‘The Watchful Eye’ Star Mariel Molino Is Finally Getting Her Flowers, and It’s Been a Long Time Coming

‘The Watchful Eye’ Star Mariel Molino Is Finally Getting Her Flowers, and It’s Been a Long Time Coming

The first time I talked to Mariel Molino, we were on the Vancouver set of The Watchful Eye, back in August 2022. Nobody would have guessed that we had never met before (or that we’d go on to meet three times), but the connection was instant. It was the first time Mariel was able to talk about her wild and twisty Freeform TV series outside the small bubble of fellow cast and crew-mates, and her voice bloomed as she talked about her new character: Elena, a nanny with a dark past who infiltrates NYC’s richest apartment buildings in search of a payday.

As one of very few Latinas on screen—and part of an even smaller number who are #1 on the call sheet—Mariel quickly bonded with me over our shared heritage. Despite having the top job in her Watchful Eye cast (a career first for her), Mariel was the very face of calm and serenity. I would later find out that, well, it wasn’t as easy as it looked. This was the “before.”

Our second encounter was less about work and more about play as we met up for lunch with a group of other NYC journalists at a special pre-premiere event. Mariel asked me about the rest of my visit to Canada, and suddenly we were sharing stories about life, love, and destiny. No topic was off the table. And it was still the “before.”

Before the rest of the world really knew about her show. Before there was a release date. Before the trailer dropped. Before a big Times Square billboard took its place in the city Mariel used to call home. Before thousands of people tuned in to see what The Watchful Eye was actually all about.

And now it’s premiere week, when I log into our Zoom call. We catch up on recent travels, Mariel absolutely raving and giving me recommendations. For a moment, I forget this is supposed to be an interview.

This is the “after.” This is her new “now.” The first two episodes of The Watchful Eye have already aired. Twitter and professional critics alike have gotten a first glimpse at the series. And we’re sitting down together once again, only this time it’s for a Cosmopolitan feature and for the very first time, all Mariel can do is sit back and watch what happens next.

Below, Cosmopolitan speaks to Mariel about living in the “after,” her long career journey, crafting Elena in The Watchful Eye, and the future of the industry for Latinos.

Premiere week is finally here! How are you feeling?

Oh my gosh. I feel overwhelmed in the best possible way. I feel such a sense of gratitude, of accomplishment. I’m also just trying to stay in a place where I’m open to receiving whatever comes. And I guess now there’s nothing I can do! It’s out there. I’ve done my job, and I just want people to enjoy it. From the bottom of my heart, I just want people to come along for the ride.

Have people been texting you show theories?

It’s so funny to see people have different theories. For example, I had a little cousin who watched it yesterday with me, and he’s 11 years old and he’s like, ‘Listen, there’s a doorman that was there before the other doorman died and he’s suspicious. A friend of mine texted me that they were suspicious of Ginny, that she was responsible for the joint and getting me in trouble. It’s so funny, people pick up on different things. I did not get the ending at all, so I’m hoping that people don’t pick up on it too soon.

It was interesting knowing that you of all people didn’t know the ending even when we were on set, because it’s Elena’s story!

I know, but now I think it also served its purpose for my journey. And even from an actor’s standpoint, I knew what I needed to know, which was everything about my past. The moment Elena enters The Greybourne, anything goes. All the obstacles that come my way were actual obstacles in my own preparation as an actor.

mariel molino

Sam Takataka

mariel molino the watchful eye

Sam Takataka

Despite being new to some people, you’ve had an interesting career journey. You started off in telenovelas, even starring in some, and later moved to Hollywood. Then you recently starred in Promised Land, which got pulled only five episodes in and later canceled after just one season.

It’s been a lot of ups and downs. It’s funny because I got a text message from someone who said, ‘It’s incredible to see how fast this has come for you. And I was like, ‘Oh, gosh, that’s not it at all. I understand, because when you look at the trajectory of someone’s career and you see them in a leading role, you’re like, ‘Wow, this person came out of nowhere. But I’ve been working really hard. I took a lot of roles in Mexico City and Latin America that I am so thankful for but that definitely weren’t what I thought fulfilled my passion.

It was really important to be surrounded by creatives that I believed in, and that I was inspired by, even if it was a tiny role. People are like, ‘What was it like to be on a show like Narcos?’ I was like, ‘Well, it was great for the 10 minutes I was on.’ I was a nurse. I had one line. At this point, I had already been a series regular on my own telenovela. My manager told me, ‘Why would you take this role?’ But I want to be surrounded by people that inspired me, it didn’t matter how small the role is. That’s always been my guiding light, and I think it’s proven to be right so far. It doesn’t matter if it’s on a big project or a small project, I really do want to keep taking on roles that challenge me.

And now you’re starring in your own TV show.

It still is incredible to me. I still feel a sense of imposter syndrome. I talked about this with my manager not too long ago, I had this sense of like, There’s no way that they want me for this. Then it must not be good, because how are they going to trust me to be the lead of this? And you have these limiting beliefs that you believe, and it’s not true. I’m starting to really try and shift that belief within myself and just be open to whatever is in store for me, because there are a lot of highs and a lot of lows. Right now, I’m just celebrating.

mariel molino the watchful eye

Sam Takataka

There’s a special responsibility in being #1 on the call sheet on a set. That person really sets the tone and is the leader of the cast. How did you handle that, especially working with veteran actors like Kelly Bishop and Amy Acker?

I remind myself every day that this is an incredible opportunity for growth as not only an actor but as a person. I don’t take that lightly at all. I had one of the best mentors in that in that realm and that is John Ortiz, who was our #1 on Promised Land. He was such a generous professional, and I’m gonna just get emotional talking about it. But he taught me to always bring it back to the work. He’s a theater-trained legend. He started his own theatre company when he was 23 years old—when no one wanted to hire Latinos. He walked so people like me could run.

For him, it wasn’t about the number on the call sheet. It wasn’t about the prestige, the fame, the salary. It was always about the work. No one on set is more important than anyone. And I mean that in terms of not just cast, but our grips, our costumers, our set deck, the designers, the producers, the writers, and I think that’s what I tried to bring on set every day.

How has your mom been reacting to everything? In our previous talks, we chatted about how supportive she’s been in your journey.

It’s funny because my mom is a lot more stoic than me. She doesn’t really wear her emotions on her sleeve in the way that I’ve been after being cracked open by this industry. I showed her yesterday an interview of me with Sandy Kenyon, who’s like a New York City staple, and he was just so incredibly gracious with his words. I was watching it with my mom, and she starts crying. And she’s just like, ‘I can’t believe you’re here. You were living with me here during the pandemic and you were spending so much time on these auditions. And I just kept thinking, Why is she still going through this? Why is she torturing herself? Why is she putting herself on this path where she’s gonna end up depressed or worse?It’s just so easy to let those doubts creep in, but she never voiced them to me. Instead, she kept on supporting me and kept pushing me, and kept telling me, ‘Whatever you need, I’m here.

I loved that video you recently posted of you looking at a billboard of yourself in Times Square.

I remember biking down the street when I was living in New York, going to an agency in the middle of the summer. I was going straight from work. There was a restaurant next to the agency, I went in and washed my armpits, put on my dress and my makeup. I went in the interview and I thought I was charming and everything, but then that agent told my manager, ‘You know, she was sweating and she looked like she had just come from like a workout or something. That’s not okay, we’re not going to take her.’ And now my manager’s like, ‘You know, I sent them your billboard in Times Square.’ That might be petty, but I don’t care.

Does it feel real yet?

No, it feels like I’m in a simulation. But if this is a simulation, keep it going. I love it. I’m having a great time.

What’s harder: working on the show or having to let it go at the end and just hope it goes well out in the world?

That’s funny, I think the work is the hardest. I do think so because it’s trying to do the best that you can while also trying to toe the line between your personal life and work and also taking care of yourself. I think also the letting go is a challenge because I look at everything now and there are still things I always want to improve on. I watch myself and I say, I wish I would have done that differently or I wish I would have trusted this moment more or I wish I would have gone in deeper here. You can’t help but have those thoughts. But I think that being in it and surrendering yourself to the character in a story is always a little bit more challenging for me because it’s about relinquishing control and about focus.

I feel like I am pretty good about just letting go. That’s not to say that I don’t let certain things get to me, especially on the internet. I’m really learning how to navigate negativity and not letting that creep in my mind. A dear, dear friend of mine who was on Promised Land with me, Yul Vazquez, said to me once, ‘If you’re going to believe the good, you gotta believe the bad. So better not believe anything.’ I really don’t want to see the praise and I don’t want to see the negativity. If you’re just looking for the positive, then there’s no growth and if you’re also looking for the good, you’re going to come up on the bad. I don’t know if that’s great for my mental health, because there’s always going to be someone that doesn’t like what you’re doing.

What’s next on your list of things to do?

I would love to go back to theatre. It’s what scares me the most to go and do, and I think that whatever scares you is something that you should probably think about doing. I think it will challenge me as an actor and as a performer. I also really want to try and find different avenues for creativity, whether that’s in the sphere of acting or producing or helping someone else. I would love to explore a way in which I can be a support system for someone who’s trying to come into this industry, like a mentor. I know that I couldn’t have gotten here without the support from other people. One of the things that I look back on that really stifled my growth was not knowing how to start or who to ask for help. I really want to help young women, especially in our community, because they think that it’s not possible.

One of the best compliments I ever received was when I did a Teen Vogue event and I was on a panel about representation. There were two young women from my high school in San Diego who came up and were like, ‘We just were shocked that you’re here. That means it’s possible.’ And that’s incredible to see.

mariel molino the watchful eye

Sam Takataka

Is there pressure there in just being an actor? Because in this industry, sadly, just being a Latina actress is making huge strides.

It’s difficult because I do think I’ve been given so many privileges. I struggle with that, specifically about where I fit into the puzzle of representation and community. There’s been a lot of challenges, but I’ve also had a lot of privileges. I have had a supportive family, I’ve had an education, and I’ve also had the privilege of speaking Spanish, so that gave me the ability to go to Latin America and work there. I’m a Latina, but I’m also a white Latina and there are certain privileges afforded there. It would be a disservice for me to say that doesn’t make a difference to someone that looks like me versus someone who is from a more indigenous background. I am a Latina, I am Mexican, and I am proud of that and that is part of my identity. I’m also trying to figure out how to be a voice for other people that maybe aren’t sure where their place in the world is either and help them see it’s something that can only benefit you as a storyteller as someone who’s trying to make in this industry.

What do you people take away from Elena’s journey in The Watchful Eye?

I really do craft each character with so much love and intention and a piece of my heart really went into Elena. I tried so hard to really make this character feel real and complex and nuanced and brave, but also vulnerable, and I hope people resonate with her journey and see some part of themselves in her. And also, just enjoy the ride, because it was so so exciting to see it come to life. She taught me so much. I know she’ll teach others too.

‘The Watchful Eye’ airs on Freeform on Mondays at 10 p.m. ET.

Photos by Sam Takataka.

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