The one and only Rita Moreno! What do you think of that?
These days, the iconic Hollywood actress — who isn’t afraid to announce her presence because, as she jokingly puts it, "no one else is going to do it for me" — has plenty of reasons to celebrate. After a successful 70-year career, Moreno, 85, is still adored by fans throughout the world for her beloved roles in classics like "The King and I," "West Side Story" and "The Electric Company," just to name a few.
But despite being one of only 12 people to ever competitively earn the EGOT (an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Award), this star isn't planning to dim anytime soon. She's just as vibrant as ever, as evidenced by the fact that she recently held a "huge" birthday bash, where everyone came dressed in costume from the '30s (Moreno was born in 1931). Her glitzy affair even served as a toy drive for needy children this holiday season!
But Moreno isn’t just busy partying. The Puerto Rico-born entertainer — who’s instantly friendly even at 9:30 a.m, possesses more energy than a double shot of espresso, and doesn't think twice to break out in a boisterous laughter — already has big plans for the New Year. In 2017, you can catch her in the Netflix reboot of the popular 1975 sitcom "One Day at a Time," which has been re-imagined with a Latino cast and features heavy-hitters like “How I Met Your Mother” alumna Gloria Calderón-Kellett, sitcom veteran Mike Royce of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” and producer Norman Lear himself, who created the original comedy.
Fox News Magazine spoke exclusively with Moreno about her role in "One Day at a Time," her many career milestones (such as her duet with Animal from the Muppets), and her not-so-secret talent of rapping like a boss:
FNM: You’re one busy lady. What can fans expect from "One Day at a Time"?
RM: Oh, I’m so excited about that! For one thing, it is hilarious. And Norman Lear! The Norman Lear! I feel so fortunate that we finally got to work together. I’ve always admired him, but we kept getting older and older and we weren’t working together. It made me so sad. And then ["One Day at a Time"] came along. We happened to be together at a political fundraiser about a year and a half ago. He said, "I want you in my series." I literally said, "OK, I’m in!" And then I said, "What is it?" And it turned to be this, which happens to be one of the happiest things that has happened to me, and I’m 85, for pete’s sake! I’m working, I’m so happy. I wake up humming in the morning. Man, I am one lucky person. Truly.
FNM: Tell us about the character that you play.
RM: She’s marvelous. She’s bigger than life. She’s very theatrical, a diva with a hilarious accent — we’re not doing Desi Arnaz here. She just pronounces things in the most delicious way. She's very contemporary, but in some ways she’s really old-fashioned. The contemporary part of her talks about youtu [YouTube] all the time (laughs). I got it in el you-tu. I love doing that, because I’m just doing my mom.
But I think this show sets a new standard. It’s a simple reworking with a Cuban-American family. What gives it that specialness is the Latin aspect. It gives it that salsa. But it's a very universal show about family. I’ve seen some shows where the Latin sensibility is used and it ain’t quite the same. I think ours has not only great humor, but it also has elegance. Every single episode has, at the core, a social issue. The word spreading around is that we really have a terrific show.
FNM: Why was it important for Norman Lear to reimagine this classic with a Latino cast?
RM: Here’s something interesting I recently found out. He has a younger partner named Brent Miller. And when Brent was traveling, he asked Norman, "Are you interested in going back to television?" Norman said yeah, so Brent said, "Let me do some snooping around." And he went to an agent, as I understand it, [and] asked what would be an interesting thing for Norman to do. The agent said, "Coca-Cola did a study several years ago about … the next group of people that we should be paying attention to. As it turns out, it's Latino women ages 18-44." Isn’t that interesting? The moment Brent heard that, he went back to Norman and said, "My God, that’s 'One Day at a Time'!" And that’s how it happened. Norman said, "I think that’s a fabulous idea."
And our head writer, Gloria Calderón-Kellett, she’s Cuban-American, which really makes a difference. And many of our younger writers, who help keep the show up-to-date and contemporary, they’re Latino. There’s no kidding around here. And Norman, who is a big theater fan, loves long scenes. In a lot of sitcoms, you see these short, chopped up scenes with quick, zany lines. Not ours. And we do this with a live audience. So it really does feel a lot more like theater than just a series.
FNM: There must be a lot of pressure with a live audience.
RM: Oh, the pressure is great because it really is like theater. It’s like memorizing a half-hour play in big hunks. It challenges me now as an 85-year-old. I’ve been memorizing a half-hour script every week, which is fabulous for me.
FNM: Where does your drive and energy come from?
RM: You know, I get asked that all the time, as if I knew. I don’t know (laughs)! I have no idea. It's the way I’m built, that’s for sure. I’ve always been like this. And with all of this energy and drive comes great happiness. I’m a very positive, optimistic person. It’s just part of my nature. It doesn’t mean that I don’t get angry or I don’t get depressed. Not at all. But my greater nature is a very positive one.
FNM: On days when you’re actually at home and relaxing, do you have any guilty pleasures on Netflix?
RM: First of all, they’re not guilty. If I like a show on Netflix or anything else — what somebody might call crappy — I might like it. I don’t care. I’m not watching certain things to keep somebody else happy. I’m 85, my God. If I can’t make my own choices now without feeling guilty, then something is desperately wrong with me. But something is not desperately wrong with me; everything is right with me. Really, I wake up humming every morning!
I mean look, I have a book out, which is my memoir. I have a wonderful album of Spanish songs that Emilio Estefan produced for me. I have this series on Netflix. I am an active and working person. I don’t dare complain about a hangnail! Everything is so good. I just wish that my husband was here to see this and my momma. It’s interesting that, in the 85th year of my life — I call this the third act of my life — I suddenly have been missing my little mommy. I really miss her. She would have been so proud. If you watch the night I won my Oscar, when my name is announced, she’s the first person to grab and congratulate me. And you know, I watch that now and I get so sad she's not here anymore. I’m very much like her now — energetic, jolly, and with a temper!
I’m certainly not this perfect person by any stretch of the imagination … but there’s so much to be happy about. I really have learned to appreciate the moment. That’s something younger people seem to be incapable of doing, which makes me so sad. They don’t know what they’re missing.
FNM: Speaking of younger people, a big part of your fanbase is younger women.
RM: And it’s such a fascinating audience! I was asked this past year to do the commencement speech for Berklee College of Music in Boston. And it just so happened that Emilio and Gloria Estefan’s daughter was graduating from there that same year. I tried to think of a different way to present the commencement speech. So, I did it in rap, with all of the accompanying gestures. And the students loved it! And I loved it, are you kidding? I’ve been doing a rap number in my concerts for at least seven years. Younger people definitely see me as a contemporary older person. And I am! My grandchildren just think I’m the bee’s knees. And look, I don’t normally say bee’s knees, I’ll usually say something hip and cool. They love the fact that I cuss (laughs)!
FNM: What was it like to do a duet with Animal on the song "Fever"?
RM: Oh my god, that’s one of my most favorite moments in life, professionally! Isn’t it hilarious? All of those shows were shot in England and over there, there’s no overtime for television, England just doesn’t do that. If you didn’t get it right on time, that’s how it stays. And I kept breaking [out in laughter]. He would go, ‘Oh! That my kind of woman!’ and I would break up. And finally, Jim Henson came out of the control room and said, "Rita, this is your last chance not to break up. And you don’t want to break up because it really spoils it." That’s how he got me to do it without laughing. But if you know me, you can see my nostrils flare while I tried so hard not to laugh. I was doing my utter best not to laugh.
FNM: You mentioned in a previous interview that even though you won an Oscar for the role of Anita in "West Side Story," it wasn’t the breakthrough you were hoping to achieve as an actress.
RM: It broke my heart. I didn’t do another film after that for seven years. Not because I wasn't offered some, but because I was offered the same roles on a much lower scale. You know, gang movies and stuff like that. No, no, no. That’s it. I’m not doing something like that again anymore, or you know, the stereotypical lady with the thick accent. Except for this role in "One Day at a Time" because it’s so wonderfully written.
Acting in Hollywood, even with the awards and accolades, is a very tough profession. Especially for women of color. We, the Hispanic community, now have a pretty good presence on television, but that doesn’t give us the roles. And I am not for one second diminishing the importance of having a presence. But now it’s time for us to get the roles, the writers and the directors. And that’s going to take longer.
FNM: Do you still stay in touch with George Chakiris?
RM: Oh, of course! He’s one of my dearest friends! He’s my daughter’s godfather. I have a picture of George holding this beautiful baby girl. He’s still so damn handsome, it’s disgusting. He still goes to ballet class, that son of a b----. I can’t do that! My knees are too shot. But we do have good genes, that’s for sure.