Jessica Marie Garcia: Tough, Smart, and Confident.
Intimately familiar with topics of bullying and body image, Jessica Marie Garcia has garnered her personal experiences into a positive advantage. The empowering message of overcoming life’s struggles are brought forth through her role as Willow on Disney’s Liv and Maddie. Composure gets first-hand insight on what keeps Jessica grounded and what she is excited to share with the world in the near future.
CM: You are currently playing the role of Willow on Liv and Maddie. Can you share a little more about your character?
JMG: Willow is the most amazing character I’ve gotten to play so far. She’s tough and she’s smart. She would do anything for her friends. The other side of her – she’s so vulnerable and she has such a big heart and I love that I get to play somebody as amazing as that. She’s got a little tiny crush on Joey; I don’t know if everybody knows that!
CM: Team #JILLOW!
JMG: We are going to make JILLOW happen ladies and gentlemen!
CM: Speaking of [Willow], she conveys a very strong and a confident role starting from season 1. Do you feel that the development of the character will change or continue on this road of confidence?
JMG: She’s always been a confident character and I’ve always loved and admired that about her. However, in the episode that aired, “Rate-a-Rooney,” it was the first time you actually got to see Willow not confident and a little unsure about herself. It was such a beautiful episode to shoot because I feel like we’ve all been there; we’ve all been picked on at some point in our lives. Playing a character dealing with that, to see her evolve, and come from that place of vulnerability to one of strength, you get to see her deal with that kind of situation and come out of it. So I feel like she’s become even more confident in the fact that she has had to go through something. I think that is where a lot of people get their confidence from; having to overcome something in their life.
CM: Does that come naturally to you because of a personal experience that you’ve had in the past? For example, the topic of bullying.
JMG: Oh I’ve been bullied, let me tell ya! Growing up, I’ve always been overweight and I’ve had psoriasis since I was 10 years old. So there were always things that I have been picked on for. I can’t tell you how many department store fitting rooms I’ve cried in because nothing fit me. Or I can’t show my arms or my legs because of the psoriasis. Growing up, it was tough. But, I realized that it was going to get better and only if I found what I loved in myself. I’ve always said, “you should be your number one fan. You should always be your best friend”, because you’re in this (pointing to her body) your whole life. So you have to make this something that you’re proud of and something that you love. I found that in my humor, I found that in my positive thinking, and it really helped me become the person who I am today. Now it’s almost like, no one can really say anything to me that will deter me from feeling how I am right now; which is a confident, beautiful woman.
CM: Can you share with your fans – will there be more of these conflict-type stories?
JMG: We have quite a big love-triangle story coming up. I think as far as showing a deeper story, you get to see how two girls should really deal with that and I’m excited for it to show true friendship and how your friend should come first.
CM: Can you share more about your literally life-saving journey?
JMG: Yes! About two years ago, I was diagnosed pre-diabetic. That was the shock of a lifetime. When you’re a little kid, you never think that you’re anything but invincible. And me, I’ve always been healthy so I’m like “I’m fine; I don’t have to keep going to the doctor.” I refused to go for a very long time, and then when my family finally pushed me to go, I found out. It was insane. I’m always the type of woman that tells other women and men that they need to be strong and that you can get through anything as long as you are strong enough to overcome it. So I felt like this was the first time where I really had to either put-up or shut-up. I changed everything on a dime. I went to my kitchen and just threw out everything that was bad for me and I realized how much I didn’t have anything left. I learned how to cook because I think the biggest advice that I can give to anybody is to learn proper nutrition. It had me come to terms with the fact that I think that I’m worth living for as long as I possibly can and worth the effort to become healthy. You’re worth the effort it takes to become healthy, and that’s my biggest message I feel.
CM: For your audience of the younger generation, body image is so confusing. What can someone do or what positive resources would you point them towards to get on a healthier track?
JMG: I think the most important thing is to let down your devices, your cell phones, and realize that there is an entire place outside of your door called “outside”. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent binge watching television and not even [going] outside for days. That was my biggest problem; I was a couch potato. Back when I was much younger, kids played outside and asked “can Joseph come out and play?” That doesn’t happen now. I think if you have to have your devices, then get a workout app or get a healthy eating app. Not something where you’re going to be crash dieting or eliminating whole food groups because that is not a [healthy] thing to do. I’ve done every diet under the sun and I gained everything back. So it’s really important to just know what it is that you’re putting into your body. That’s my advice to them – put down the devices and go outside and take a walk!
CM: Are there other types of roles that you hope to do?
JMG: Yes, I can’t tell you enough that when I say that I am an actress inside and out, I want to play every role. I want to play something that’s grittier, a little darker, something I’ve never tried before. I’ve done a lot of comedy and I would love to show my dramatic side as well. But really, I want to be a crime fighter, I want to be a superhero, I want to be a lawyer, or a doctor; honestly, just give me a script and I’ll play it. I think it’s really important to have more ethnic minorities out there, especially women because we are incredible actors if you give us a chance; if you don’t name me ‘Maria’ and put a mop in my hands, you know? I think the industry is changing and I’m really excited about it.
CM: Do you have any other projects that you’re working on?
JMG: I am writing my first short film that I’m going to direct and act as well. I’m really excited about it! It’s an ambitious adventure, but I’m going to do it! And that’s the thing – I want to be able to direct and have my own production company one day.
CM: Can you share more about the short film?
JMG: It’s going to be ethnically charged and it’s going to be all about female empowerment, and also about being a minority in this industry. I’m really excited to share with the world what I’ve been doing!
Watch Jessica on Liv and Maddie airing Sundays on the Disney channel.