Growing up at Sunshine Acres Children’s Home in Northeast Mesa, Jenny Watwood had simple goals: become a model and travel the world.
By 19, she accomplished them.
“When I signed (a contract) in Arizona, I said I wanted to travel the world,” Watwood says. “I modeled in Milan for five years and I had a really good experience living in Europe. Everybody is very, very creative. It was the best experience I could have had as a model.”
Now living in California, Watwood was on a recent, untouched cover of Playboy, and starred in Maluma’s music video “El Prestamo,” which has more than 100 million views.
Watwood grew up as the youngest of seven children in a conservative household in West Mesa.
“When I was younger, my mom needed help with two of my brothers,” Watwood recalls. “We lived in a really bad neighborhood. My brothers were at Sunshine Acres until they graduated high school and could make their own decisions.”
Their mother soon landed a job as the Sunshine Acres chef and Watwood and her sister moved to the facility at the Loop 202 and Higley Road with her.
Watwood’s mother was a former model, and the little girl heard stories about her career. In high school, she decided to try it.
“I found a photographer on Facebook who would do a test shoot,” she says. “I borrowed money from my sister, who had a job at the time. I thought I had to have pictures before going to an agency and see if they wanted to sign me.”
The photographer submitted the pictures to a modeling agency. Watwood immediately moved to Milan, booked international campaigns, appeared in Vogue, GQ and Vanity Fair.
“I took it into my own hands,” she says. “Nobody came up to me in Starbucks. Arizona isn’t a fashion state.”
Watwood spent the next five years working and living between Milan and the United States, establishing an impressive modeling career. While living in Milan, she was cast in the 2016 reboot of the Italian cult favorite TV series Ciao Darwin, which boosted her into the spotlight in that countryh.
Watwood is widely known in the States as the love interest and partner in crime of Latin superstar Maluma in his video, “El Prestamo.” The action-packed video features car chases and shoot outs with Watwood performing her own stunts.
“That was a lot of fun,” she says. “I’ve always said no to music videos. They don’t pay well and it’s not real acting. We’re always dancing in a corner with a drink in our hands. This was an actual, short action movie.
“I flew to Miami and shot for two days. Maluma is such a sweetheart. He’s really humble and the experience was incredible. I got to shoot guns from the top of a moving vehicle, which was fun for me, too.”
Appearing on the cover of Playboy’s “Future” issue in a silver jumpsuit gave Watwood even more exposure.
“It wasn’t something I ever cared to do,” she says. “I thought if they wanted me on the cover, of course I’ll do it. I was very flattered.
“I like the direction they’re going now. I like that they’re talking about real topics and real things in their magazine. I thought if they were going in that direction, I’d be honored to be on the cover.”
She admits her family was initially shocked.
“But they told me they were proud of me, and they knew any decision I made would be thought through,” Watwood explains. “They trust my decisions. That meant a lot to me.”
The Arizonan’s true passion is as a writer. She and Cuban actress Rachell Vallori are developing a female-focused TV series based on the lives of women living in Los Angeles.
“I want to eventually be a film director,” Watwood adds. “That’s my main goal. I love suspenseful drama, serious movies, documentaries, things like that. I love comedies when I’m in the mood. I’m more of a serious person. That’s what I like to write about as well.”
Watwood’s talents do not stop there. She and her boyfriend are working on a line of women’s leather clothing through the men’s luxury leather designer KILLSPENCER.
Watwood is still friends with many of the children with whom she grew up at Sunshine Acres, which inspired her to work with the Jack Brewer Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes access to education and cultural exchanges and assists in medical aid and disaster relief. Through her work with the foundation, Watwood traveled to Haiti where she met with local villagers to address their concerns and provide communities with laptops and internet access. She donates 10 percent of all she makes to charity.
“For me, I’ve learned a lot about myself,” she says about her travels. “I learned what I was capable of. I moved to Europe alone. I had to learn to navigate through a new city without a cellphone. I had to prove myself as a person and as a model.”