Actress Jessica Marie Garcia. Photo Credit: Sam Zachrich.

Actress Jessica Marie Garcia. Photo Credit: Sam Zachrich.

There has always seemed to be a great cloud of mystery hovering over the lives of some of the best actors and actresses in the world. For instance, take two women that have been decreed Hollywood royalty: Marilyn Monroe and Natalie Wood. Was Monroe’s death purely accidental, a suicide or was she murdered? Did she have an affair with President John F. Kennedy? And what exactly was her state of mind in the last few weeks of her life? Such questions surrounding her untimely death and covert dating life are still speculated by the media to this day. The same can be said for Wood, whose sudden disappearance from a yacht (which belonged to her and her husband, Robert Wagner) in the middle of the Pacific Ocean has left tongues wagging in intrigue of what she was even doing on it in the first place, when it was no secret that she was terrified of the deep waters. Did she drown or is there more to the story? Like that of many other stars, their lives are a web of secrets that may never truly be unraveled. And perhaps they never should be. After all, everyone is entitled to keeping their private life private — celebrity or not.

When it comes to Jessica Marie Garcia, though, there are no SUV’s with darkly tinted windows, no covert entrances under the cover of midnight, and certainly, there are no skeletons hiding in her closet. There’s just a beautiful, young Latina woman with a fire in her soul and a gift she wishes to share with the world.

In fact, while one can argue that in the realm of social media and 24/7 media coverage, celebrities have little to no control over their privacy, this Florida native — who stars as Willow on Disney’s Liv and Maddie and moonlights as a producer in her free time — is nothing short of an open book of her own accord. From the very first moment she spoke with us, it became evident that she was ready to pour forth the vast amount of stories and insight one can only attain from years inside one of the most grueling careers in the world.

Nothing short of candid, Garcia shares with us her struggles and life-altering choices in overcoming a pre-diabetes diagnosis, losing 70 pounds, and even risking her career to do it all. She also dishes on the unexpected cancellation of ABC Family’s 2010 original series Huge, and whether or not it was simply broadcast at the wrong time.

GALO: This may catch you by surprise, but I was a big fan of Huge on ABC Family. I know it only lasted for a season, but I was so upset when it was canceled! Amber and George will forever go down as one of my favorite TV romances.  

Jessica Marie Garcia: That is so great [to hear] because I can’t tell you how much love we put into that show. We were so upset when it got canceled. I am so delighted to hear you say that — and I don’t even use the word “delighted” because who says that! But I love that because I feel like not too many people got to see the show, and it holds such a special place in my heart.

GALO: You were able to work with some incredible names like Nikki Blonsky, Hayley Hasselhoff and Gina Torres on a show that is unlike anything that has ever been on television. Being it was one of your first professional roles as an actress, what did you learn from that experience?

JMG: It was so intimidating, because not only was it my first show, but it was on location. We shot in Malibu. And we also had an amazing, incredible set in Santa Clarita, where they made an entire camp. It was just unreal — and you would forget that it wasn’t nighttime!

I was so nervous, [even though] I am such an outgoing person. And when I got on that set, I was Sierra for the most part. [But] I was also so timid and nervous — it was like the first day of school. Everyone was so amazing. I feel like I made friends. I just connected again with Harvey [Guillen] and it felt like it had been forever, and Hayley [Hasselhoff] is still so amazing. I got some lifelong friends from there, and I do miss it because it was an incredible year.

GALO: This show was very open about the subject of weight. It seems like our country is becoming so much more open and welcoming to different ways of living and the definition of beauty, even in just the few short years Huge has been off the air. Do you think that the show may have been ahead of its time? Would you ever do a project like this again?

JMG: I think it was ahead of its time. Winnie Holzman and Savannah Dooley knew that this show needed to be out there, [but] I don’t think the rest of the world was ready for it. I think if it were to come out right now, it would have been welcomed with open arms.

I absolutely would do a show like that again. We don’t talk about it enough. It’s so interesting and it feels so good that people are actually more comfortable with talking about it. We even talk about it on Liv and Maddie now. I am so excited that the topic of [weight] is being talked about.

GALO: There is a lot of talk in the entertainment industry of acting becoming almost like a solitary endeavor. Because of all of the CGI and modern day advances, especially in film, there is a lot more acting done against something or someone that is not present on set. Given the setup of Liv and Maddie, I imagine there are a lot of moments you have to act alongside someone other than the person who is actually playing the role (perhaps a body double)? In what ways does that challenge you as an actor?

JMG: It’s different and it’s challenging because I don’t think you’re ever ready to have three separate people be two different people. We have incredible actresses in Emmy Buckner and Shelby Wulfert who play “Maddie 2” and “Liv 2.” I have two different Maddie’s and two different Liv’s to work off. I have Dove Cameron and then I have one of them. Whenever Emmy is on set, she is “Liv 2” and Dove is Maddie. When they switch, Shelby is “Maddie 2” and Dove will be Liv. So it’s almost like I have two different takes on the character, but they’re still very much the same. It’s made into such a science and it’s such a well-oiled machine at this point that I just know that Maddie is two people and Liv is two people, but at the same time, they’re still one. It’s so crazy. I can’t even explain it to you [laughs]! But it feels so normal now.

GALO: From what I can tell, you have always been a powerful voice for positive body image in young women. In April, you teamed up with Glitter Magazine for their #SelfLove Campaign. A lot of young stars seem to be very against this idea of being a role model for kids and teens, but you seem to embrace it. Why have you made this an important part of your platform as someone in the spotlight?

JMG: You know, I just think it’s because I always wanted to look up to someone who I felt looked like me growing up, and I didn’t really have anyone who looked like me on TV. There are not a whole lot of Latin American shows out there that I was open to. I want to be a message to not only Latina girls, but I feel like in our culture, there are a lot of weight issues. And so, I think that girls need to see someone who looks like me and see that they can be whatever they want to be. I believe that if you see it, you can be it. So I want to change that and say that “you can be whatever you want to be. You don’t need to see it. But if you want to see it, I’m here.”

I think being a role model is a privilege, and I don’t take it as a negative. I don’t think I am perfect by any means, but if you’re struggling through the same things as me, I would encourage you to take the same steps as me. Not that I’m a saint and you should follow everything I do, but I’m proud of what I’ve done and I’m okay with someone looking up to that.

GALO: On a personal note, you were recently diagnosed with pre-diabetes, and as a result, you worked to lose over 70 pounds. That’s quite an achievement! Was your weight loss just a result of eating healthier foods or did you make a conscious effort to lose a certain amount of weight through both diet and exercise? 

JMG: It was so much of a conscious effort. My whole life and idea of who I was changed the day I found that out. I’ve always been a strong advocate of “you can get through anything as long as you believe it,” and I have always preached that, but this is the first time I had to be that. I was like, “I have to do this.” I just realized that I am beginning my life. I am on this show that I love more than anything and who knows all of the different opportunities that I have [ahead of me]. I can’t have those if I don’t take care of myself.

When I found out, I took a garbage bag and threw out everything that was bad in my kitchen — which was everything! I just realized that I wasn’t taking care of myself. I think that when you’re overweight, it is very easy to not know your worth. I found it that day when I thought about the future that I wanted to have. I know my worth and I found my worth. And it’s easy for a lot of people to think that [you’re] not worth the journey it takes to get healthy, but you’re worth the journey and you’re worth the time it takes.

GALO: In the entertainment industry, there is a lot of emphasis put on one’s physical appearance. And not just in the obvious ways, but even for the roles you receive and audition for. Did that ever play a part in your decision when making changes in your everyday diet? Were you ever worried about the ways it would impact your career?

JMG: Absolutely! There is a huge stigma that as a female, you need to be either that “beautiful girl” or the “chubby funny friend,” and I feel that I might have lost out on opportunities because of that. But to be honest, my career is not worth my life. I will make it work around me.

I plan on being a producer and director and having my own production company. So if I need to make my own decisions and put myself in those movies, or other people who may not look like whatever Hollywood wants [them to be], then I’ll make those decisions. I’d [be] putting them in my movies because they’re talented.

GALO: Looking from the outside in, there are a lot of different thoughts people can have about your transition, especially when it comes to playing roles with primarily teen and young adult fan bases. Is there anything you would like your fans to know about this experience? Anything you want to tell young girls — or boys — who may be struggling with their health and feeling like they just can’t do it?

JMG: My biggest message again is that they’re worth it. It is so easy to get discouraged. It gets better — as long as you know that at the end of it, you will be a happier, healthier person.

GALO: There are a lot of different places for your career to go from here, and luckily, you haven’t been put into a classic Hollywood box yet (and hopefully you never will!). Where do you want to go from here? Are you looking to continue down comedic acting, or do you want to possibly shift into a bit more dramatic role?

JMG: It’s interesting because I never thought that I would be on a multi-cam comedy. I feel like my wheelhouse is in drama and single-cam comedy. It is so funny because Willow is such a big character, and that’s not necessarily where I feel I’m most comfortable.

I would love to do something really different where I play a tough character, whether its family or drama, anything that is really dark and opposite [of] that Disney realm, because I would love to show how far I can go as far as acting. I have been studying my whole life and I haven’t stopped — I still go to class every week. I want to be able to spread my acting wings a little bit and do something people aren’t expecting.

GALO: Well, we wish you continuous success! We’re sure you’ll be able to accomplish anything you set your mind to do.

Episode 306: Benjamin King, Kali Rocha, Dove Cameron and Jessica Marie Garcia star in Disney’s Liv & Maddie. Photo Credit: Disney Channel/Adam Taylor.

Episode 306: Benjamin King, Kali Rocha, Dove Cameron and Jessica Marie Garcia star in Disney’s Liv and Maddie. Photo Credit: Disney Channel/Adam Taylor.

Catch Jessica Marie Garcia on Disney’s Liv & Maddie on Sunday nights. For more information about Garcia and her endeavors, check out her Twitter page @JessMarieGarcia.