It’s not easy to steal a scene on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” but Keyla Monterroso Mejia may actually be stealing an entire season.
The 23-year-old, who grew up in California’s Inland Empire, has been playing Maria Sofia, the current bane of Larry David’s always-baneful existence. Through a series of too-complicated-to-get-into-here plot twists (involving a dead burglar and a Santa Monica ordinance requiring fences around private swimming pools), Larry was blackmailed into casting Maria in his new fictional TV show-within-the-show, an autobiographical comedy about his early years in Brooklyn.
Trouble is, Maria can’t act. In fact, she’s so atrociously and hilariously bad, one suspects the actress portraying her must truly be a comedic genius. Which is why TheWrap caught up with Mejia to plumb the secrets of her shockingly great-terrible performance….
TheWrap: So, there’s two possibilities here. One, you’re a terrible actress and you’re just being yourself on the screen. Or two, you’re brilliant. I’m thinking it’s probably No. 2. I’m guessing that acting that badly for the camera takes an incredible amount of talent.
Keyla Monterroso Mejia: Oh, you’re so sweet. But honestly, truthfully, a lot of my time on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” I was having an out-of-body experience. I just blacked out. So, I have no idea how all those things came out of me. I have to give huge props to Jeff Schaffer, who was the director on all the episodes I did. He was so great in pointing me in the right direction, telling me to “go bigger.” That was the rule — always go bigger and then we could bring it down if we needed to. In that sense, it was pretty freeing.
How did it work, acting-wise? Did you decide what the right choice for a scene might be and then just run in the opposite direction? Was that difficult for you?
It wasn’t the easiest. I think comedy overall is difficult. And then having the task of being bad on top of that… although, I don’t necessarily think of it as bad. I wasn’t trying to be bad. I was just trying to be Maria Sofia, and she thought it was good. She thought it was really good. She was like, “Oh, I got Hollywood in my pocket.” So, I wasn’t trying to be a bad actor. I was trying to be Maria Sofia and live in the world she lives in.
You got so far into the head of this character you were able to internalize her bad acting?
Yeah, kind of.
Were you comfortable with the improv format?
To be completely honest, it was something I was really intimidated by. I’m more of an analytical actor. I get a lot of confidence from being 100% prepared, which is difficult with “Curb” because it’s improvising. You don’t really know what you’re going to get. So, I just based the improv on the work that I did knowing Maria Sofia really well. How she moved, how she reacted.
Was there a moment the character snapped into place for you?
In the beginning, I did this weird, quiet sexual version of her. It wasn’t until I got to improv with Larry that she really started to take shape. I remember we did a scene where I had sat in his chair, in Larry’s chair, and Larry got a little bit aggressive about it. Not physically but, you know, in his mannerisms and the way he was talking to Maria Sofia. And Maria Sofia was like in her own world. “I don’t care who you are!” That’s really when I started to find the character. And then there was another scene at the restaurant where Maria’s dad was like, “You know, my daughter can dance.” That was the actor’s idea. He just did that. But it was the final missing piece. After that I was like, “Hell yeah, I got her. This is who she is.”
How did you get this part? Did you go to a bad actor audition or something?
It was just a general submission from my agent, a self-tape that I made with my coach. It was one scripted scene and one improv scene. And I did, like, this weird version that was a mix between Aubrey Plaza and Stephanie Beatriz. And, thankfully, that was enough to get an audition. They were like, “Hey, we’re gonna bring you in to read with Larry David. The director’s gonna be there, the producers, the casting people…” I was like, “What?” You don’t expect Larry David to come in for that sort of thing. So, I was pretty nervous.
What’s the reaction to the character been like for you? Are you now getting 10 scripts a day for bad acting parts?
You know, at first I was a bit nervous for Maria to be seen by other people. I really didn’t have any big expectations — if anything, I was worried people weren’t going to like her. I thought maybe people online were going to fat-shame me or be mean. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. People have been overwhelmingly positive. But to answer your question, I’m not getting offers for bad acting parts but more like audition requests for comedy characters, which is really fun.
I know before “Curb” you had a smallish part in a Netflix series, “On Our Block,” and that you’ve got a much bigger part in the sequel to that show, “Freeridge,” which starts streaming next year sometime, and you also played a vampire in a Disney short called “Growing Fangs”…?
Yeah. It was really interesting to have these opposite ends of the world and acting styles come out at the same time. The Disney short came out towards the end of the summer and then a couple of months later “Curb” came out.
Is Maria Sofia going to stick around for a while? Do you know what her story arc looks like for the rest of the season or even beyond?
Oh, there’s a little bit more love for her this season, for sure. But as far as anything past this season, I’m not really sure. I mean, Larry David sort of likes to have his storylines begin and end, then he moves onto the next great idea he has. But if you ask me personally, I would love to do her again and again, as many times as I could. It’s so freeing to just do whatever comes to my mind. I’m not going to lie — I would continue this character for as long as I could.