Hola Rita thank you for taking the time to speak with us today!
Latin Times Magazine: I would love for you to tell me a little bit about yourself, tell me about your big break, how did that come about, how did you get into acting and performing? Is that something you always wanted to do or did you kind of fall into it? Rita Moreno: No, I danced for my grandpa in Puerto Rico when I was a little girl, that’s how it all started. He used to play records and I would shake my little booty all over the parlor, and it was something that just came so naturally to me, that when I came to the United States, it was the most natural thing in the world to take dancing lessons. My mom brought me to America, specifically New York City, and a friend of hers who was a Spanish dancer saw me bopping around in the apartment, and she said to my mommy, you know I think Rosita might have a future as a dancer would you let me take her to my dancing teacher and see if she agrees with me? My mom said sure of course, and she took me, her name was Irene Lopez, she took me to her dance teacher, who was a very famous man named Paco Cansino, who was among other things Rita Hayworths uncle!
Latin Times Magazine: Oh my goodness, Rita Hayworth aka Margarita Cansino, another Latina Legend! Rita Moreno: Yes, and all the dancing Cansino’s were very famous actually. I think that Bob Fosse studied with one of the Cansino’s. I don’t know if he studied Spanish dance but that’s all the Cansino’s taught. I believe that it was either Fosse or Gene Kelly who studied with one of the Cansino’s, there were two, Paco who was the uncle, who I studied with, and there was Angel Cancino who was the father. So our friend Irene took me to see him and he gave me some steps to do and he said oh definitely, this child is meant to be a dancer, and that’s how it started. I absolutely love salsa, that’s in my bones. Paco Cansino was Spanish dance, which is the Castanets, I still play the castanets, and as you know, I dance and play castanets in one of the episodes of “One Day At A Time”.
Latin Times Magazine: Yes, I have! I love it and can hardly wait to see the 2nd Season on NETFLIX. Tell us about your role on “One Day at a Time” Rita Moreno: Here’s the thing, I can only tell you a little bit because Netflix is very fussy about having plot lines discussed before it goes on the air, so I can’t tell you a lot, but you get a huge example of what the show is like when you watch the first season. For one thing you know it got an insane amount of views..
We were not selected for an Emmy this year, it really was kind of like a shock to everybody including the tv critics who were very upset about that, pero that was then this is now. We look forward to the new season and Im pretty sure (I just know) we are going to get nominated next time. Pero watch the show because for me to describe the show to you audience, it’s really difficult, it’s about a family without a father, nobody is an orphan but the mother and the husband are divorced. It’s just a family with a young woman, her mother, Me, who is a crazy diva! Hahahah Oh she’s hilarious! You are going to laugh so much, you are going to laugh so hard, you’re going to pee, I’m telling you, que te vas a orinar, mija. Or better say it as Lydia, my character, te vas a mear! Hahaha! Lydia is Cuban, the familia is Cuban, and my character Lydia is a real Diva. She’s hilarious, she has an accent, I use my mother’s accent.
She says things like, ‘I saw it on the Ju-Tube’ and it’s not invented, I’m simply doing my mom’s accent! She is very feisty, very opinionated and sooo vain! She really thinks she is God’s gift to Men. Hahahha, I love playing that kind of vanity, she is just so funny that you have to love her! Lydia is also sexy. When I was offered the part, by Norman Lira, I said I would love to do it on one condition, he said, “What?” and I said, “she has to still be a sexual person, just because she’s old or older, doesn’t mean she can’t still be sexual,” and for me opening my big mouth, they now have me flirting with anything and everyone. I mean this woman will flirt with a fence post, she is shameless about her sexuality. It’s hilarious and of course the result of that is that the younger audience adore her because she is also in some ways very, very hip and contemporary. She watches the ‘Jutube’ and things like that and the ‘ChatZnap’ hahahah. Sometimes I have difficulty pronouncing the things they give me to say because they are so funny. Now doesn’t that make you want to watch the show?
Latin Times Magazine: God, Yes, lol. Lydia is a piece of work, she is hilarious. I love that they took this show and just turned it around!
Rita Moreno: Lo mas lindo de eso es, (the wonderful part is) that they have found, which is very difficult to do, they found a great balance between the ‘latino-ness’ of it and the ‘americaness’ of it. En este sentido, que you know we’re not leaving out the American audience. Were still very Latino without leaving out the American audience that’s hard to do, it’s hard to accomplish that it’s a balance, that’s very delicate. You don’t want to speak too much Spanish and leave people out you know you cannot assume the entire world is Latino cause it’s not, even though we think so, especially Lydia. She is always ‘going back to Havana’, she’s very, very Cuban, she’s old fashioned, she is ‘of that time’, so everything she does is hilariously funny. There’s one scene where I sing Happy Birthday to somebody and I’m flirting with him and I tried to sing it like Marilyn Monroe, remember how Marilyn Monroe sang Happy Birthday to President Kennedy? [Yea}when she sang ‘Happy Birrrthday to ju, Happy Birrrthday tooo juuuu..” Hahha its just really delicious and funny and you’re going to recommend and binge. I think that’s the best way to watch things now, binging that way you don’t have to wait for episodes.
Rita Moreno: What else can I tell you dear?
Latin Times Magazine: What new and exciting projects -besides “One Day At A Time” are you currently working on. Rita Moreno: So tomorrow, tomorrow, I’m going to go to LA, I’m in Berkeley where I live, I’m going to fly to LA to do a recording with Lin-Manuel Miranda, uhhhm that he is written to try and raise funds for Puerto Rico
Rita Moreno: Not just me, he has a whole bunch of Latino singers and stuff, were going to record… what he done is he has taken the melody of the song Maria from West Side Story,
Latin Times Magazine: Oh wow Rita Moreno: Wait, the melody, but instead of the words from west side story, he’s putting in words that are all the names of all the towns and cities that are in Puerto Rico.
Latin Times Magazine: Oh, that is so beautiful Rita Moreno: Well, you know him, he’s a Genius Latin Times Magazine: Yes!
Rita Moreno: I can’t wait to get to do that tomorrow I’m really very excited about it, his father and I already raised over $15K Latin Times Magazine: That’s great, that’s wonderful. I’m so happy to hear that, because I’m Puerto Rican too and I’m so happy to see all our nation of Puerto Rican people coming together. Rita Moreno: I want to focus on Puerto Rico, Mi Islita, and uh doing that recording, and uh, I heard that Beyonce just put out a record last night. A remix of MiGente, with all of the proceeds will go to the Puerto Rican relief, isn’t that great?
Latin Times Magazine: Yea that’s wonderful, what pueblo are you from, where is your family from? Rita Moreno: Well I was born, (because the hospital was there,) I was born in Humacao, which got hit really badly, but I lived in Juncos as a little girl with my family.
Latin Times Magazine: Omg, I know that whole area, and yes it got hit so bad. My family is from Humacao and Las Piedras area.
Latin Times Magazine: You have been a role model, a leader, a pioneer for so many people in our community who was your role model growing up?
Rita Moreno: Aha! That’s the best question in the world because there were no role models when I was kid, none, who?? Who was there? There was nobody! So, I made Elizabeth Taylor my role model. She was my age, she was young at the time, in the films, but she was no Latina. I didn’t have a mentor, nobody mentored young Puerto Rican women, you kidding me? 16-year old girls? Noo, they’ll take advantage of them, in a minute, but mentor, forget it. I didn’t have any mentors, anybody pulling for me, saying “Come on here, I’ll protect you, I’ll take care of you and give you wisdom.” I had nobody, I had mi Mami, who didn’t know show business and that’s it.
Latin Times Magazine: So did you know at the time that you were actually paving the way for future generations of Latino talent? Rita Moreno: Of course Not! I didn’t know it for many reasons, one of the strongest being that I couldn’t even get work! It was such a struggle, finally when I got into films, I was always playing native girls from all kinds of other countries. I don’t think, I ever spoke a line of dialogue without an accent and it was very depressing, they always had me in very dark makeup because I was a native girl. If I was playing a Latina, I was still dark. I mean they didn’t know that Latinas come in every shade. I mean my grandmother was a Spaniard, Trinidad Lopez. She was about five foot tall. I have this wonderful picture of her, she was tiny and she wore a corset so her waist was almost non-existent, but she was tiny, and she was fair skinned. She didn’t look at all like the way we think of Puerto Ricans, because she was a Spaniard. That was a big seal then, boy, if you were fair skinned it was a big deal.
Latin Times Magazine: Yea because then it was harder to place you in a role because they have this mental image already. Rita Moreno: Exactly yea and you know people still have that image of Hispanics. That they are all dark. We have so many colors, many of us are dark, some of us are almost black… who is that wonderful Puerto Rican actor..? Juano Hernandez, he was a beautiful actor, he was Puerto Rican, an older beautiful man with white hair and he was Black with white hair. We come in all shades, but uh Americans don’t know that.
Latin Times Magazine: No, I think they have that Pre-Defined image of us and it’s hard to get out of that. Rita Moreno: I know, my stepfather was Cubano and he was strawberry blonde with grey eyes, Mira pa ya a lot of Cubanos are blonde like that, but people don’t know these things
Latin Times Magazine: Yea that true, So what’s your favorite food? It has to be Spanish food. Rita Moreno: I’ll tell you exactly what my favorite is, my favorite food in life is Mofongo. I love it! I make it different, I cook a lot of Puerto Rican food. I love to cook, and I love to cook Puerto Rican food, Cuban food, and I make it with sweet plantains not the green ones, I love it with sweet plantains.
Latin Times Magazine: Sounds delicious! Rita Moreno: It is devine, you mash it all up with tocino, and garlic and olive oil, what could beat that? Is your mouth watering? Ohh Pasteles are number one, we shouldn’t have to wait until Christmas to have them either oh god, oh god, I love pasteles with my life
Latin Times Magazine: My mother makes them so good, mmm, yum… Rita Moreno: You are so lucky my mom is gone, so I’m not getting any pasteles. I have to learn how to make them, that’s the one thing I don’t know how to make yet, but it’s actually easy it just takes time.
Latin Times Magazine: Tell me, what was your favorite role to be in throughout the years? Rita Moreno: West Side Story, of course, playing Anita. But on the stage, because I still do stage work, my favorite was playing Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd, I did it in London. Oh believe me, haha, she is a big character I love playing big divas.
Latin Times Magazine: So tell me how do you think Hollywood has changed in these years how have you seen it change? Rita Moreno: It has changed, its uh not still not where we need it to be and when I say we, Im talking about the Hispanic community, but it’s a lot better than it used to be. I mean we have a series now with a Latina family, One Day at a Time, and we have a number of shows, including Jane the Virgin, which I’ve also done, it’s a lot, a lot, a lot better. We don’t get as much work as we should, pero were on our way.
Latin Times Magazine: Well, I think very few people have done more for that industry and opening those paths than you! Rita Moreno: My people call me La Pionera
Latin Times Magazine: Some of my readers from social media submitted questions, one of them wanted to know! Here we go! Social Media Question: What felt more surreal, playing an Indian girl in the court of King of Siam, in the King and I or playing a Puerto Rican in the original cast of West Side Story?
Rita Moreno: It was wonderful. I felt very, very, very proud, I worked so hard to get that part. I auditioned so many times. I tried out for that damn thing, you know the play had already been on Broadway, at the time that the film was being cast. I went to see the play and I said “Oh man, would I love to play Anita..” And then it became a movie and I auditioned for it and when I got that part I cried, I was so happy.
Latin Times Magazine: Rita, is there something that I didn’t ask you that you want to share? Rita Moreno: Not a thing, I mean you know life is good, I’m about to be 86 In December, and I am one of the Luckiest people in the world! I have my daughter and my grandson whom I adore, and ellos son mis favoritos de luz, los nenes. Of course, the nenes are now 16 & 18…lol & if you don’t know about this get my album. I have an album in Spanish that Emilio Estefan produced. You can get it through amazon, that and with my book
Latin Times Magazine: I want to say thank you to you, you’ve been an inspiration, god bless you to what you’re doing for Puerto Rico, right now more than ever people need to look at symbols like you, that hope and that they know your batayando for them! Rita Moreno: Absolutely siempre luchando!