A Texas native, Isabel Oliver Marcus attended San Antonio’s Bonham Academy, where she starred in numerous productions of its award-winning theater program. She won every performance competition she entered in San Antonio, including play festivals and Texas school competitions. Since coming to L.A., she has appeared in music videos and a succession of lead roles for independent and student projects. In the Season 2 opener of the hit TV series “This is Us,” Marcus plays Randall Pearson’s teen girlfriend. She has garnered considerable press for her character (as well as the mystery connection to Jack’s death). Marcus returns to the series from mid-January, for a multi-episode arc that comes with some fun shocks and turns. In this one-on-one interview, Marcus reveals what it was like transitioning from hopeful actor to landing a key role in a popular and highly successful TV drama.
Being in “This is Us” is a big career break for you. What was your audition like?
Isabel Marcus: I had been auditioning and working in L.A five years before that, sending in taped auditions for my agent. I was in Texas visiting my family when I got a call to audition for “This is Us.” They wanted me the next morning but I was halfway across the country. And there was all this secrecy around the show—like no one outside the casting room could see the sides. So I asked if I could send in an audition tape, which was sort of a long shot. And by some miracle, they agreed. So Thursday, I send in the tape; Saturday, I was on a plane; Monday, I had a chemistry read; Tuesday, they gave me the role; and Wednesday, I was on the Paramount lot. It was an incredible experience. To have that go-go-go, wait feeling made getting the role that much sweeter.
What was it like being in L.A. by yourself and getting acclimated to studio life?
Isabel: My mom and I had moved to L.A. the year before. But then she went back to Texas, and when the audition came in, she stayed in Texas and I came back to L.A. I went to the Paramount lot mostly by myself. I had to work out all the little details most people work out together with their parents. I even filled out my tax form. It’s been crazy, but luckily, for the rest of it, I had my mom with me. It was like, alright, my life is beginning, let’s go.
How did you become a fan of “This is Us”?
Isabel: I had seen previews for it for several months. But I never really watched it. When I got the audition for it, I did my research, went to my aunt’s house, borrowed her Hulu account, and watched the first and last episodes. And that’s when I fell in love with the show. Twenty minutes in, I was crying and I said, I guess this is my life now. I’m addicted to this show.
You play young Randall’s teen girlfriend. What did you draw from to prepare for playing the friend of a shy guy?
Isabel: I drew from my life’s experience. I also found a lot in the script. There wasn’t much for me to say in the first episode, but since we shot some more, I developed my character even further and found things in the script the writers added. They’re so good at what they do. When I auditioned for the part, her name was Red Headed Teen Girl. So being a young redhead, it’s mostly just drawing from me. I always think it’s less about interacting with a shy person than my understanding of what it’s like to be shy. Everyone is at some point. So when I empathize with that character, I can make my character empathize with him.
You said that you’d made up your mind about certain aspects of your character that later dovetailed with the script. Can you go into that?
Isabel: There were little things. I have a list of 100 questions that I answer about my character that solidify certain things. And you build other backstories. One of those questions is, what are her hobbies? I put down baking. When they gave me a script, I saw that she’s baking cookies. So I thought, alright, we’re on the same wavelength. It’s those little details that are validating.
Can you give us a clue about where your character will be going?
Isabel: When episode 201 came out and we saw her at the very end with Randall, holding his hand, there was a lot of buzz around her. The writers and show’s creator, Dan Fogelman, said she’s part of Jack’s death storyline. There were times when they said it’s the cast, the dog, and the Red-Headed Girl. We’ve seen how the first two come into play, and now we see how the Red Headed Girl fits into this story. So we’re going to see Randall’s girlfriend and the role she plays in the Pearson family drama.
So can you tell us about your relationship with Randall?
Isabel: I can’t reveal much of the plot, but there’s not a whole lot I know. I see things on a script-by-script basis. I think the writers have an incredible plan and I can’t wait to find that out. I get the script a couple of days before. At one point, we shot such an important episode that I only got the pages that pertain to me.
Do you have a favorite episode or scene?
Isabel: My favorite episodes are at the end of season 1, with William and his journey through Randall’s biological dad, that journey through the end of his life. I found it heart wrenching. It was beautifully written, beautifully acted, and beautifully shot. It was the best television I’d ever seen.
Do you have plans to be in other TV series or films? Any auditions you want to talk about?
Isabel: Yes, pilot season is coming up, so I’m here, ready to audition for whatever comes my way. I’m super excited to move on to the next project while leaving room for “This is Us.” I don’t have anything else right now but I’m ready for whatever comes my way.
Any plans for college?
Isabel: I’m planning to take a gap year to learn to be an adult in Los Angeles. I did have to grow up pretty fast this summer. But I haven’t done all of my growing up. So I’m taking a little time to figure out what being an actor looks like in Los Angeles, then I’m hoping to go to USC or UCLA and stay on the West Coast so I can still work.