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‘Freeridge’ star Keyla Monterroso Mejia talks about playing confident women, believing in curses and diving into drama

Keyla Monterroso Mejia teaches not to judge her characters, even if they seem a bit annoying at first.

After memorable guest spots on Control your enthusiasm And Abbot Elementary Schoolthe resident of Baldwin Park leads the way Freeridgea spin-off of the Netflix drama series On my block. The show follows four high school students – Gloria (Mejia), her sister Ines (Bryana Salaz), and their friends Demi (Ciara Riley Wilson) and Cameron (Tenzing Norgay Trainor) – as they try to fend off a curse as they make have with the health of the family. misery, sibling rivalry and don’t they want relationship drama. Mejia’s character, Gloria, is a bit intense, though generally well-meaning. The type-A teen, sophomore class president, and queen of devastatingly brutal clapbacks has taken on a maternal role in her family following the loss of her mother – but the public first encounters her during an unbridled battle with her sister in the schoolyard.

“[Freeridge] does a great job of handling serious issues in a light-hearted way, whether it’s how being poor really affects the decisions you can make when it comes to health care or dealing with sexuality,” says Mejia. “It’s such great writing. It’s such a funny show and it has some wonderful moments of honesty.”

In the chat below, Mejia talks to THR about Quinta Brunson’s compliments on Instagram, her array of confident female characters, and why she sang On my block one more time for her Freeridge audition.

How did you start acting?

This has been a very long journey, filled with more downs than ups, but it has led me here, which is so much more than I thought possible. Much to my parents’ dismay, I was able to persuade them to let me audition for a performing arts high school called The School of Arts and Enterprise in Pomona. They really didn’t know what it was about, but they tell me now, ‘You were so happy and you seemed so excited that even though we weren’t sure what this was, we didn’t want to take it away from you. ”

It just snowballed from one thing to another. I was in a program when I was homeschooled for students who wanted to act and it took off from there. I got an agent and a manager and from there I was able to get auditions, but it felt like there was really nothing going on. Honestly, the silver lining during COVID was that casting directors got to see so many more actors than before and I was really lucky to be in that bunch. I was able to seize this opportunity Control your enthusiasm that completely changed my life, or at least launched me in a way that I could never have expected or hoped for before.

How did it go on Restrain?

It was a kind of trial by fire and you were more or less thrown into the lion’s den. Not because of the people – they were amazing and they were the nicest people I’ve ever met – but it was just an intense experience to not only be thrust into one of my first acting roles on a professional set, but to be thrown into it with some of the best to ever do it in comedy.

Then you also had a bow on Abbot Elementary School. How did you land on that role?

That really surprised me too. I was a huge fan of the show and so was my younger brother. I remember Quinta [Brunson] had commented on an Instagram post I did, and thought nothing of it. Months later, there I am on the set of one of the greatest comedies, not just now, but in my opinion of all time. It was a very surreal moment to be part of a show that is so amazing, and that also shows a lot of diversity, not just in front of the camera but behind it. I’m just so thankful Quinta gave me that opportunity in a show that’s really big and doing so well.

Did she find you on Instagram?

Yes! She responded to my Instagram. She said something along the lines of “I think you’re really funny.” That was that and I thought nothing of it. Months later, she contacted my agents and they said, “Quinta Brunson wants to talk to you.” And I was like, ‘Excuse me? What? What do you mean? What’s going on?” I had a conversation with her and she was really sweet and just so nice. And I remember coming on the phone and saying to my agents, “Send me the materials as soon as possible. I want to be as prepared as possible for this audition. I want to nail it. And they said, “No, I think she has you in mind. I don’t think you need to audition.” I thought that was insane I was so, so grateful The fact that she just trusted me from the start did so much for my confidence.

How did people react to that role? Because that character was… a lot.

Yes. Oh my God. She is a lot, to say the least. It was very cool. I knew people loved Abbott and how critically acclaimed it was, but I didn’t realize how many people are talking about it and tweeting about it. So that was a world that took me by storm. Some of my friends sent me screenshots of tweets they saw saying, “You’re going a little bit viral on Twitter.” It was just insane. That was the first time I saw people really talk about me that way.

Why did you want to take on this role? Freeridge?

On my block has done so much for me personally in terms of representation. The topics they covered were things I could relate to. Being part of the spin-off was a dream come true. To be part of the legacy of a show that has done so much for me was just way more than I could have ever asked for.

What do you remember most about the audition process?

Because I was such a big fan of it On my block, I was so, so nervous. I’m not in a place where I’m mature enough to look at the projects I don’t book. So I was like, “Oh my God, I have to binge-watch On my block one more time before the final audition because if I don’t get this that show will forever be tainted for me with the pain of not getting this character. So I remember staying up the night before totally loving all the seasons because I was like, “This is going to be so heartbreaking if I don’t get it.”

Are there any similarities you see between the characters you’ve played?

They are all very confident women. It’s funny because they’re more or less the same woman in different situations. They are women who are not afraid to take up space and they are very confident to say what they want and be open to how they feel. It was a lot of fun playing really strong, confident women. It has given me a lot to learn because sometimes it’s easier to play it than to feel it in your daily life. So that was really nice to be able to be in their shoes.

Keyla Monterroso Mejia as Gloria in Freeridge.

Kevin Estrada/Netflix

How would you describe Gloria?

Gloria is a strong-willed girl. She’s like the glue that holds everything together. She’s a very independent girl who had to grow up and deal with the cards she was dealt, and I think she’s doing really well. She’s kind of the mother of the group.

They say don’t judge your characters, but when I first read the scripts I thought, “Oh damn, Gloria is kind of annoying.” She does a lot. She’s in everyone’s business and she takes on a lot 24-7. But it was a lot of fun to watch her walls come down in episode four. It was a great gift from the writers that you can see the reason why Gloria is the way she is. It’s just great writing and it really creeps up on you, just like real life. Often we can’t see why someone is the way they are. We just take them for who they are at the moment and judge. But it’s nice that you get to see these people and see the reasons why they have these habits or these feelings.

This was the first time I had a script that really showed a character’s hardship. In the past I’ve done more light-hearted and more physical comedy. At first it was really scary to dive into something a little more serious because I had been in the swing of comedy for so long. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do it right. But I realized that if you write well, half the work is already done for you. It was more fun than I thought I would have dealing with difficult subjects.

Do you have a favorite episode or scene?

I really like all the scenes she has with her sister, [played by] Bryana Salaz, an incredible actress. It brings out a side of me as an actress that I’ve never felt before. You see us being really mad at each other, whether it’s fighting physically or with the words we say, but you also see us in these more intimate moments. However in the end no matter what happens she is my sister and I love her and I am going to do what I can. Then you kind of see us come back and forgive each other and move on. It’s an honest sibling relationship. I have a younger brother and I totally understand what it feels like to be the older sister and how we do some of the worst things to some of the people we love the most. I don’t know why, we just do it.

This season is about a mysterious box that the group believes is cursed. Do you believe in curses?

I do. One hundred percent, I believe in curses. I believe in all bad juju. I believe ghosts are real and I believe you can catch a ghost as they say on the show. It’s actually very funny. My mother is Mexican and in our culture if you see an owl it is a sign that someone is cursing you. I didn’t know this, and I remember driving with my mom and thinking, “Look! A beautiful owl. It has a white face and white feathers and it’s so beautiful.” My mother was startled and said, “Turn the car around. We have to go to the place where you saw that owl.” We haven’t seen it again I’m going to work, maybe next week, and in my bedroom [on set] there is only this huge painting with three white owls. I remember asking the director, “Hey, do you think there’s any way we can get rid of this painting?” And she said, “Unfortunately, we already took pictures of this room, so we can’t get rid of it.” So I chose to believe that those white owls were not bad luck, but good luck.

I don’t want to get too spoilery, but what did you think of how the first season ended?

I have many questions I want answered. They certainly gave us a few cliffhangers. Without saying too much, my character probably has the most heartbreak to continue in both situations that leave them with cliffhangers. So I’m very excited to see what’s going to happen in the future, but also very sad about what the possibilities are.

What kind of projects do you see yourself doing next? Is there anything you would absolutely never want to do?

Yeah, I never want to do anything where my character is the butt of the joke, or people laugh at her. That’s definitely one thing I’ll never do. I’ve been so lucky that the characters I’ve played are funny because of the situations they find themselves in and how they react, not because someone laughs bee them and they are not aware of it. I’ve also noticed that I feel really fulfilled doing dramas. I like comedy, but I also like it when characters feel multidimensional and you don’t see just one version of them. I really enjoy seeing the different emotions they come up with and the way they deal with life. I just want to be happy and I want to be fulfilled and proud of the projects I’m in. I’ve been really lucky to be able to say that I’ve done that so far, and I want to continue on that trajectory.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

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