As mom and daughter, Rita Moreno and Justina Machado revel in the reboot of One Day at a Time.
When legendary producer Norman Lear decided on a reimagined version of One Day at a Time, his 1975–82 CBS series, the first person he cast was the equally legendary Rita Moreno.
“Norman and I were at one of those fundraising dinners,” Moreno explains, “and he said, ‘I want you in my new show.’ And I literally said, ‘Okay.’ And then I said, ‘What is it?’ Just the fact that he wanted me. Flattery will get you everywhere when it comes to Norman Lear.”
In the Netflix comedy (season one is online, season two is on order), Moreno stars as Lydia, the larger-than-life family matriarch. Justina Machado (Six Feet Under) costars as Penelope, Lydia’s recently separated daughter, who is raising two children with the help of her loving but opinionated mother.
Emmy contributor Amy Amatangelo recently chatted with both women about the series.
You two have a wonderful rapport on screen. Had you worked together before?
Rita Moreno: She says we did twice, and I don’t remember. Can you believe it?
Justina Machado: It was three times before! The first time I was 19, and she came to my theater company in Chicago. The second time was Ugly Betty, and the third was the NBC sitcom Welcome to the Family. I don’t blame her. She meets hundreds and hundreds of people all the time, but this time she remembers me, so that’s good.
What have you learned from working with each other on this series?
Moreno: I learned something invaluable from her. When you’re saying something to her in character, she listens in such a profound way.
I remember one of the first scenes where our two characters had a disagreement — she listened so intently to what I was saying that I was absolutely poleaxed. It’s such a gift. She is a remarkable actress. I know so few people who can pull off knockdown comedy and then break your heart.
Machado: She’s one of the greatest artists I’ve ever worked with. She never stops trying to figure things out. If there’s some sort of choreography, she will spend all day doing it. She’s a perfectionist and she makes it look effortless.
How did you connect with your characters?
Moreno: I come from another time. I come from Lydia’s time. She comes so naturally to me. The explosiveness. The emotion. The passion. That’s me, for Pete’s sake, on an exaggerated scale — and, I hasten to add, not too exaggerated.
Machado: I connected with my character immediately. What I loved most about her is that she is fully fleshed — I could see all the levels of this woman. So many times, as a Latina actress, you get pigeonholed. Here was a character… just a regular, amazing woman who had so many layers. I was grateful to have something like that to play with.
Rita, your character speaks with an accent. Why did you make that choice?
Moreno: Her accent is my mama’s accent, so it was kind of nice. For one thing, it’s very colorful, and number two, my mom used to charm the pants off me with the mistakes that she made. It’s mostly funny because Lydia’s not aware she has an accent.
The series showcases Latino culture and the family’s Cuban heritage….
Machado: We’re able to be a regular family. If the jokes are there, it’s because we’re in on them — it’s not because someone is making fun of us. It’s rooted in honesty. Often jokes about ethnicity are not. I hope that viewers get the sense that someone is telling their story, that they’re being represented and that they’re proud of the way we’re portraying them.
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 4, 2017