Mexican American actress Mariel Molino is no stranger to leading roles, but she is entering a new genre with the role of Elena Santos in Freeform’s latest thriller “The Watchful Eye.” The actress spoke about her experience embodying the rebellious character in a virtual roundtable on Wednesday.
Season One of “The Watchful Eye,” which premiered in January, follows the Ward family’s new nanny Elena in her secret mission to find and steal a valuable ruby. However, Santos accidentally uncovers more than she intends to about the dark past of The Greybourne, the hotel where they reside. The show then quickly wraps viewers into the world and inner politics of The Greybourne.
Elena Santos is as rebellious as she is deceptive, leading a double life and hiding her past. “I approach her from our differences,” Molino said regarding how she developed the character of Santos.
Embodying Elena has made Molino reflect on her own identity. Elena is very cynical in her worldview because of the trauma she has experienced; her father died when she was young, and she was abandoned by her mother. Elena then acts with little trust in people and feels everyone is out to get her, and embodying this helped Molino realize her own optimistic outlook in life.
The actress also noted that costume and makeup choices in the show revealed Elena’s interiority as a character.
“As the show progresses, Elena becomes a darker person. She starts wearing black nail polish and her hair gets straighter,” said Molino. These choices were symbolic of Elena’s journey as the thriller show progresses and the stakes rise.
To understand Elena and bring her to life, Molino studied details from Elena’s mysterious backstory. This included anything from her New York City borough origin to her motives for stealing the ruby. For Molino, grasping the motives is crucial, as Elena is “risking not only her life, but also her family and some of the people that she loves.”
Other challenges of the role included having to perform solo and display reactions to sound and visual effects that were edited into the show after the shots. “A lot of my scenes were me alone, where I didn’t have another co-star,” said Molino. In those scenes, she treated the camera like a co-star and used her imagination.
Molino stars in the television show with the praised actress Kelly Bishop. Bishop is best known for her roles as Emily Gilmore in “Gilmore Girls” and as Majorie Houseman in “Dirty Dancing.”
“First off, staring with Kelly Bishop was very intimidating because, come on — it’s Emily Gilmore,” said Molino. She quickly learned that Bishop was a sweet and kind person, and that she learned a lot from the acclaimed actress.
Many of Bishop’s characters are blunt and serious, yet always funny: “She’s a comedic genius. There wasn’t one beat that was off.” Molino recalled Bishop saying, “I play bitches so well. Don’t get me playing a nice person.”
Just like Bishop, Molino started her career acting in comedic roles. She then transitioned to performing in dramas, and she is grateful that her background in comedy prepared her for the present thriller. She feels it is vital to know how to break up the mood in such an intense genre.
Molino is constantly inspired by other actresses. She looks up to actresses such as Viola Davis, Meryl Streep, Florence Pugh and Zendaya.
“I still feel like I have a long way to go,” said Molino as she described the trajectory of her career. The actress said that she was going to an acting class after the interview. After the filming of “The Watchful Eye,” she continues to work on her acting skills.