Isabel Oliver Marcus is known for her breakthrough role, playing Allison in NBC’s hit television series This Is Us. The 18-year-old actress, who has been performing since childhood, is thrilled to be known as an “overnight success,” but also knows the amount of hard work it’s taken to get to where she is today.
Everly Mag talked to Isabel Oliver Marcus all about This Is Us, how she prepared to play Allison, how she got her start in acting, and what’s next for this rising star.
Everly Mag: How did you get your start in acting?
Isabel: I’ve been performing basically all my life. I did dance classes and recitals – I was that kid who left the stage blowing kisses, waving to the audience, and just loving [it]. In fifth grade, my middle school got a theatre program. I auditioned for the show, Alice In Wonderland, and got the part of the Queen of Hearts. I absolutely adored it. At some point, my mom told me, “you know you can do this [acting] for the rest of your life.”
I grew up in a community of artists and it was obvious to me that people could make a career out of art, but I never really considered it until my mom said it, and then I knew that this is what I wanted to do.
Everly Mag: Once you decided to become an actress, what happened next?
Isabel: I auditioned with a bunch of agents [in Texas] and went to a performing arts school. I learned to dance and sing at school, and I worked on my acting. Soon, it became clear that Los Angeles was where I needed to be. I auditioned for agents in LA and signed with Abrams Artists. In 2016, I moved out to LA after going back and forth between LA and Texas for many years. Within a year of moving, I was on This Is Us!
Everly Mag: What was the audition process like for This Is Us? How did you book the part?
Isabel: I was back in Texas visiting family. I got the call for an audition, but I wasn’t in LA. On This Is Us, everything is secret, so there was a lot of secrecy around the role, where you [sometimes] can’t even see the audition information if you’re not in the room. I wanted to send in a taped audition, and they let me, which was just incredible.
I got the audition on a Wednesday, taped [it] on a Thursday, they pinned me Friday, which means that they told me they might want to see me again, I flew out [to LA] on Saturday, did a chemistry read on Monday, got the role on Tuesday, and [was] on the Paramount lot on Wednesday.
Everly Mag: How does it feel to be considered an overnight success?
Isabel: In this business, there’s so much stop-and-go. You get really excited about an audition, you wait to hear back, you get the part and prepare, and then wait to be on set. Even [with This Is Us], it wasn’t an overnight success – it was a full week of this crazy up-and-down excitement. I stayed with my friend in LA and we went to Spiderman: Homecoming together, and I couldn’t even concentrate on the movie because I was so wrapped up in [This Is Us]: Are they going to call me? Am I going to miss the call? I couldn’t concentrate on anything.
It happened within a week, but also with 5 years [of hard work]. I think, in part, I’m excited – it’s a cool thing to be one of those actresses who gets the discovered-in-a-mall kind of story, but I also think it’s important for people to know how much work has gone into it – from me, my mom, my community, my representation. I’m glad that I’m able to tell both stories, one of the overnight success and one of all the work that came before it, all the passion and all the people who contributed.
Everly Mag: How are you similar to your character Allison? How are you different?
Isabel: We are actually really similar. With every character [I] play, I like to figure out our similarities and our differences. Allison and I are similar because we’re the same age, from similar backgrounds, both smart and outgoing, both overthinkers – OMG, we’re both such overthinkers.
We live in a different time [period]. One thing I did to prepare for the role – I thought about what she would’ve been surrounded with [in 1998]; what music she would’ve listened to, what shows she would’ve been watching, what her relationships are to those things and the people around her. That’s a basic step in building the character. We’re growing up in a different time and a different city, and those things affect you.
I only had a week to build a character, and most of that was freaking out that I even had a character to build. [In preparing], I decided that my character really likes baking, and the writers even wrote in a scene where she’s baking, and that’s when I knew we were on the same wavelength. When the writers go for it, that’s when you know you’ve built a complete character.
Everly Mag: Why do you think the show has been such a big hit?
Isabel: I think it tells beautiful stories really well. That seems like such a simple answer, but I think everyone can relate to it in some way. Whatever [viewers] are struggling with, they may see that struggle or something tangential to it onscreen. Maybe people will look at it and see themselves, their cousin, nephew, or sister. [The show] sort of brings the world a little bit [closer] and brings people closer, because they can find so much life in the show.
At this moment in time, it’s so important to have a catharsis and something that really makes you feel. A lot of things in the world right now make you feel bad or nothing at all. It’s so important that this show makes you feel good, feel a rush of emotion and sensation all at once. That’s a good thing to have in this current world.
Everly Mag: What can viewers expect to see from Allison in the future?
Isabel: I don’t know! They haven’t told me anything. The show is really secretive, down to the point where even I don’t know. I look forward to finding out along with you guys!
Everly Mag: Who inspires you in your career?
Isabel: I really look up to the actresses who stay on the down-low and choose to do really good work, people like Meryl Streep and Emma Stone. [They] pay attention entirely to the work and have made choices to build the kind of life that is conducive to being good at what you do and being a good person.
I have recently found my #WomanCrushEveryday on Kristen Bell. I’ve listened to interviews with her and she has such a shining light and a beautiful, good-person presence that I want to emulate. Even if I wasn’t an actress, I’d want to be Kirsten Bell. She just chooses to be good and do good, and it’s so inspiring.
Everyone in my life inspires me in some way. In particular, my mom has been my clear partner on this journey. My baby brother is also inspiring. He’s almost walking which is just incredible – if he can walk at a year old, I can do anything!
Everly Mag: What do you hope to accomplish in the future of your career?
Isabel: I’m not sure where my career is going to take me. I really am passionate about film. I love television and will take TV jobs as they come [and] would be honored to be on more TV. [But] I like the format of film. I like the 2-hour story arc, I can appreciate all the nuances, and I pay attention to the cinematography. I think I’ve watched more movies than television. Movies are a part of my life and inspiration.
Disney’s making a live-action The Little Mermaid. I would really, really like to be Ariel. I think she goes through a lot of the same struggles that I do. I’m not naturally a beautiful singer, [but I] have found my voice – and my legs. The movie is so symbolic that I’d love to portray that journey in live action.
I’m so young, I’m 18 and almost on my own and figuring out how to be an adult and be an actress in Los Angeles. I don’t want to box myself into any one career path just yet.
Everly Mag: What advice do you have for young aspiring actors?
Isabel: Just do it. I keep saying the same thing to people, but it’s just true. Even if you can’t move to LA, you can do it. There is something everywhere – find that something until you can get to the place where there is more [for you].
Write your own stuff, do a community show. If the only job you can get is doing lights on a community show, that’s still doing something! You’re still learning from the actors onstage and making connections.
Everly Mag: What do you like to do when you’re not acting?
Isabel: I like to read. I have a dog, Pepper, and she’s the light of my life. I [love] exploring Los Angeles – I’m doing school so I haven’t gotten to explore LA very much yet.
Everly Mag: How do you handle insecurity? How do you stay positive?
Isabel: I think it’s really important to have a community. For me, my community always keeps me grounded and sane. I think [you need to] just choose to be positive. Everyone is insecure about something. You’re only insecure because you think other people will judge you in some way. Even if they are judging, [it’s] only a fraction of the amount you’re judging yourself.
I think I’ve been instilled with a positive vibe and high self-esteem from when I was young. When I get insecure, my nature is to come back to positivity.
Everly Mag: Finally, what are some of your favorites?
Isabel: Favorite book – Ella Enchanted. Favorite movies – The Princess Bride, Rear Window, and Clueless. Favorite food – tacos! Favorite TV show – All of them, but for the longest time it was Doctor Who so I’m loyal to that.
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Feature Image Credit: This Is Us (NBC) via Isabel Oliver Marcus