You may know Jessica Marie Garcia as Willow, the outgoing and sporty friend of Maddie Rooney (Dove Cameron) from Disney Channel’s Liv and Maddie, but what you don’t know about her is how strong she is in real life.
CS4U caught up with the Disney Channel actress recently to get the scoop on what’s next for Willow on Liv and Maddie, her favorite episode to film and what’s it like off camera with the cast. She even opens up to us about her amazing story on battling diabetes and how she’s inspiring young girls all over to help them overcome their obstacles.
Check out the Q&A below. Liv and Maddie airs on Sundays on Disney Channel.
CS4U: For people who aren’t familiar with your character on Liv and Maddie, what can you tell us about your character, Willow?
Jessica: “Well, Willow is a tough girl. She’s about sixteen years old and she’s on the basketball team over at Ridgewood High in Wisconsin with Maddie, who’s also her best friend. And she’s a tough chick, you know? She’s sporty, she’s loud, she’s aggressive, she’s a tough girl, but she also has this incredible vulnerable side, and she has such a big heart, and she’s absolutely head over heels in love slash obsessed with Maddie’s younger brother. She’s the sweetest person, she’s wonderful and I love playing her so much.”
CS4U: Great! What is most rewarding about playing Willow?
Jessica: “It’s probably selfishly she helps me, she really helps me become a stronger person, I feel. She’s opinionated and she always says exactly what’s on her mind without any kind of apology, and I love that about her, so I kind of feel like I take that on when I play her and it kind of trickles down into my every day life.”
CS4U: Is there a favorite episode you have of Liv and Maddie? Can you tell us a little about it?
Jessica: “Yes! There’s a few episodes that I love more than anything, but I would have to say my favorite to date has been “Rate-a-Rooney,” which is an episode that just aired about three weeks ago. It was a story about the girls at Ridgewood High were being rated 1-10 on their looks by this group of guys, like the popular guys, that Willow calls them the “jerk-tourage,” and they start rating the girls 1-10 on their looks, and they all get pretty low numbers, and Willow gets a five, and she’s kind of heartbroken about it, and it’s the first time you see Willow be vulnerable and not just this tough, really confident girl, so that was amazing to show and to actually show girls that the girl who’s super tough and you feel like she always has it together is still capable of going home and crying about things and really breaking down because you put on this façade that you’re so strong, but words hurt, so that was a really important episode for me.”
CS4U: Yeah, seeing a different side of her, that’s great.
Jessica: “Absolutely! I think it’s important for kids to know that it’s okay to not be okay, and I love shooting the episode and it was very important for all of us, so it was beautiful and I think it’s a really relevant message right now.”
CS4U: Definitely. So what is it like working on set with everybody? Do you have any funny stories from being on set with them?
Jessica: “Oh my gosh, I don’t know what kind of time you have! Liv and Maddie is the funnest set I’ve been on. We’ve all become so close. We all hung out at Disney the other day, that’s like what we do. We all hang out together, we’re best friends, so when we’re on set it’s hysterical because I always tell people that I’m waiting for Disney to come over and see that we’re not working because it’s not work to us. It’s literally hours that we get to spend hanging out with our friends. But as far as things that have happened—you can’t give me a prop without it breaking or not functioning correctly, so there was one instance when I’m in a chicken suit, and I have this big ceramic egg that opens up and I’m asking Artie to the dance even though I really want to ask Joey, and it’s supposed to just pop up and it’s a little pole that says “Artie,” and instead of just popping up and saying “Artie,” it just kept growing, like the metal pole just got bigger and bigger and ended up almost going to the ceiling and breaking. It was hysterical, especially when I’m in this giant chicken suit. The entire cast has just broken out into musicals. I think we did the entire Les Miserables score. It’s such a good time.”
CS4U: About a year ago, you were diagnosed as pre-diabetic. Can you tell us a little about how you overcame the daily struggles of being diabetic? Do you have any advice that you would give to young girls going through similar health struggles?
Jessica: “Absolutely! Well, it’s been about two years now since I was diagnosed, and it was the shock of a lifetime. Growing up, you always think that you’re an invincible human, you know, kids don’t think about being sick, so I never thought about it. I never went to the doctor, didn’t think anything was wrong with me, and when my family was like, “you really need to go to the doctor just for a check up,” I was like, “fine.” So when they did it and they told me I was pre-diabetic I was in shock, like, pure and utter shock. I couldn’t believe it. I have always been the person who’s like, you just have to overcome everything, you have to be strong and you have to get through it, so I felt like I had to put up or shut up. It was my time to finally show everything that I had been preaching, you know, to be a strong woman. So I remember going into my kitchen that day and throwing out anything that was bad for me and learning about nutrition, which is the number one thing I would want kids to learn about, because I didn’t know anything about nutrition. I didn’t know what a proper diet should look like, or know what the words were on the label that I should look for, like, it didn’t bother me and I didn’t care about it. It was a huge wakeup call that I should absolutely care what I put into my body, so I looked up recipes, especially things for being diabetic and the foods I should be eating and the foods I should be staying away from, and I kind of learned how to cook, and that’s a skill that I now possess, which I’m so thankful for because now I can be in complete control over what I’m eating, and it’s fun. And I’ve learned how to substitute. I’m a red meat and potato kind of girl, and learning that I couldn’t eat those all the time was devastating, but I found out I could switch for leaner meats like turkey or chicken or fish, and I could still have my turkey burger, but maybe without a bun or a wheat bun today. You just learn substitution, and I think because I know stuff about nutrition now that I educated myself, I appreciate it more and I’m feeling more proud of myself for making a lifestyle change instead of doing some sort of crash diet. I think those are the things to stay away from, because they only last a certain amount of time and then you’re going to gain that weight back.”
CS4U: Thank you so much for that story, that was so great. My last question is: since our website is called CelebSecrets4U, do you have any secrets or a hidden talent you could share with us?
Jessica: “I do a really creepy but really accurate baby voice that I love to do especially to mess with other people on set with and really creep them out. It’s my favorite thing to do, especially to Joey because he’s like, “it’s creepy, it’s a baby coming out of an adult, I don’t understand it!””
Photo: Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for GBK Productions