San Diego native Mariel Molino is no newcomer to the small screen. She’s starred in numerous Spanish-language television series, including Netflix’s Narcos: Mexico and the critically acclaimed telenovela ¡Muy padr3s! But her new role in ABC’s Promised Land as the youngest member of a family vying for power and wealth may be her most ambitious yet.
Promised Land tackles a lot of different themes—wealth, power, immigration. How would you describe the show and how your character, Carmen Sandoval, plays into them?
It’s a story about a family who owns Heritage House Vineyard in Sonoma Valley. It’s about the American dream, and the sacrifices you are willing to do in order to maintain it and achieve it. It has a lot of twists and turns to keep you entertained, but it also humanizes the immigrant experience, and it is different than what is normally portrayed on TV. Carmen is the artist of the family. She doesn’t really know her place in the family business yet but is trying to figure that out. No one really takes her seriously, so she is underestimated.
How would you describe your career path so far?
It’s definitely not what I had imagined. And I say that because I thought to achieve the dream of acting you would have to start in Hollywood. So it was surprising to me that I actually found most of my success and work in Spanish-language TV. When I moved to Los Angeles, I wasn’t getting jobs, so I decided to shift my career, move down south and go to Mexico. I think that was the best decision I could’ve ever made because there was a lot of work in Mexico City and not as many actors as there are in Los Angeles. On a personal note, I got reacquainted with my own personal identity and what it meant to be Mexican. I am a border kid, so I never truly felt I was 100 percent Mexican or 100 percent American. I’ve been fortunate to be able to explore both sides of the coin.
You grew up along the San Diego–Tijuana border. How has this influenced your acting?
I think I was so lucky because maybe I wouldn’t be where I am today had I grown up where there wasn’t a heavy Latino population. I wouldn’t have been as tied to my culture as I am now. I went to Our Lady of Peace, and at the time it must’ve been 50 to 60 percent Mexican American, so I was always ingrained in that culture. My family is from Mexico City, but then they moved to Tijuana, and because I had so many friends from Tijuana and friends from school, I was always speaking Spanish. And without knowing Spanish, I wouldn’t have been able to work in Mexico.
When did you fall in love with acting?
I attended the Coronado School of the Arts, and I think I did my first play when I was six years old. It was The Wizard of Oz; I played Crow Number Six. And I was like, “This is it, sign me up!” That’s when I knew I wanted to be an actor.
During the pandemic, you started the organization Pan por Pan with your mom. Describe what you do and why this was so important for you both.
When the pandemic first started, I moved in with my mom. She was going to her bakery in Tijuana and working when she could. She was fortunate enough to stay open. But she saw how the hospitals and clinics were bombarded with so many people getting sick, including the health care workers, so we said, “What can we do to help?” We started making my mom’s best-selling cakes and pastries, which I knew would fly off the shelves. We took that money and bought medical supplies like N95 masks and meals for health care workers, and also got food to shelters. We just saw a need to help, so we did, and we partnered with other people that were doing similar things as well.
What’s next for you?
I did a feature over the summer with my costar from Promised Land, Miguel Angel Garcia, called Die Like a Man, which I am really excited about. Hopefully it comes out by the end of this year. It talks about masculinity culture and tackles some of those machismo issues.
Promised Land debuts on ABC Monday, January 24 at 10 p.m. and airs weekly.