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‘Madame Web’ actor Isabela Merced talks Spider-Women, comics and her grandma


Superhero movies often tell powerful stories about ordinary people becoming extraordinary. And Isabela Merced, who stars as Anya Corazón in the new superhero movie “Madame Web,” is excited to see her character develop into one of three Spider-Women on the big screen.

“We see flash-forwards of the future. And I’m really interested to explore how she gets there,” she told NBC News in a video interview.

“Madame Web” opens nationwide on Valentine’s Day and is directed by British filmmaker S.J. Clarkson, who also directed episodes for “Marvel’s Jessica Jones” on Netflix.

While the movie has roots in Marvel Comics, “Madame Web” focuses on a standalone origin story.

The title character is Cassandra Web (played by Dakota Johnson), a paramedic in New York City who develops the ability to see different timelines in the future.

Isabela Merced, left, Celeste O’Connor, Dakota Johnson and Sydney Sweeney on the set of “Madame Web” in New York City in 2022. Jose Perez/Bauer-Griffin / GC Images file

This superpower will ultimately connect her with three future Spider-Women: Julia Cornwall (Sydney Sweeney), Anya Corazón (Merced) and Mattie Franklin (Celeste O’Connor).

Merced said she’s a comic book fan. Pretending to be a superhero helped spark her interest in acting.

“Talk about manifesting your dreams,” she said. “I used to dress up as these superheroes and force my parents to watch me act it out.”

At 22 years old, Merced already has an impressive acting résumé.

She made her Broadway debut at age 10, performing alongside Puerto Rican music legend Ricky Martin in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical “Evita.”

Merced later moved on to the big screen, playing a street-smart tomboy in “Transformers: The Last Knight” (2017), the daughter of a kingpin in “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” (2018), and the title role as a teenage explorer in “Dora and the Lost City of Gold” (2019).

This year, Merced will also star in “Alien: Romulus,” a standalone film from the science fiction horror franchise “Alien.” In 2025, she’s slated to appear as Hawkgirl in James Gunn’s “Superman: Legacy.”

Playing a young Latina character in “Madame Web” makes Merced proud. But looking back at diversity in film and comics, she said that she never felt excluded growing up.

“I never thought to myself that there was a prerequisite for skin color or ethnicity or background,” said Merced, who’s half Peruvian. “It never crossed my mind because I was just a kid.”

Merced recognizes that society imposes boundaries on ethnicity and identity. But superhero movies also show how society is becoming more inclusive, she said.

“People think that these characters that were made right around when I was born deserve the screen time, they deserve the spotlight,” she said, referring to diverse superheroes. “I think great writing could make any comic book character mainstream.”

Off-screen, Merced said she’s fully embracing her Peruvian American heritage. And like some superheroes, the actor has a double identity — her legal name and her stage name — which pays homage to her roots.

In 2019, Merced changed her stage name from her legal name, Isabela Moner, to Isabela Merced, which is her late Peruvian grandmother’s last name.

“I like how it sounds. I like how it looks. It was personal preference to me,” she said about the name change. “My grandmother is so special to me, and to my mother. Unfortunately, I never got to meet her. However, people say I look just like her, I act just like her.”

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