If you're familiar with the fashion industry or peruse in scenes alike, there's a good chance you've heard of Jillian Mercado, a game-changing Latinx model who has shattered many glass ceilings in the world of fashion. Mercado, a wheelchair user with muscular dystrophy, got her fashion at New York City's esteemed Fashion Institute of Technology. She refined her lifelong love for style, fashion, and advocacy for underrepresented groups in the space. Since then, Mercado has blown up in the industry, starring in spreads for Glamour and Teen Vogue and campaigns for brands like Target. While fashion remains Mercado's first love, she's recently added actress to her resume.
Mercado plays Maribel in the hit Showtime series, The L Word: Generation Q, a reoccurring role sure to not only entertain but spark meaningful conversations. Ahead, we spoke to the actress about the significance of her role and the change she hopes to make in Hollywood as she continues to flourish.
First of all, Jillian, congrats on your role in this season of The L Word: Generation Q. I am a huge fan of the franchise. I would love to talk about how this season is different for you and your character, Maribel, and how you've been feeling about your role?
"Thank you! First and foremost, Maribel is more visible on the show and has more of a storyline. I am not only in one, but there are ten episodes this season, and I am in each one. It's not only an upgrade but a huge privilege to be part of such a fantastic group of people, including the cast, writers, and showrunners. There's everything that people loved from the previous generation, but a bit more modern and current to what's happening in our world today, which is a blessing."
The L Word is such an iconic series for many reasons. How does it feel to be part of this new generation and part of a show that was already so ahead of the curve?
"I am a multidimensional Dominican woman with a disability, and those layers are critical to discuss."
"I was a big fan of the first generation. Growing up and having that kind of visibility for the community was much needed and is much needed today. However, with the new generation of the show and Gen Z, we see more expression. As a millennial, we were dipping our toes into things, but many of us were scared. The sad reality is, there's a dark side to how society views the queer community. Many of us have been and continue to be harassed and, unfortunately, harmed or killed for being ourselves. On television, you see a lot of the sad, depressing side, but a part of society needs to talk about the humanization of who we are. We can fall in love and be happy and still balance the complexities of our personal lives.
"The fact that it has been important for the writers of the show to understand and learn about different experiences means a lot to me. I feel like there has been a lot of listening—not only to me—but to the community. They wanted to identify what was missing from the first generation, and implement those things for new viewers to feel seen and heard."
I love that you brought up the writers because I feel like a lot of the diversity conversation in Hollywood is primarily centered around the people bringing roles to life. How important was it to have a team of people open to learning behind the scenes?
"It's so important because there was less assumption of someone's life and more of having a conversation to gain understanding. The shows and movies centered around disability are mainly stories that aren't written or told by us. They're assumptions by people who are like, well, I guess this is how it must be got a disabled person.
"For me, I am a multidimensional Dominican woman with a disability, and those layers are critical to discuss. We have had transparent conversations about what it's like to be like myself living in this world, and we've talked about how it's conveyed on television. Of course, the show is not a documentary; it's a drama, so we have to add some seasoning here and there, but I've been as authentic to myself as possible. I've had these honest conversations on-screen and behind-the-scenes, so people who relate to me feel more accurately represented. That hits an emotional place, and I don't think people realize how important that representation is on television."
Let's talk about your journey to becoming an actress. How do you balance breaking into this world with your mission of advocacy? How's it been for you so far?
"The L Word was my first acting debut—ever. So it's such an honor that they have faith in me and trusted me to bring this character to life. I am working with a cast of people who studied to be an actor since childhood and went to Julliard. It's not that I'm underestimating my value or potential, but it's intimidating in the best way possible. Before being on the show, my mission was always to raise awareness in an industry that lacks tremendously.
"Growing up with someone who has a visible disability, the only representation I had was very sickly and morbid. We're put in a category by society that makes us less worthy. When you don't have a disability, no one will question you graduating college or having a relationship. But for people like me, being intimate or loved is perceived as unnatural or weird. Still, we are human, and that needs to be as visible as possible. So being able to tell this story on a large platform feels full-circle. It's an opportunity to take the conversation to another level."
I want to switch gears a bit and talks about beauty. You post about your hair a lot. What has your relationship with your hair been like? How has that evolved?
"As a Dominican woman, I still have a lot of work to do in regards to hair. I have thick, curly hair, and growing up, I would always go to the salon for a blowout, which led to a perm. I couldn't stand the smell of sulfur, so I stopped. Still, many people don't understand how a Eurocentric mindset has brainwashed us to believe that our hair is horrible. I had to do a lot of unlearning to love my hair, but I'm in a good place. I've taken a lot of pride in giving my hair love because it's been traumatized for so long. The best part is—I can change. I can do whatever I want to it. I can spritz water on her or put a hat on. We're not taught to have autonomy over our hair, but that confidence is game-changing."
"When you don't have a disability, no one is going to question you graduating college or having a relationship. But for people like me, being intimate or loved is perceived as unnatural or weird. Still, we are human, and that needs to be as visible as possible."
Walk me through your beauty routine? What's your favorite and least favorite part?
"I know drinking water seems cliche, but I haven't been the best at it, and I've seen it reflect on the outside. So, I try to be diligent about that daily. I'm a die-hard cocoa butter fan and use it everywhere. I love using a face scrub weekly to get the dead skin off. Kiehl's has a good enzyme scrub I like that's effective but super gentle for my sensitive skin. Other than that, I try to stay moisturized and let my skin breathe. I love makeup and wear a lot of it for work, but I also love my natural face."
What's a self-care day like for you?
"I love waking up to music—that serotonin boost is so important to me. I have Google Home set up throughout the apartment, so wherever I am, the music flows. Kaytranada's radio is always a go-to for me. If I can, I try to get a full body massage, and on when days when I can't, self-care for me is lounging in my pajamas, taking long, hot showers, and watching a movie. Unplugging and being centered is the goal for me. I also find cleaning very healing and meditative, so I try to keep my home as clean as possible and make sure my plants are cute and hydrated."
Has fashion been healing for you?
"Oh, God, yes, ever since I was little. I've changed my taste in fashion so many times, but it's been really fun. I think the biggest realization in the past year is that dressing up should be for yourself, not for other people. For a while, I was uninspired to dress up at home, but I had to remind myself of how much I loved dressing up or putting on a face of makeup and how much of a difference it makes in your vibe. Now I try to be intentional and try to get dressed for me."
I think it's easy to assume that you've mastered an aspirational level of confidence. Where are you on that journey? What do you want your supporters who are struggling with confidence to know?
"It's a journey that I am still on every day, but there was definitely a moment where I was tired of negativity and self-deprecation that I truly didn't associate with. I had to come to a place of embracing doing me no matter who it bothers or intimidates. It took a lot of courage to value my place on this planet, and it's not night and day, but there are levels to this, and I'm constantly learning about myself."