I spoke with Jessica Marie Garcia about Liv and Maddie, The Middle, how she turned her life around, and so much more. Jessica plays Willow in Liv and Maddie, which airs on the Disney Channel. Jessica is an inspiration. Her personal story, that she was kind enough to share, is something that so many people can relate to. She did what she had to do to turn her life around. She was wonderful to speak with. Don’t miss a single episode of Liv and Maddie.
Lena: You have an amazing personal story. Do you mind speaking about that because you will definitely help save lives?
Jessica Marie Garcia: Well, thank you. About two years ago I was diagnosed pre-diabetic and it was literally just a shock of a lifetime. When I was a kid, and I think a lot of kids go through this, you just feel like you are invincible. Things happen to other people but it just doesn’t happen to you. When I found that out, I was in complete shock, which I shouldn’t have been because I do have diabetes running on both sides of my family but I just never thought that it would happen to me. It was terrifying, but at the same time made me more of a determined person just to get better. I’ve always been the kind of person that would tell others that they could do anything if they put their mind to it. It was the first time in my life that I actually had to put my money where my mouth is and actually be that person that I always tell other people to be. I came home after the diagnosis and got a trash bag and went through my kitchen and threw out everything that was horrible for me and I realized that there was so much of that and I just wasn’t caring about what I was putting in my body. That was more terrifying than anything. I feel like when people are overweight the worst goes down, so they are not able to snap out of it and get on a better exercise regime or diet because you just don’t think that you are worth it. You feel like it’s going to take so much longer to actually get to where your goal is. It discourages you so a lot of people don’t start. I felt like this was my kick to actually start doing that and actually caring about myself. After I threw out everything, I just sat down and thought about my future and thought about what I wanted in life and I knew that having diabetes wasn’t one of them. The fact that I was able to change that because I’m pre-diabetic and it’s Type 2 diabetes that that was such a blessing in disguise and I’m actually thankful for it because now I care so much about myself. I don’t think that I would have gotten here had I not have dealt with that.
Lena: You definitely think you are invincible when you are a kid. It must be a challenge to keep it up.
Jessica Marie Garcia: Oh, yeah. It’s become easier because I’ve made it much less of a diet and more of a lifestyle change. I remember hearing that as a kid because I’ve always been overweight, but I just thought that it was something that skinny people say to each other. I tried every diet under the sun and nothing worked for me and when I did this I realized that it was more of a lifestyle change to actually live my life. I’m definitely thankful for the experience because I don’t think I would have taken care of myself. I think I would have found out way too late.
Lena: I love how enthusiastic Willow is on Live and Maddie.
Jessica Marie Garcia: Yes, she has a lot of enthusiasm. That is very true.
Lena: It must be fun for you to play her.
Jessica Marie Garcia: She is such a blast. I’m so excited that they gave me the chance to play her. She has actually helped me so much to be a stronger person because she deals with so much and always wears her heart on her sleeve. I think it’s so honorable that she will say out loud exactly what she wants and not really care about anybody’s opinion on that. Just the way that she is with Joey is so funny because I think a lot of girls wish that they could be that way but they are so terrified about the reaction of it. She sees what she wants and she goes for it.
Lena: Yes! There is no shame with her.
Jessica Marie Garcia: No, not at all. There is no shame in Willow’s game. That is for sure. That’s probably going to be a line in it next season now that I just said it.
Lena: One of my actor friends said that when he’s on shows geared towards a younger audience, he has a different approach to his acting. Do you find that to be true for you?
Jessica Marie Garcia: Absolutely! It’s funny that you say that because there are times, since I’ve been on Disney for two years now, that when I go on other auditions I kind of have to go, okay, this is different—like on NBC or somewhere where the acting would be a lot smaller—and you almost have to squeegee that off of you—that Disney happiness. It would just seem really, really big and over-the-top on other shows, but there is something about Disney where you have to be a big character but still so grounded in reality and I think that’s why Disney shows are so good. It’s hilarious and big, but it’s still really heartfelt. I think that’s what really sets us apart. It is different. It isn’t something that I trained for, going to school for that kind of acting, but it’s a blast. It’s probably more fun than any of the rest of the roles.
Lena: It’s definitely different compared to your role on The Middle.
Jessica Marie Garcia: Oh yes, The Middle was different because my character was so different on The Middle. Becky is tough but she’s more—I would be more scared of her in a dark alley. She’s a caring person, but at the same time she’s been through a lot. You can tell. She’s got a brother in juvie. She’ll give you a coupon for your birthday so you can beat up someone you want and she’ll be there for you. She has a different way of showing her affection. It’s very different. Single-camera versus multi-camera—it’s very, very different. You are also very limited on the actual actions that you can do because you don’t have that many cameras picking you up. Disney is super fun because you have more of a chance to move around and actually make more choices as far as your body.
Lena: Can you talk about working with the cast and filming with Dove Cameron, who plays both Liv and Maddie?
Jessica Marie Garcia: Dove is one of my best friends. She is so sweet and so great. I still remember meeting her for the first time and literally, the words out of my mouth were this girl is illegally pretty. It should not be legal for someone to be that beautiful. She is just as beautiful on the inside. She has really become like one of my sisters. When we are on set it’s so much fun. It’s really hard for me to call it work but I will as long as they keep on calling me to be there. It’s been a blast. It’s funny when she plays both Liv and Maddie because I feel like I have two Livs and two Maddies with Shelby and Emmy playing Liz 2 and Maddie 2. It’s always a blast because they have mimicked her actions to such a degree that it’s kind of scary. They literally watch her and memorize her actions, but at the same time they are such great actresses themselves that they kind of bring a new life to Liv and Maddie as well. They are always throwing new things at us. It was a little confusing at first, but now we are like a well-oiled machine.
Lena: I certainly hope that Dove gets two paychecks.
Jessica Marie Garcia: I hope so too. I’ve never asked her. [Laughing]
Lena: I’ve always wondered that. I don’t know if you watch The Following, but Sam Underwood plays twins.
[THE FOLLOWING SPOILER ALERT!]
One of them died last season, but he still plays the other twin. They have to get paid extra because they have to learn two sets of lines and mannerisms.
Jessica Marie Garcia: I heard a rumor back in the day before I even started acting was that Miley Cyrus, when she toured, she got a check for Hannah and a check for Miley. Now, that’s a good businesswoman. I don’t know if that’s happening with Dove, but she is happy all the time.
Lena: She deserves it.
Jessica Marie Garcia: Yes! She’s always working. It’s hard for her to find free time on set. We always want to selfishly hang out with her between scenes, but she’s always in the scenes. It’s tough but she’s a rock star.
Lena: Your fans sent in some questions and I picked some of the most popular ones. They want to know: What was your first impression of the cast?
Jessica Marie Garcia: They knew each other for a year before I met them. They were a pilot called Bits and Pieces before Liv and Maddie started and it was a very different show. When I met them they had already been together for a year and this was a brand new pilot and they had known each other. It was a little intimidating because they were so close, but when I came to the table read on the very first day, I didn’t know anybody and Dove just beelined for me. She asked if I was Willow and told me that we were going to be best friends. It was so great. When you start on a new show you never know how people are going to be. They were just so warm and so welcoming. It’s the best job in the world. I couldn’t ask for a better cast.
Lena: What would be your ideal plot for a Liv and Maddie movie?
Jessica Marie Garcia: A Jillow wedding. Willow and Joey should get married. We could cover all of the shenanigans that go into our wedding. Maybe I would wake up and realize that it was all a dream, but not necessarily because we could make it happen. Our fans want Jillow to happen so badly and I really want them to get that eventually and in a movie would be wonderful.
Lena: They’ve covered a lot of topics on the show so far and my favorite episode was “Muffler-a-Rooney.” What has been your favorite episode so far and what storyline would you like to see them cover?
Jessica Marie Garcia: I really loved “Rate-a-Rooney.” That episode is probably going to be my favorite one that we filmed unless we do a Jillow wedding. It impacted me so much because it was about how the girls at our high school are being rated from 1-10 based on their looks by a group of guys. They give her a 5 and she is so hurt by this. It’s the first time that you ever see Willow that vulnerable. She’s confused because she’s always felt so great about herself. When she gets rated like that she wants to know what’s going on and why people feel that way about her. She starts really questioning herself and all the girls decide that they are not going to stand for this. They come to school in garbage bags as dresses and paper bags on their heads. They were not going to allow themselves to be rated. Willow comes in and everyone thinks that she’s going to be wearing a garbage bag and a paper bag and she’s not. She got all dolled up and wore a dress and heels. Her hair is curled and she has so much makeup on. She gets rated a 9 and she’s happy about that but at what cost. She was looking like that to make them happy. Liv writes a song “What A Girl Is.” It’s basically just saying that we’re perfect and we don’t need a number to tell us that. I remember as a kid being picked on for being overweight. I could put Diana Ross to shame with the fro that my hair typically is and I had a unibrow my whole life. I got picked on a lot as a kid. When we started filming these scenes it just all came rushing back—all those feelings and insecurities—I just felt the weight of the episode and how we had a responsibility to help the kids with this and let them know that they are not alone. This is something that happens to everybody and your reaction to it is the most important. That episode will always mean a lot to me.
Lena: Is there another storyline that you would like to see covered?
Jessica Marie Garcia: One that we just covered that I was really excited about that I thought that was something that we could really talk on and have on the episode more, which was the fact that Parker and his friends watch a show called Linda and Heather. It’s called primarily a girl’s show and they like it and they were embarrassed about it at first but then didn’t care. They love the show. I think that’s really important that nothing is a girl’s show or a guy’s show, like nothing is a guy’s toy or a girl’s toy—it’s more about the fact that this is what you like and there doesn’t have to be a reason why you like it; you just do. I think that is so important especially because our show is more femininely charged and we have girls that are captains of the basketball team, but also get the hottest guys in school. I think it’s so important that we show girls and boys can be whatever they want. I think that if we did a storyline about that more I would really love that.
Lena: New episodes start up again on April 9th.
Jessica Marie Garcia: Yes. There’s about to be some craziness in the Rooney household, let me tell you. There is going to be some drama, a love triangle, some music from people you wouldn’t expect it from. It’s about to get crazy. I’m really excited for everyone to see it. It’s about to be a whole different show, I feel. It’s growing in a direction that I’m very excited about.
Liv and Maddie airs on the Disney Channel.