Netflix’s One Day At a Time revisits the Cuban-American experience based on the family of Gloria Calderón Kellett
Gloria Calderón Kellett started off as an actress, moved into writing, and now executive produces. Her latest show, Netflix’s acclaimed One Day At A Time reboot, couldn’t be more timely, even though it’s based on a 70’s TV show. To bring it into 2017, the show features a Cuban-American family and stars Rita Moreno as the matriach. Kellett explains the show is biographical and based on her own relationship with her mother.
Here, Gloria Calderón Kellett describes how the experience of being an executive producer opened doors for minorities. Also, find out what she has to say about Netflix’s newest comedy, now streaming.
Why did you choose to go with a Cuban-American family?
I chose that because I’m Cuban. It was a pretty easy choice made when my father made sweet sweet love to my mother. My parents came here in 1962, and they didn’t know any English. They learned it all from watching TV ironically. It’s crazy to them that I now write for TV. It was a great opportunity to write this love letter to my family.
You also have Rita Moreno starring in this. How did you get her to say yes?
Norman Lear. That’s the beauty of Mr. Lear. He asked me who did I picture in the role, and I said, Rita Moreno. He told me he was friends with her, and he called her, and he made that happen.
That’s so exciting. OK, what can we expect from the show?
Tears and laughter. We talk about very real issues that face our families today whether it’s technology, issues of sexism, immigration, veteran issues, LGBTQ issues, religion, and we really get in there. We would talk about things that are meaningful to us, and it made its way onto the screen.
In terms of representation of Latinos on TV? How has that changed since you started out?
It has changed in that I guess we get police officers now, we get some lawyers here and there. I still feel like there’s a misconception about who we are, and that TV can help to change that. So, to be able to do that on the show and to bring to light who I am, the main character is based on who I am, and the Rita character is based on my mom. To talk about the complexities of these women who are happy and sad, and the mother and daughter relationship is great to explore.
On that note, how much of it is biographical?
A lot of it. The Elena storyline in the pilot, the daughter was a real conversation I had with my parents. I didn’t want to do the quinceanera. I thought it was misogynistic… old school, and they said it was just a party. I had seen all these people spend all this money for a 15-year-old girl. I promised my parents a big Catholic wedding when I got married, and I gave that to them. Everybody won, and I got a car instead which was much more useful to me.
What about the casting?
Justina Machado is like my sister from another mister. We are like two peas in a pod. I can’t think of anyone better to play a version of me onscreen. She plays the comedy so beautifully. She plays the emotion with such beauty. I’m honored to have these women play us.
How did you discover Marcel Ruiz? You have to tell me about him because he’s such a scene stealer.
We did a lot of searching. Those casting directors worked hard to bring together this talent. They were undeniable. We love that we get to put them out there for the world to see.
What was it like getting the show to Netflix? How much freedom do you have with Netflix compared writing for a network?
They were really supporting. When we did get notes, they were really thoughtful and smart. Often, they took the time to say no. Netflix gives us time, the extra seven or eight minutes we get, allows us to delve in deeper and keep those jokes we love. We don’t have to cut anything. We get to live a little and that’s a pleasure.
You’ve gone from acting to writing and producing. You’re opening doors for others. What made you take that step?
I really feel like if we’re going to make real change, women and minorities. We need to be the real storytellers. It gives me pleasure to create opportunities for people like Justina and Marcel and to open these doors and just seeing these faces that we don’t see often enough. Also, just writing a role for a really strong woman. Female roles are largely underwritten. The best way was to do it myself.
Is it easier or harder for women with TV writing? Is it actually getting easier?
I hope it is getting easier. That’s a question for the next generation. In many cases, I was the only woman or the only person of color in any room I was in. Mike Royce and I wanted to hire diversity. People thought I knew a ton of people, but I didn’t. We took great pains to read and read because we didn’t want to hire people whose last name was Lopez. We did. We hired great writers whose last names were Hispanic. We found an incredible group of very talented writers. 24-94 when Norman is in the room. The conversation we get to have with a half-Latino room is incredibly rewarding.
You’re doing comedy, and you’ve done drama. What’s easier?
I think comedy is harder because you need jokes. The writing on drama and procedural has more writing. Comedy is the most rewarding as it comes more naturally to me.
You held a pilot class last year. How did that go?
I teach an online course when I’m available. I’m also a professor at Loyola Mount University, my students are emailing me their scripts. I love teaching and wish I had more time to do it. I will definitely come back to it as I feel a responsibility to teach the next gen of writers.