Keyla Monterroso Mejia reflects on her journey to Freeridge : 'It's really been super surreal'

Keyla Monterroso Mejia reflects on her journey to Freeridge : 'It's really been super surreal'

Keyla Monterroso Mejia's Hollywood career has had an auspicious start. On Curb Your Enthusiasm, she memorably recurred as the up-and-coming (and not-so-talented) actress Maria Sofia, stealing scenes from Larry David himself.

Mejia, who's stepping into her first leading role with Netflix's Freeridge, a spin-off of the beloved On My Block, tells EW she still pinches herself when looking back at her journey thus far. After going toe-to-toe with David, who she says "single-handedly changed" her career, she joined Abbott Elementary in another scene-stealing role as Ashley Garcia, Ms. Schemmenti's (Lisa Ann Walter) hilarious teacher's aide. Abbott's Janelle James even went out of her way to make sure Mejia knew "you got this, it's all good — you're here and you're meant to be here."

Now starring in Freeridge as Gloria, Mejia talks to EW about her first leading role, what On My Block meant to her, and more.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Your story is incredible. First with Curb, then Abbott, and now Freeridge. These are some really hot titles.

KEYLA MONTERROSO MEJIA: Oh, my God. I know! I'm still like, "What? How did I keep that? What's going on?" It's really been super surreal. I always really wanted to be an actress and to be able to do this, but I never, ever could have imagined the opportunities that were going to come my way. I've been so lucky to work with some amazing people, and especially everyone at Curb who really gave me such a huge opportunity. There was really not much that they could go off based on my resume and the fact that they were still able to give me a shot and not just let me be a part of the show, but for it to turn into something that I never expected and give me all these other opportunities… I've been able to work with the best of the best. I cannot believe that.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Scott Kirkland/Shutterstock (13742142dd) Keyla Monterroso Mejia 'Freeridge' TV Series premiere, Los Angeles, California, USA - 26 Jan 2023

Scott Kirkland/Shutterstock

Freeridge is the first project where you're essentially the lead. You are still pretty new to the business, and here you are stepping onto a set where you are first on the call sheet. What was that feeling like and did it come with a big learning curve?

Oh, goodness. It's so funny, I never thought about it that way. I was so happy just to be there. As dumb as — not dumb because I don't think it sounds dumb — but maybe cliche or corny? I just remember being so grateful that I was going to wake up in the morning for the next couple of months and this was my job. With Curb and Abbott, I was a recurring guest star, so you work a day here and a day there sprinkled throughout. But with Freeridge, I remember no matter how tired I was, or no matter how long the day was, I was so excited because I thought, "Oh, my God, I get to literally wake up and live my dream again the next day and the next day and the next day." Also, I have an incredible cast who are just also the most wonderful people. Anytime there was anything going on, it was so nice to be able to lean on three other incredible actors that always had your back. It's very much an ensemble piece and I really feel so lucky to have them by my side.

I know you're kind of a big fan of On My Block's Jessica Marie Garcia and now you're in the same Netflix universe as her!

To say I'm a fan would be an understatement. She is just everything to me. I was a huge fan of On My Block, and Jessica was the big reason for that. I remember watching the show and loving it, and seeing her and seeing myself in her. Seeing the representation for me specifically, it just became so special and did so much for me. Getting to now be a part of that universe was more than a dream come true. You sort of have these goals and there's these things that you want to accomplish, and in whatever way they come, I just sort of wanted acting to be my full-time job. For that to be possible, for it to come from an opportunity that is so special to me, there were absolutely no words. I'm still sort of in disbelief.

When did you discover you had this knack for comedy? Speaking Latina to Latina, especially daughter of an immigrant to daughter of an immigrant, this isn't something that normally translates in our families.

To be completely honest, I didn't even think I was able to do comedy. I did this short film called The 90 Day Plan with this incredible director named Gabriella Garcia Medina, who is one of the best and most talented people I've ever met. I remember going through this website of listings for actors and seeing the logline of the short film that she was doing — I was completely in love and wanted to audition for it. I didn't realize, I think because of my excitement, that I had missed a couple of words in big, bold letters: "must have good comedic timing." At that time, I didn't even know what that was but I remember sort of understanding the tone of the script and how it went. Thankfully, I got the part, and she was sort of my first intro into comedy. After the shoot, she let me keep a shirt that I was wearing and she said, "I think you're going places and I want you to remember the first one." Nobody had ever really believed in me the way she did at the time and specifically being the first person to introduce me to comedy and tell me, "Hey, you have something here." Before her, I don't think I would've ever explored it the way I have now, but I give her all the credit for really planting a seed in my head that I didn't even know was there.

Freeridge. Keyla Monterroso Mejia as Gloria in episode 104 of Freeridge. Cr. Kevin Estrada © 2022

Kevin Estrada

I listened to an interview you did on YouTube and you talked about representation as a bigger size girl. In Freeridge, you get a romance, which we don't see for plus-size girls very often. As an actress, what's it like to lead a story that shows bigger girls — particularly younger, bigger girls — are beautiful, too?

I thought that was so cool and I also really love that it was never talked about. Her weight was never an issue. It's never the center of any conversation, in fact it's never mentioned and Gloria doesn't lack any confidence. All the reasons that maybe she doesn't feel like her and this guy won't work out, it's because of their differences of personalities, not because she has any self-confidence issues or lacks any self love for romantic reasons. I remember being so excited to shed light on this issue and being all for it. Yeah, we're leaving that all behind. I feel so grateful to be a part of showing that sort of representation where it's just like, "Yeah, this girl's big. Yeah, she's in a relationship. What do the two have to do with each other?" You know what I mean? Where, before, I think it has been all about her weight and like, "Oh no, he will never like me" because of it. Girl, please. We're not doing that no more.

Latino representation has been lacking in Hollywood but you're now part of one of the shows that is changing that narrative for future generations. Have you gotten to observe that moment for yourself? What is it like thinking about that?

Sometimes it is a little overwhelming and I don't know if I necessarily give it too much thought. What I do think about is how much On My Block impacted me and what it did in terms of representation and also the issues that you see on screen. I remember what it did for me and how I felt seeing that, and now just the idea that maybe I could in some way do that for a group of people is very surreal and very scary. Being a part of the next version of representation in Freeridge feels like a gift and I feel beyond lucky to be a part of that just because I know how it was for me and how much it did for me. I just don't know how I got so lucky to be able to be a part of this! I get to be a part of a world where people are able to recognize themselves and see themselves… It's truly a gift.

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