Sam Takataka

When Mariel Molino was first introduced to Freeform’s new show The Watchful Eye, premiering on Monday, January 30, she was caught off guard when she was cast as the lead.

“I was working on the ABC show Promised Land when I got cast. I was really new to the industry and working in Hollywood and so everything changed so quickly. I was then entrusted with this huge role in The Watchful Eye, but I was so excited and over the moon about the series. I definitely had imposter syndrome,” the star exclusively tells GRAZIA USA. “It was definitely nerve-wracking, and at first, I was unsure of my capability. But at the end of the day, I had this gut feeling telling me, ‘You were born to do this and this is what you love.'”

On top of that, the brunette beauty had never dabbled in thrillers before, which was a challenge in itself. “In Mexico City, I had done a lot of comedies and dramas, but I started out by doing comedies. My character, Elena Santos, has a lot of scenes by herself, too. It was a huge milestone for me and my career. I learned so much, and I had so much support from my castmates, producers and the crew.”

The series, which is one of the only original series premiering on Freeform this year, is a Hitchcockian contemporary thriller that follows Elena, who is dealing with her complicated past as she begins to work as a live-in nanny for an affluent family in Manhattan. She quickly learns that everyone in the building has deadly secrets and ulterior motives — but Elena also has some secrets of her own. 

Since the actress started her career in the acclaimed telenovela Papis Muy Padres and later appeared on Netflix’s Narcos: Mexico and Luis Miguel: The Series, she was ecstatic about switching genres. “I was able to separate myself from the character and dive into the high stakes of it all,” she notes. “I will say me and Elena are very different, but we do have a lot of similarities. I think Elena had to grow up very fast and she works as a nanny. I worked as a nanny for several different families in California and New York, and I know what it’s like to be in that intimate space of working in someone’s home with their child but also being a parental figure. Since Elena has had things happen to her that have made her lose doubt, she’s very cynical, whereas I am more optimistic.”

Sam Takataka

For the Crazy for Change alum, she is still comprehending that she was able to work with different directors on certain episodes “because there’s so much to learn from every point of view,” she says. “It was interesting. I also got to work with different characters in the cast, and everyone brings a different type of energy. Amy Acker is so precise about her acting, but she’s also so creative and also working with someone like Aliyah Royale — she’s so charismatic and present in the moment. Also, to work with Kelly Bishop, who is such a pro, and she intimidated the heck out of me! Everyone brings something different and that is a gift.”

From a young age, Molino, who started participating in theater in grade school when she was about fix or six, knew acting was in her future. “I wanted to be in entertainment. I also was a musical theater nerd,” she shares. “It wasn’t until high school that I decided, ‘This is what I am going to do professionally.’ It took a lot for me to believe in myself because it’s so easy to let other people’s doubts and fears get in your way. I wanted to prove to myself I could do it.”

Now, Molino gets to bring representation to the small screen — something she’s very adamant about. “It’s like that saying: ‘You can’t be what you can’t see.’ I love that about Elena. Yes, she’s Mexican and so am I, but the story isn’t about that. I had a couple of girls from high school reach out to me and say how impactful it was to see someone from their hometown on TV. That was incredible to hear. If I am able to impact one 15 year old girl, then that’s really powerful,” she insists.

Prior the premiere, Molino is still basking in this moment. “I feel incredibly grateful. So many actors have been in this business for so long and are so deserving to be the lead in a show, but I worked really hard. I dove headfirst into the responsibilities of trying to do right by this character. This is an opportunity is once in a lifetime. I still can’t believe the creators and network saw that in me. I also wanted to make sure everyone had a pleasant experience and enjoy coming to work. People put in long hours, and I think we did a good job of keeping everyone happy,” she says.

“I’m excited for people to try to solve the riddle and be along for the ride. When I watch shows, I love finding Easter eggs and hidden puzzles,” she adds. “It’s a young, sexy mystery, which is what Freeform does so well. It’s about young people who are trying to find their way in the world, and I feel like a lot of people can relate to that.”

After starring in The Watchful Eye, Molino hopes to keep at it in this genre since she finds it “very challenging.”

Sam Takataka

“I love Jordan Peele and horror films, and I also love westerns. I want to keep doing independent features in Mexico. I love working with filmmakers in Latin America, and I just want to keep doing things here in the U.S. that push the needle,” she says of her goals.

“When you’re starting out as an actor, nothing is guaranteed, so I am trying to stay grounded and hoping for the best,” she declares. “I’m prepared for the hustle. This could be my moment, and hopefully it leads to an amazing career, but I will still hustle because it’s a ladder you never stop climbing. What’s exciting now is that I’ll hopefully get to work with people that I admire and who inspire me and challenge me.”

The Watchful Eye premieres on Monday, January 30, at 9 p.m. ET on Freeform.