Interview with Isabella Gomez From Netflix’s “One Day at a Time”

Interviews Television
"Interview with Isabella Gomez From Netflix’s “One Day at a Time”"

CorrienteLatina's exclusive interview with Isabella Gomez from Netflix's One Day at a Time

 

Isabella is one of the brightest talents coming out of Netflix’s hit TV Show  “One Day at a Time“.  The remake from the 1970’s sitcom that starred Bonnie Franklin, Mackenzie Phillips and Valerie Bertinelli.  This time around, Norman Lear brings his iconic status to Netflix. One Day at a Time is now set in California where a Cuban-American family starring
Justina Machado as Penelope Alvarez, Rita Moreno as Lydia Riera, Marcel Ruiz as Alex Alvarez, Todd Grinnell as Dwayne Schneider, Stephen Tobolowsky as Dr. Leslie Berkowitz and Isabella Gomez as Elena Alvarez begin their life as Penelope Alvarez is recently separated from her husband.

We recently sat with Isabella to talk about her role and being a role model to young Latinas around the world.

 

Richard:
Can you take me back to when you found out you actually got the part of Elena Alvarez?

Isabella:
Yes, so, I was home. I was with one of my friends, and my manager called me, which I didn’t think was unusual, because I talk to my manager, Doyle Rice, like, every ten minutes, and he called me and put me on a three-way call with my agent, and they started reading this legal document out loud to me, which I understood nothing of, but my dad’s a lawyer and he’s listening, and he’ll know what’s going on. And they finished and they’re like, “all right, coo, bye.” And I’m like, “coo, bye.” And I went to walk into my room, and my dad called me back and he said, “What are you doing?” and I’m like, “What do you mean?” and he’s like, you just booked One Day at a Time and you’re not reacting. And I screamed out, like there’s no way this happened. I called Doyle back and said, “What were you reading to me?” and he said, “That was the pickup for you. I was wondering why you didn’t freak out.” So, that was that.

 

Richard:
That is awesome. The show itself, the creator, Norman Lear, is a legend. He has a great perspective on dealing with complex family situations. From All in the Family to The Jeffersons. With this revamp of One Day at a Time, did you feel any pressure because he was involved? As compared to other projects?

Isabella:
You know, I think not as much, because I wasn’t alive during the ‘70s so I didn’t get to see his impact as much, and then, of course I knew of him, and vaguely knew what he had done, but when I started working with him, I really just wanted to get to know him. It wasn’t until about mid-season when I started reading his book and I watched his documentary that I realized what a huge deal this man is, and what his work has done for American culture. Then it was a little more—it wasn’t pressure, because at this point I knew him, but then I understood that what we were doing was so much bigger than I had realized.

 

Richard:
Correct me if I’m wrong, seems like just you knowing him as an individual and as a person kind of changed your reaction on this “pressure” on you and the character, itself.

Isabella:
Knowing him before helped a lot, because he is an icon and so a lot of people are intimidated by him, but Norman is the sweetest human being on earth. You know, he’s 94 years old, so he has all this wisdom and all this life experience, but he never stops asking questions and I think that’s why he’s so great. He’s so open to new ideas and to input. So, knowing him beforehand, before knowing the icon, I think helped a lot, because I didn’t see him as much like, “Oh this is my boss man, I really have to keep it together.” I saw him as somebody who wanted to help me in this journey, who cared for Elena as much as I care for Elena, and who wanted to make sure that she was as great as I wanted her to be. So, that helped a lot.

 

Richard:
Now you mentioned kind of him giving you guys freedom of input. Were some of the scenes off-script at certain times? Or did you guys really stick with the script with no improvisation?

Isabella:
There was not very much ad lib in our show. Mostly it was Todd Grinnell, Schneider, he would kind of say these things in rehearsals and they would just put it in, because Todd is hilarious. The script did change a lot through the week. If there was something we felt uncomfortable with, like we thought that our characters wouldn’t say or we didn’t quite get, we were always welcome to talk to not only Norman but our show runners, Mike Royce and Gloria Calderon Kellett, and they were super open about it. They would help us either understand what they’d written or they would rewrite it in a way that worked for all of us, which was really nice.

 

Richard:
Season 1 really revolved around your character’s coming of age as a Latina in the Quinceanera world, to your character’s sexuality to your Save the world Feminism. Did you know that your character would be such, I guess like the nucleus of season 1?

Isabella:
I had no idea, truthfully. It wasn’t really until we got into those last episodes that I realized that we had been following Elena’s story very closely, but I think our show follows everyone’s stories, too. It’s not so much Elena as that what’s going on in Elena’s life affects everyone, which is awesome. A lot of sitcoms either just follow the main person or everything is kind of their own, each character, and our family—our cast is a family, our show is about a family, so anything that happens with one of us affects the other ones. But, yes, I knew from the beginning that Elena was going to be gay and Elena is based off of Mike Royce’s daughter, and her coming out story is based on two of our writers, mostly Michelle Badillo, so I knew that it was going to be very important and very personal, but yes, it was a surprise that she was such a big part of it.

 

One Day At A Time: Isabella Gomez, Rita Moreno, Justina Machado
One Day At A Time: Isabella Gomez, Rita Moreno, Justina Machado

Richard:
You portray the Elena role brilliantly. I think you walk a very fine line between being strong and vulnerable. Where did you find your zone in playing the character?

Isabella:
I think what helped a lot is, like I said before, we got to have a lot of conversations. And truly, our set did not feel like work. It felt like a family, and for actors it is so important for us to feel comfortable and to be able to explore choices without being afraid of failing. So, for each episode we have a week. And in that week, we got to try a lot of things and talk to our directors and our writers and especially talk to Justina and Rita who are such inspirations to me, so I think that helped a lot. From day one of an episode to the last day there’s a massive change because you’ve gotten to work the material. And also, because Elena is a human. You know, and so I think—Justina says that sometimes how she prepared for the role through living. So, just life experience. I was 15 once, not that long ago, and so I relate to a lot of what she’s going through.

 

Richard:
That’s a perfect segue way to my next question. What similarities do you have with the character herself?

Isabella:
Let’s see. Elena and I are both very passionate about our points of view and we will just send them until we have to, until we get people on our side. She’s also very much into social issues and trying to make them better, which is something that affects me a lot, especially now. Like I said, my dad’s a lawyer and so him and I kind of debate all the time. Yeah, I think those are some of our similarities.

 

One Day At A Time: Isabella Gomez, Justina Machado
One Day At A Time: Isabella Gomez, Justina Machado

Richard:
Now, the character’s sexuality really came into play, right? And the show does a great job in showing the different angles that people take to someone coming out. There’s teens out there that kind of feel the same way Elena felt and I think the show does a great job in kind of pointing that. Have you received any mail or some story that kind of touched your heart on how Elena’s character helped someone out there?

Isabella:
I get messages from people telling me that either they got to get their parents to watch the show and started a conversation about sexuality, or watching Elena’s journey inspired them to talk to their parents about their sexuality, or even from the standpoint of being a confident feminist, a lot of people have told me that they sometimes get shut down for being a young feminist, and being a character that’s so strong in her opinions helped them a lot with their own confidence, which is awesome.

 

Richard:
I don’t see any press releases going out, but are you guys currently working on season 2?

Isabella:
We’re not. We have not heard back from Netflix about season 2.

 

Richard:
They better—the show is phenomenal. I’m waiting to have my kids sit down and watch it, because I think that the family dynamic is great. I’m old, right, so I watched the original one at the time, and just from hearing that it was One Day at a Time, I was like, well how are they going to bring Schneider, and just reading about how the story line was going to come in, but I think it’s phenomenal. But I would not doubt that you guys would have a season 2, 3, 4, so on and so forth. Are you currently working on other projects right now?

Isabella:
I’m not working on anything else right now, but I’m auditioning for a lot of awesome projects and also standing by to hear about season 2 for One Day at a Time!

 

Richard:
But you’ve played roles in different shows, right? So, you can kind of do the same scenario, go in for an episode, kind of like SVU or something, right?

Isabella:
Right, yes.

 

Richard:
There’s a ton of actors and actresses. Your story is great, you come from Colombia, you get this vocal training to “take the accent” off, and you do all these things to prepare yourself for—not getting a role, but how to position yourself to get a role. So, what advice would you give someone else that’s sitting here in the U.S. or Colombia or Peru, or wherever they’re at to push themselves to achieve a break-out role the same way you have?

Isabella:
I think it’s mostly believing in yourself and believing that this is what you want to do. Acting is a very hard business. There’s a lot of rejection, so you have to be sure that this is what you want to do. You have to know that you love this. And I think once you know that you love something, the rest comes into place. Because you have to keep going, through years and years of rejection, and of classes, and of teachers telling you you’re not going make it, you have to push through. I think it’s keeping your eye on the end goal and knowing that if you don’t try then you’re always going to wonder what could have happened. So, I think that’s the main advice. Just keep on going and believe in yourself and have confidence that you have what it takes.

 

Richard:
Thank you so much. I really appreciate your time.

Isabella:
No. Thank you so much for watching the show and for talking to me.

 

Check out Isabella Gomez as Elena Alvarez on Netflix’s hit TV Show – One Day at a Time