Netflix’s reimagining of the classic Norman Lear 1970s sitcom, One Day at a Time, which premieres January 6th, has the potential of becoming the most important television moment in Latino history. Its showrunner is a Cubana (Gloria Calderon-Kellett) and is led by the agile acting chops of Chicago-born Boricua Justina Machado and the patron saint of Latino actors — Rita Moreno.
Here, we speak to all three about their upcoming groundbreaking show.
How did you link up with Norman Lear for One Day at a Time?
Gloria Calderon-Kellett: It was really synchronistic because I had just come off of doing a procedural and that's not really what I do. I really missed comedy and I thought, "This is a time where I want to take a year off and develop. I just want to write something and I want to write something personal" and normally what your agents do, when you tell them you want to develop, is you go and meet with a bunch of production companies. I knew that I wanted to write something personal, I knew I wanted to write a multi-cam, and no joke, the first phone call I got was, "Hey, Norman Lear wants to sit down and talk about doing a remake of One Day at a Time."
Yeah, the stars aligned. I went to talk to him, and truthfully at the beginning, I was nervous to do so because first of all, he's Norman Lear and he's a legend, and also I've been asked to write my family a lot, and it's so personal, and I've seen so many friends of mine write their families and then it didn't end up being what they wanted it to be and they had to make a lot of compromises. In the end the product was not what they felt was representative of their experience.
And Norman really encouraged you to draw from your experiences growing up in a Cuban family.
GCK: All of that goes in when you sit down and you're talking about personal stuff from your life, but Norman is so disarming and so charming and so curious about human beings and the human condition and how everyone has a story. He just asked me a lot of questions about my life and I told him about my experiences here. The bravery it took my grandparents to send them in the first place. I'm very grateful that both sets of grandparents were able to come over a year later on the freedom flights. We still have family in Cuba, and that was obviously a struggle. They had beautiful homes in Cuba and they had to start over, so I feel very much like the American Dream. I told Norman about this and about how involved my family is in my life, which is, as you know, a very Latino thing. Family is really important. The more I talked about it, the more I talked about my mom being at my house every day, which she is, and back to, my grandparents lived next door to me growing up. Now, this second generation is doing the same thing. He was just so intrigued and he goes, "That's what we should do. We have to write that. That's what it is. You're the person to do this."
When Norman originally had the idea, was the grandmother in the mix? Did that really spring from your story?
GCK: That really sprang from our conversation. It's funny because I actually said, "My mom ..." and he goes, "What's your mom like?" And I said, "Well, picture like Rita Moreno" because my mom and Rita are very similar. They're tiny little powerhouses, you know? He was like, "Oh, I know Rita. I've been wanting to work on something with Rita forever." Rita actually wears a wig to look like my mom's hair. They look like sisters on-set. There have been times where I've seen Rita across the stage and I'm like "Oh, my mom came to . . . oh, no, it's Rita."
How did he feel about the overall feminist feel of the show?
GCK: He loved this feminist perspective and I feel so in tune with all of the female characters on the show because I've either been them. Growing up I was a version of Elena, I am a version of Penelope and I'm sure I'm going to be just like my mother and be a version of Lydia. These women speak to me in a very personal way. It starts there and then we talk to the room about it and Mike and I wrote the pilot alone. We wrote that without the aid of the room, but certainly the room helped us form the arc. Season one is definitely following Elena through this womanhood transition and what that means to her and that's what we get to see in season one, which is really exciting.
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