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Isabela Merced Has a Trick to Keep Herself Off Her Phone

There is busy, and then there is Isabela Merced.

On an afternoon last month in Los Angeles, the actress — who had just returned from Vancouver, where she was learning to ride horses for a role in Season 2 of HBO’s postapocalyptic survival drama “The Last of Us” — was preparing to meet Vice President Kamala Harris that night, while also doing this interview and, as an alarm that went off in the middle of the phone call revealed, laundry.

“It’s a work in progress: I know how to get on the horse and not panic, and that’s about it,” said Merced, 22, who made her Broadway debut in “Evita” when she was 10 and is now known for her roles in “Transformers: The Last Knight” and “Dora and the Lost City of Gold.”

“The Last of Us” is one of half a dozen film and TV projects she has lined up for the next few years, among them “Madame Web,” the newly released Spider-Man spinoff in which she plays Anya Corazon, better known as Spider-Girl in the Marvel Comics.

Also on her film slate: the lead role in the long-awaited adaptation of John Green’s young adult novel “Turtles All the Way Down”; a starring role in “Alien: Romulus” (due out in August); and Hawkgirl in “Superman: Legacy.”

How does she balance it all?

“I’m going to have to practice meditation a little bit more than I have,” she said.

In a conversation from her family’s home, where she lives with her mother and her younger brother, Merced shared how sound baths keep her centered, the secret to her mother’s “unmatched” chicken estofado, and why she always has Legos on hand. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.


I had my first sound-bowl experience in Peru last summer with my mom and my friends. It was so relaxing — the guy was so talented and even incorporated a didgeridoo at one point. He also put this instrument over me that’s supposed to open up your chest, and I immediately started crying.


In the past year, I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction, including John Sellars’s “Lessons in Stoicism” and Alan Watts’s “The Wisdom of Insecurity.” It’s shifted my perspective; as someone who has a lot of pressure on them, I seek control in a lot of things in my life, and philosophy’s helped me let go.


I have so many in my room right now, including some boxes from things I built in Budapest while I was filming “Alien.” It’s something that’s nice to do on a Sunday that keeps me from staring at my phone all day.


Every time I’m on a plane, I pull out the in-flight magazine and flip to the page with Sudoku. And I play on the Sudoku app, too. I’ve think I’ve developed a good method; my record is five minutes and 30 seconds on the master level.


I’m not a morning person. But then I’ll hear my little brother [Gyovanni Moner] — OK, he’s not really little; he towers above me! — playing the softest, most beautiful melody on our baby grand white piano. It echoes through the house, and I have to stop and listen. He plays some Studio Ghibli movie soundtrack songs and classical versions of Kanye West songs.


There are some downsides to living with your mom — I’m a young woman, and the mom-daughter dynamic is so complicated and semi-stressful — but the biggest upside is she cooks for me. When she texts me that she’s making a meal, it turns my whole day around. She makes the best Peruvian food — the classic estofado with chicken, rice and a tomato-based seasoning and sauce, with peas and carrots.


I’ve been boxing since I was 14, when I started training for “Transformers.” During the strike, I did it four or five times a week — I’m trying to get big for “Superman” — and I’ve kept up with it now two or three times per week.


I got my first plants about a year ago — I wanted to prove I could take care of a living thing — and they died relatively quickly. I’ve learned you have to anticipate their needs, really pay attention to them in the soil. My orchid is kind of difficult to take care of; it’s so sensitive!


They are my go-to, even if I still don’t know how to say the word.


If my dogs could talk, they’d be well-versed in this because it’s all they hear all day. I started watching these when I was getting into therapy, and my therapist was throwing out all these theories about where the behaviors people in my life were exhibiting were coming from. There are lots of doctors who’ve adapted and started YouTube channels talking in a general way about mental illness, which I think is sweet because a lot of people can’t afford therapy.

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