Home TVInterviews Interview: One Day at a Time’s Isabella Gomez

Interview: One Day at a Time’s Isabella Gomez

by Charles Trapunski

While the hashtag #SaveODAAT might seem like letters jumbled together, real fans know the the acronym stands for Save One Day At a Time. Guess what? After Netflix curiously cancelled the series after three seasons, the milestone series is coming to Pop TV and series star Isabella Gomez is thrilled and a little nervous. We spoke to the star by phone moments after she retweeted a trailer for the show, and while we had yet to speak with her previously about her portrayal of Elena, her SXSW film Dembanger and much more, Gomez was an absolute thrill, and was nearly unparalleled in her energy and especially in her appreciation for One Day at a Time.

The following is a condensed and edited version of my fun chat with Isabella Gomez.

Brief Take: How did you feel when you realized the show was saved and that you were going to Pop TV?

Isabella Gomez: I had gotten off what felt like a million hour plane ride to Spain and I was in a line and obviously all of the time changes were different. I had been in communication the days prior with Mike (Royce) and Gloria (Calderon Kellett), because I knew that the news was coming pretty soon. I turned on my phone, which you’re not supposed to do in the immigration line, [laughs] and I got two texts and they said: “You there, Gomez? We’re doing the show” and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was exhausted from this plane ride [chuckles], and I had something like five auditions I needed to do. When I got home to the hotel, my parents and I had travelled separately, I was with my mom and not my dad, and of course I wanted to tell them at the same time. I very quietly freaked out all on my own, I texted my boyfriend at the time and he was the only person I texted until I could tell my parents, but it felt like a dream. It also felt like I was going crazy from the plane ride and I was making it up, but it’s very real. [laughs]

BT: Why did the series have to continue, in your opinion?

IG: Gawd! For so many reasons. For one, the representation it brings is undeniable and we see that with the fans. The fans wouldn’t have reacted that way to our cancellation, if this wasn’t a special case. The Latinx community, especially in this country right now, is being dragged through the mud. So to have representation that shows us as we are; as the intelligent, funny, charismatic, knowledgeable people that are indispensable – which we are – is so, so, so necessary. But also then we have the LGBTQ community, which barely has any representation, especially for young women. When they do have it, it’s usually more through the male gaze and more sexualized, and to have representation that isn’t that is also necessary. The show is also led by three strong female leads, which also often isn’t seen, and it touches on things that aren’t always mentioned: the mental health aspect, the (military) veteran aspect. Right now, I think that we need shows that are grounded in truth and show people as they are and allow us to see each other as humans and not as the enemy, which I think that the show does really well.

(L-R): Sheridan Pierce as Syd and Isabella Gomez as Elena in ONE DAY AT A TIME. (Photo Credit: Nicole Wilder/POP TV)

BT: What does the show feel like now on Pop, as opposed to when it streamed on Netflix?

IG: I think that’s one of the things that changed the most, because Netflix is universal, so everybody got to watch the show all at once. Whereas right now with Pop, it’s a little harder and the fans are [chuckles] getting a little restless. They ask us about it incessantly, because international fans, they’re not sure when the show is going to get to them, unfortunately. Right now, if you’re in the U.S., you can get the Pop TV app, you can get Pop the channel and you can watch. Because it’s a network, what happens now, from my understanding, and I don’t understand a ton about it, is we have to wait for the episodes to be out to be able to sell them to networks internationally so that they can air the show. It’s a little bit of a wait for the international fans and that’s really unfortunate, because one of the reasons that this show is so special to them and that we loved the streaming aspect of it is that we all loved to binge watch and we all got to talk about it right away. But of course, we are so lucky to even be having a fourth season and we’re so grateful to Pop and we know that they’re working so hard to make sure that international fans get answers and get access, so it’s just a little bit of a waiting game, but it’ll happen, it’ll happen.

BT: What was the moment on the set in which you realized this series was a different experience than the norm?

IG: Honestly, before we even got to set, it felt that way. I remember when I went into the chemistry read with Justina Machado, usually chemistry reads and tests are so anxiety-inducing, you’re right there, you’re about to book a job, but you might not and it all rides on these four minutes that you are in this room, and as soon as I walked in, I felt such ease. Justina is such a real, grounded human and I was immediately sucked in by her energy. I could tell that “Oh! We just get to play right now. I don’t need to think about these producers, I don’t need to try to impress them, I get to just be an actor and just be in this world with this person who is so brilliant and she was so giving, even as a reader.” Because she didn’t have to do that for me, she could have read the lines, and I knew then that it was super special, and of course the producers were so sweet. Gloria Calderón Kellett, I remember, like her smile would not wipe off her face, she was so giving and so sweet. When you walk into a lot of these rooms in Hollywood, a lot of the time, they’re not that way, they’re a lot colder. From that moment, I could tell that this was really special.

(L-R): Isabella Gomez as Elena and Justina Machado as Penelope in “Penny Pinching”, ONE DAY AT A TIME. (Photo Credit: Nicole Wilder/POP TV)

BT: What’s it like to have the legendary Norman Lear involved with your show?

IG: That man is truly unlike anybody I have ever met before. There are no words to explain Norman Lear, but it is the biggest privilege to get to see him all the time. It’s funny because people assume that Norman just puts his name on it. But Norman is on set at every lunch meeting, at every live taping, he does a speech for the audience at every show, he’s so involved and cares so much and I think that’s why he’s had the career that he has – it’s because he never stopped being curious and he never stopped listening. And somebody like him would have gotten to stop being curious and listening and stop being nice decades ago, that man is set. He is so successful, he’s good. But he does it because his nature is to connect and to make people laugh and to grow and to learn, and I think that we can all take a page out of Norman Lear’s book and become better people. He is truly, truly so special.

BT: Can you believe some of the topics that you have addressed, specifically on a sitcom?

IG: [laughs] Honestly…this show has been my industry university. When I got on this show, I was newly 18 and knew nothing about how any of this worked. Again, I thought it was normal. [laughs] As I said, I thought it was just what people did. Yes, it felt like it was really, really special, but in my head it was like: “Oh, all of Hollywood is super smooth and everybody talks about crazy things easily all the time”. Of course, now I feel completely different about it and I understand that first of all, we have brilliant writers that mesh comedy and drama seamlessly, which is a crucial part of talking about these topics. But it’s so fun. It’s so fun getting to talk about these things because it models real life, you know? Families have these conversations, you have to talk about sex if you have teenagers. You have to talk about gun safety, there’s shootings happening out in the world. You have to talk about politics if it’s an election year, you have to. It is so lovely to be able to just mimic real life and have these conversations in a way that doesn’t feel like we’re beating anyone over the head or preaching and also in a way, we’re like: “this family is multigenerational and has a lot of different opinions”, and being able to tell these stories and talk about these topics without it being obviously us preaching, but it’s us showing every side and being like: “Well, this is all the information, let’s put it all on the table and then everybody gets to make their own decisions based on that”, it’s so much fun, it’s so effective and there’s proof of that. A lot of the fans say that they’ll sit their kids down and start conversations, or watching the show as a family started a conversation and that is so cool that we get to do something like that.

(L-R): Rita Moreno as Lydia, Marcel Ruiz as Alex and Isabella Gomez as Elena in “Penny Pinching”, ONE DAY AT A TIME. (Photo Credit: Nicole Wilder/POP TV)

BT: What did it mean to you to be individually honoured at the NHMC (National Hispanic Media Coalition) Impact Awards?

IG: It was so special. It was really, really so special, and honestly, for a while after I was told that I was being honoured, I didn’t realize that it was just me, I thought it was the show, because of course, and the show gets honoured all the time. But in a room like that, just to be given a nod to, in which you look around and it’s all your Latinx heroes and all the people you grew up watching and all the people…it’s very interesting, the Latinx community in Hollywood, because it’s so small, we all kind of know each other. It felt like a big family reunion, and to get to go on the stage and be honoured for my work and for Elena, in whom I have so much pride, was so special and so nerve-racking. [laughs]

Bt: What did you enjoy the past two years being able to attend ClexaCon?

IG: ClexaCon is such a beautiful experience. It was my first convention, I’ve never done anything like it, and unless you do something like it, there’s no way to explain it, because it’s truly people coming together to enjoy each other and geek out and see their favourite creators. There’s no animosity, there’s no fighting, there’s nothing like that, and of course, the people who go are usually the people who are deeply affected by the shows that are there, it’s so special. I remember my first ClexaCon being taken aback by how vulnerable the fans were with me and how much they wanted to tell me about their stories and how much the show has helped people, which is such a mind-boggling concept because for actors, you go to set and you show up and you say the lines and you do the work and you go home. Of course we knew the show was special, but I think that was one of the first big times in which I was like, “oh no, this is so much bigger than any of us and anything which we could have dreamed of, and it’s actually affecting people’s lives in a positive way”. Which again, is mind-boggling.

(Photo Credit: Riker Brothers)

BT: How have auditions changed for you after you became a part of this series?

IG: It’s very interesting because I’m white-passing and before the show, I got to go out for everything, because people didn’t realize that I was Latina, so I was actually going out for mostly Caucasian roles. Because, again, there’s very, very few Latinx roles [chuckles] in this industry and they’re usually very stereotyped. So my team was sending me out for as what people were going to see me and once the show is out now, I’m obviously quote unquote “branded” as a Latina. And it’s different now. I will say it’s also different in that now of course my team doesn’t want to send me out for “guest stars”. So all of those get taken out and of course there are zero auditions because we’re trying to be pickier and build a career, but I have seen resistance from casting directors of wanting to see me for Caucasian roles. Which is, it’s a hard time to navigate that right now because there’s so much talk about: “Well, what actors can play what?” and if Caucasian actors can’t play Latinx actors then can Latinx actors play Caucasian? We don’t know. And so it’s very, very, very tricky, but it’s disheartening. I want to be able to play roles for which I am right and for which I am the right match and for which my talent suffices and tells the story well. That is right now not the only criteria, unfortunately, my race is also taken into account. But it comes with the game and we’ve go to navigate through, and hopefully things change but as of right now, I’m on the show, so I’m not really auditioning anyway, so I get to ignore it for a little bit.

BT: You’ve been in many interesting projects beyond the series. What have they meant to you?

IG: They’ve stretched me in a way that I never really thought I’d be stretched. I actually before One Day at a Time thought I was just a dramatic actor and that was that and I had a very narrow vision of what would my career be. Getting to do all of these things that take me out of my comfort zone- for example, A Cinderella Story: Christmas Wish, I am not a singer in any world, nor am I really a dancer, and I was so uncomfortable [laughs] it was so nerve-racking. But it was really good for me to be able to have people not only believe in me to be able to do these things, but then to have to do them and have no choice and then figure out that I can do them. That was really special and Cinderella was my first ever movie, so adjusting to not having an audience and to not having the four cameras and doing all of that, being able to do that alongside somebody like Laura [Marano] really was so special, because she is so sweet and giving and she’s just the best number one ever. And then with my voiceover, I never in a million years thought that I would get to do something like that, I thought that only huge celebrities got to do stuff like that, so it was just the best. It was so much fun. I’m a very animated person to begin with, so getting to be in a booth is the best and getting to just be huge and move my arms around like I would want to and tell stories with my voice. And tell stories like the ones in Big Hero 6, that’s pretty cool show! [laughs]. It’s really cool, I loved that movie when I watched it and then to be a part of that and it’s so beautifully animated and the team is so much fun. So it’s been such a learning experience. And then doing something like Dembanger, in which it was horror and I was really, really nervous about having to scream and sob for long periods of time, because that emotion runs out and I didn’t know how I would handle that as an artist, I was really nervous, and of course I wanted to do a great job. It was such a good training for me and also again, just to be able to prove to myself that I can do these things which I am nervous about. I have been very, very fortunate to do the projects that I’ve done and I’m very much looking forward to the next things that stretches me.

BT: You were going to be at SXSW to screen your movie, and this was the first big event to get postponed or cancelled. What was that like for you when you got that call?

IG: I didn’t get a call, I actually saw it. My manager texted me a link as soon as it broke. It’s so upsetting. I’m in a very lucky position in which I am on a show and I have a platform. The thing about South By is that it gives a platform to all of these artists and all of these movies and all of these shorts and all of this music that otherwise wouldn’t have one. People fight very, very hard to get in, and as far as I know, there still hasn’t been anything said about what’s going to happen to all of this content that got into the festival this year. It’s heartbreaking to know that the movie I made, Dembanger, it was a crazy, crazy indie, like we made a horror film in two weeks, it was such a passion project, our producers have been working on this movie and versions of it for now about a decade. It’s their baby. I really feel for them, man. It was their time to shine and we were the Midnighters premiere, which is a really big deal I hear, and it was my first festival and it’s very sad. I’m pretty sure that something must come from it – I don’t think South By would let all of its creators down. Keeping our fingers and toes crossed that they reschedule or I know there was word of there maybe being an online SXSW or something like that. But of course it had to be cancelled because it was going to be a large amount of people and crowds and travelling and that’s not safe for us right now.

(Photo Credit: Riker Brothers)

BT: What is something that you haven’t done on screen before that you would like to do?

IG: Something that terrifies me is doing character work, like something like what Johnny Depp does in which he transforms himself into these out of this world characters, that is terrifying to me. I hope that I get to do it because I think that I would grow so much, and it seems like such a cool process to be able to build this person from the ground up, not only emotionally, but their physical quirks and then work with a team for their wardrobe. It’s mind-boggling and it’s one of the reasons why I wanted to get into acting and I thought it was cool, because seeing these transformations of people of who they are as people into characters, it’s so wild to me, so I would really love to do that.

BT: What is something that you have accomplished on screen which you’re really proud of?

IG: I mean, God, all of One Day at a Time really, I am so proud of. Season three was particularly difficult for me because Elena’s arc and storyline touched on subjects that hit very close to home, and I’m pretty good at empathizing and feeling for things through which I have never been, but once it got to things which I was wrestling myself with, I had a bit of a hard time differentiating myself from Elena and making sure that I was telling her story and not mine. The anxiety episodes for Elena I am super proud of, the episode called ‘The First Time’, that episode I’m incredibly proud of. I was so uncomfortable with the subject matter because first of all, I understood that it was something that had never really been done on TV like that, but also it’s such a vulnerable thing with which to go with another person, especially when there’s 250 people and four cameras rolling, it’s incredibly vulnerable. I’m super proud of those two episodes.

BT: Did you at any point believe that the show was completely finished before the fans saved One Day at a Time?  

IG: Originally I did. I did, truly in heart, believe that we were going to be saved. Because there’s no way that there’s 750,000 tweets and we trend worldwide number one for seven hours and that doesn’t do anything. But then it took a really long time to hear about anything, and truthfully, towards the end of the wait, a lot of us had started to let go and be like: “Okay, we had a good run and we did what we could”, and at that point, there had been so much time that we kind of accepted it. We were auditioning for other things and testing for other things and starting to do that. That was definitely a part of the process, but of course, once we got the news…right back in and we were so excited and so ready to go back.  But I did at the beginning feel instinctually like we weren’t done yet.

(L-R): Rita Moreno as Lydia, Ray Romano as Brian, Isabella Gomez as Elena and Sheridan Pierce as Syd in ONE DAY AT A TIME. (Photo Credit: Nicole Wilder/POP TV)

BT: The trailer just dropped but I want to hear from you: What’s coming up on season four of ODAAT?

IG: My God! I didn’t even know a trailer was dropping today, I just logged on to my Twitter. There’s so much coming! [laughs] Obviously, I think that this might be my favourite episode this far, is the one in which Penelope talks about Alex walking in on her, which is incredible, life-changing and hilarious. So funny. We have Elena finishing high school and going off to college and figuring out where she wants to go and what she wants to do with her relationship, and Syd and her figuring out if they want to stay together or what, and where they’re going to go to college and are they going to go near each other? We see Alex getting a girlfriend, which we didn’t see in the trailer, but they’re so stinking cute. Yeah, there’s a lot of really fun things coming.
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tsavCxA8axM]


One Day at a Time season four begins on POP TV tonight at 9:30 pm ET, and then beginning April 14, the show moves to 9pm ET. 

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Brief Take