Turtles All the Way Down
Credit: Max

Turtles All the Way Down Interview: Isabela Merced on Depicting Mental Health

ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with Turtles All the Way Down star Isabela Merced about the coming-of-age drama movie. The actress spoke about playing a character that struggles with mental illness and her favorite music. The film will be released on Max on Thursday, May 2.

“The film follows the story of 17-year-old protagonist, Aza Holmes (Isabela Merced). It’s not easy being Aza, but she’s trying … trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, and a good student, all while navigating an endless barrage of invasive, obsessive thoughts that she cannot control. When she reconnects with Davis (Felix Mallard), her childhood crush, Aza is confronted with fundamental questions about her potential for love, happiness, friendship and hope,” reads the movie‘s synopsis.

Tyler Treese: I was so impressed by your performance and how you demonstrated Aza’s feelings when she goes through the thought spirals and is dealing with OCD, anxiety, and all of her mental issues. What went into portraying her issues in a truthful way that really resonates with the viewer?

Isabela Merced: Thank you, Tyler. I really appreciate that. That means a lot to me. [Your background] was a really fun scene to film, and Cree’s very strong for holding me up there like that for what was, like, half a day of filming.

I think what’s really powerful about her, just Hannah Marks and John Green’s depiction of OCD and anxiety in this movie, is that they don’t make it seem so foreign. They really just immediately — you’re in her head and her psyche, and you really see in the way it’s shot, it kind of suggests it without telling you. It doesn’t overly inform you about it. So when I read the script, it was just there on the paper. And I read the script before I read the book. I was a little hesitant about reading the book because I didn’t want it to inform me too much. I like to be a little bit naïve to certain aspects of movies that I’m a part of because I think it helps.

But then I did read the book and that was just an amazing cheat sheet. I myself suffer from anxiety, and my brain works faster than my mouth. So, I just really related to her in that sense. I’d say, really, the only difference between her and I is that I am an extrovert. I would label myself as an extrovert, and she’s quite the introvert. I would say that’s it.

You mentioned Cree having strong arms holding you up, but she’s so great as Daisy in this film, and you just really feel like best friends. I saw on your Instagram you two are still interacting, so it’s clear you really bonded over the set. How was that connection between you two?

Well, she helped me up physically and emotionally in many ways. Having her there during some of the tougher scenes was just a blessing. I mean, if you get to know Cree, you’ll realize that she’s one of the most unique people you’ll ever meet. What a smart individual who doesn’t hold herself or try to hold herself like a smart person. She just is. She’s so quick and witty. She’s a perfect casting for Daisy, in my opinion. She looks great with pink hair.

And also, we met each other a while ago. We were actually friends during our Nickelodeon days, and we somehow always kept in touch because of mutual friends. But this movie was sort of an opportunity, pure coincidence that we both got casted. Mind you, this is movie was our opportunity to grow closer and have a more personal connection

In the film, Stankonia by OutKast gets stuck playing in your car. If you had to get one album stuck in your car that you could only listen to, what would it be?

Ooh, people were going to ask this question. I knew it. And I have to say, not a very well-known one, but a well-known one in my heart and my Spotify is Absolutely — the 2021 album by Dijon. I am a huge fan of that. I would love to work with him someday. I think he’s very talented and “Talk Down “is one of my favorite songs from that album.

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