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Justina Machado On 'One Day At A Time'


The show "One Day At A Time" first aired on CBS in the 1970s, and then it was a sitcom about a divorced mom raising her two teenagers alone. And it was considered, at the time, to be pretty edgy.


POLLY CUTTER: (Singing) This is it. This is it.

MARTIN: It was created by legendary TV producer Norman Lear. And like his other big hits of the time, it leaned into what many saw as uncomfortable realities. In that case, it was the growing number of single-parent families. Now "One Day At A Time" is back. Norman Lear is still executive producer. And the general outline is the same, although now the family is Cuban-American.


GLORIA ESTEFAN: (Singing) One day at a time. One day at a time.

MARTIN: They've got a grandma living with them played exquisitely by Rita Moreno.


RITA MORENO: (As Lydia) I came out of the womb wearing stilettos. Even my footie pajamas had kitten heels.

MARTIN: And life is even more complicated. To talk about the third season of the show, which is out today on Netflix, I spoke with one of the stars, Justina Machado.

Your show has gotten so much praise over the last couple of seasons, in particular, for how it has taken on social and political issues. And in the very beginning of the second season, Penelope - your character - Penelope's son Alex comes home from school. He gets in trouble for punching a kid. And he says the reason that he punched the kid was because they were throwing all this racist language his way.


JUSTINA MACHADO: (As Penelope) Alex, we're going to figure this out. But you can't hit somebody every time they call you a name.

MARCEL RUIZ: (As Alex) I don't. It was just this time.

MACHADO: (As Penelope) What? This has happened before?

RUIZ: (As Alex) Yeah.

MACHADO: (As Penelope) What do they say?

RUIZ: (As Alex) You know, beaner, wet back, gangbanger, Pit Bull.

MORENO: (As Lydia) Pit Bull is the only one that's even close to accurate.


MACHADO: (As Penelope) Does this happen at school?

RUIZ: (As Alex) No, just a couple times when I'm out. Once, at a baseball game, the other team was leaving on their bus. And they saw me and yelled, build the wall.

ISABELLA GOMEZ: (As Elena) Oh, my God.

MACHADO: That clip was - it was heartbreaking. It's always heartbreaking for anybody to go through something like that, especially a young, innocent child. So I really loved that we put that out there. And I love the outcome of it, you know? - like, what she said. They are the ones that have the issue. And we're going to deal with this through communication, with love and not let that change our narrative.

MARTIN: Yeah. I want to talk a little bit about your character Penelope. She's such a cool lady.


MARTIN: We should just say she's a very cool lady. But I think back on a lot of other family sitcoms that I grew up with. And you didn't really see the vulnerability of parents, right?


MARTIN: Which is what is so appealing about her - is that, in part, what drew you to her and this role?

MACHADO: Well, it's interesting because when I first read for the role, they only gave me a little bit of the script. So I wasn't sure what the whole thing was going to be. But I know that what they gave me was this incredible monologue that was so layered, I thought, if the rest of the show was like this, this is going to be amazing.

In reality, I was just drawn to it because it was Norman Lear (laughter).

MARTIN: Right. That's a big enough draw. I mean, that's...

MACHADO: I was like, Norman Lear?

MARTIN: Whatever.

MACHADO: OK, I want in on this.

MARTIN: Have you gotten to meet Norman Lear?

MACHADO: Oh, my God, girl. Norman Lear is there all the time.

MARTIN: Is he really?

MACHADO: Are you kidding me?

MARTIN: He's, like, on set on a regular basis.

MACHADO: On a regular basis.

MARTIN: Wow. So can you talk a little bit about how this fits into the Norman Lear pantheon? Your character in particular - she's not just a divorced, single mom, right? - like Bonnie Franklin was in the original...


MARTIN: ..."One Day At A Time." She is the daughter of immigrants. And she's a veteran. She's - there's all kinds of layers here.

MACHADO: Yeah. And that veteran actually came from Norman because, you know, Norman's a veteran of World War II. So that was important. If anyone knows Norman Lear, they know that he just revolutionized television. He brought all that - you know, the sitcom. He brought topics that were of the day to his shows.

So I think we are right there in the line of his legacy. And that's part of the reason I was so excited to even be considered for something like this because I was a fan of Archie Bunker, a fan of "Good Times" - you know, all of those.

MARTIN: And now you're in one. Isn't that cool?

MACHADO: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I'm - oh, my - and I never in a million...

MARTIN: You're not just in one.

MACHADO: ...Years...

MARTIN: You're the star.

MACHADO: I - how about that?


MACHADO: I mean, you know? And I didn't think that was going to happen anymore. I - because I'm not - I'm not necessarily an ingenue anymore. You know what I mean?

MARTIN: Rita Moreno.


MARTIN: I mean...

MACHADO: (Laughter).

MARTIN: You guys have great chemistry. Just tell me things about her.

MACHADO: Rita Moreno is pretty amazing. She does not hold her tongue (laughter). She's witty. She's funny as hell. Honestly, like, speaking to her is just like talking to one of my contemporaries. I mean, the tenacity and the energy and the love that she has for what she does and for life is intoxicating. And it's also like - you can't help but want to join in. Everything you can imagine is what she is.

MARTIN: Are there topics you would like to lean into on the show but you haven't figured out a way to do it yet? - something that's maybe provocative or uncomfortable.

MACHADO: I mean, I wouldn't mind touching - and I think we touched on it a little bit - colorism in the world of Latinos.


MACHADO: (As Penelope) All right, look. You and your brother are of different shades.

MORENO: (As Lydia) Yes.


MORENO: (As Lydia) Papito is a beautiful caramel.


MORENO: (As Lydia) And you are Wonder Bread.


MACHADO: There are Latinos that are prejudiced against the Afro-Latinos, against, like, Indio-Latinos. So many Afro-Latinos right now don't feel represented - and absolutely. I mean, if it's hard for us as a Latino with light skin, it's even harder for them because, like, what world do they fit in? Because so many people in the Hollywood world, they just think we look like one thing.

MARTIN: So what are we going to see in Season 3? I mean, we've talked about how the show addresses uncomfortable social and political debates. Are we going to see more of that? Are we going to see Penelope exploring her own personal life in any kind of way?

MACHADO: We are. We're going to see - Penelope has a new love interest.

MARTIN: Oh, there we go. OK.

MACHADO: So she's doing that. And, you know, she's dealing with stuff that's happening with her son. You know, there's teenage topics, drug use. It's just - it's a beautiful journey for Penelope. It's a beautiful journey of her just really taking care of herself, discovering herself, doing what's right for herself.

MARTIN: Right, because this is a woman who has had to give everything for her family.

MACHADO: Right. And now she's taking care of herself a little bit more this season.

MARTIN: Well, we can't wait to see Season 3. Justina Machado is the star of "One Day At A Time." Thank you so much for talking with us.

MACHADO: Thank you, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF GLORIA ESTEFAN'S "ONE DAY AT A TIME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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