could have been from like watching fashion shows or going to the movies by myself or with friends or in New York I would walk alongside Riverside Park or Central Park and just people-watch. I was so fascinated by everybody's wardrobe and what they were experiencing that I kind of decided when I was graduating high school to go into that career because I wanted to find a way where I can gather—like I knew that I couldn't be the one person on earth who was Latina and I knew I couldn't be the only person on earth who also has a disability.

I kind of challenged myself to find equal minds. So I was like, "okay, I'm going to be an editor for a magazine so I can hire and I can profile people who are like myself because somebody has to do it." And for some reason, I was like, "I'm the person." I'm so frustrated by the world right now that I'm going to use that frustration as energy to find those people. Sounds kind of cheesy, but at the end of the day, I ended up being that person that I was looking for, which kind of like started this following [and] uproar of people who also I feel like felt the same thing but were kind of afraid to step up and to kind of be in that leader position.

And I'm so blessed to say today that there's so many people like myself who are just taking the lead and making sure that our voices are being heard [and] that we're represented in the right way. And you know, if it's slow, at least it's going forward.

You portray Maribel on Showtime's The L Word: Generation Q. Maribel is fierce, outspoken, and protective. If nothing else, she is beautifully human. What aspect and elements of this role excited you when you first saw the script?

So many things. First of all, mi mamá se llama Maribel del Carmen Mercado. And I was like, "That's one sign to audition." [The] second sign was that when I was younger, I actually did watch The L Word. I wasn't very outspoken about it, and it was more under the covers, quite literally, watching the show. But that was like the second reason why I was like, "Wow, [I've had] such a full circle moment."

Jilliam Mercado walks the runway at the 2020 Christian Cowan x Powerpuff Girls Runway Show
Jillian Mercado walks the runway at the 2020 Christian Cowan x Powerpuff Girls Runway Show Season II held at NeueHouse Los Angeles on March 8, 2020
| Credit: Xavier Collin/Image Press Agency/Sipa USA/The Grosby Group

This just kind of like fell at my [feet] of having the opportunity to be in something that I was such an admirer of growing up. And I remember it being so different and so revolutionary and just breaking the barriers of what television was at the time—so I kind of related to that so much. I'm like, "Oh my God, in a way, if this show was one person, I can totally relate to this person." Then after that, I think for me, [what drove] me to audition was to find out that they were very, very, very much looking for authenticity.

When I saw that they were looking for authenticity—so they were specifically looking for, in my case, my character [in particular] they were looking for a Dominican woman who had a physical disability. And upon reading the description of Maribel, I was like, "Oh my God, I can play this so well because Maribel is like myself and my two sisters in one person." So I thought that was really amazing that I was able to kind of take from my sisters and make this person come to life.

In season two, you filmed your first sex scene. What went through your mind when you saw the final edit finally on TV? That must have been such a huge moment for you.

Honestly, I saw it, and then I shut it off really quick. [Laughs] I'm like, "Oh, my God. That's me!" But after I got over the shock of me on television in such [an] intimate moment, this was such a—this scene particularly took about a whole year in talks and discussions and conversations. Not only with Leo Shang, who plays [my partner] Micah, but also with Marja[-Lewis Ryan] and the writers of the show [on] why this was so important for not only myself but for the community watching.

We wanted to kind of rewrite what others have failed to do as far as intimacy goes in scenes where there's a character who has a disability. Because unfortunately, it's not really sexy. It's very like "I'm doing you a favor," you know? Or like a savior complex in a way. Nobody that I've [known], and hopefully somebody can correct me if I'm wrong, but that I have [known has] watched a scene like this and went like, "Whoa, that was really hot," or [would get] worked up or like having some sort of reaction like, "oh, that was weird" or "that just was uncomfortable." Or, you know, people around me like looking away or fast-forwarding—something in a negative atmosphere.

Leo Sheng as Micah and Jillian Mercado as Maribel in THE L WORD: GENERATION Q "Last Dance".
Leo Sheng as Micah and Jillian Mercado as Maribel in THE L WORD: GENERATION Q "Last Dance".
| Credit: Liz Morris/SHOWTIME

So I knew how much damage that has done to my community, and even to myself, [in addition to] not having representation. Like, sex was something that you don't talk [about]. I mean, it was harder to talk [about in a] Dominican family [where] sex and intimacy isn't really discussed in the way that it should. It's always a [fear-based conversation]. And having fear as a beginning subject about waiting for marriage, about not really talking about those tough questions with your partner, safe sex, and all that.

So when I was younger, I had to learn with real-life experiences which sometimes can be extremely dangerous, especially if you don't have anything to fall back on. So even like watching porn when I was younger, I was like, there's still no representation here. But I knew that if we kind of removed the ablest mindset [for] this particular sex scene, we can kind of just focus on it [being] a relationship between two people who give consent to each other and make it as sexy as possible. Because that's what The L Word knows how to do best—is to just make really steamy, hot sex scenes and having some sort of emotion behind it.

This one was particularly special for me because of that—because I didn't see anybody making it as hot as possible. I remember on set, like literally day of, us telling our cinematographer, I was like, "The only thing I really want is that this looks as sexy as possible. So if we got to spend six hours [here,] we will spend six hours." It was just so important for me because I wanted somebody who felt unsure of their body or who felt like the world is against them because of who they are to look at this and be like, "Oh, wow. Like, this is possible for me as well. I can have a relationship. I can tell my crush I really like them and I don't have to feel like I'm a burden or I don't have to feel like I'm different in a negative way. I can just be myself."

Jillian Mercado as Maribel and Leo Sheng as Micah Lee in THE L WORD: GENERATION Q, "Last Year"
Jillian Mercado as Maribel and Leo Sheng as Micah Lee in THE L WORD: GENERATION Q, "Last Year"
| Credit: Nicole Wilder/SHOWTIME

So, it was my reaction was just like a bajillion things at the same time because it was so beautiful and also I couldn't believe I was doing that.

Mirabel opens up season three with a bang when she makes a major declaration to her partner Micah which places family planning at its center. What was it like diving into her story this time around?

Maribel always comes on fire. It's something that under the character description for Maribel, they just [say] "spice," period. She loves catching people off guard, even her own boyfriend—who was very [much caught] off guard in this particular scene. But, you know, with the sex scene, again, I think that there's such a misconception of people who have disabilities having a family. What does that look like and what's the process like? And [there are] real-life situations where this actually does happen, but we don't really talk about it.

The same goes, and I hope it's okay [that] I'm speaking for [scene partner] Leo [Sheng], but you know, he's trans and like having those tough conversations. And I think that I kind of really love that we started off so strong in the first episode. Also, in the Latin family, marriage is everything, [and we are] sort of saying no to marriage and skipping to the baby. It's like, what drugs are you on? You know what is going on. But in reality, I feel like with my generation and also the next one, Gen Z, we're not looking so much for the traditional values of what marriage is.

Jillian Mercado as Maribel and Leo Sheng as Micah in THE L WORD: GENERATION Q, "Last To Know"
Jillian Mercado as Maribel and Leo Sheng as Micah in THE L WORD: GENERATION Q, "Last To Know"
| Credit: Nicole Wilder/SHOWTIME

And I think that well, politically, sometimes it just doesn't help being married to the person whatsoever. But when love is in the air, I mean, when you want to start a family, that's all that really matters at the end of the day, you know? So I thought that was really kind of amazing, that me specifically coming from a very—I don't think Maribel's family is super traditional, but they hold a lot of traditional values. [So] saying no to marriage was probably something that she had to talk with them about and really sit with it and her sister as well. I'm pretty sure her sister was like, "Yeah, just go for it."

But that was super important to dive into. What does that look like? Because I don't think a lot of people understand how confusing and also misleading sometimes it is to have a disability and not have information whatsoever about what happens, [especially] if you do want to have a baby of your own.

And I think that's such an important conversation not only to have but to also show because there's so many stories that are not being told. I believe with all my heart that this is definitely one of those stories that is just like all other stories [and] it merits being told. It deserves to have its time in the light as well.