Isabella Gomez is one of the breakout stars of the Netflix series One Day at a Time which will see its second season dropping in early 2018. As Elena, the older of two teens raised by Justina Machado’s Penelope Alvarez, Gomez performed in a poignant coming-out story that provided a major source of heart and story for the show’s first season, all of which is already available on the streaming service.
We recently spoke with Isabella Gomez at a Sony studio day as part of the Television Critics Association press tour, and perhaps predictably, we started by asking her about what it’s like to play a character that has reached out and positively inspired so many.
KSITETV’s CRAIG BYRNE: Were you aware of what a responsibility you were taking on with Elena’s story when you got the role?
ISABELLA GOMEZ: Not. At. All! I had no idea. First of all, I didn’t even know Elena was going to be LGBTQ when I booked the role. But I grew up in a very accepting bubble, and I had not realized what an issue it is and what lack of representation there is, so it wasn’t until the show came out and I started getting messages that I was like “oh my God! This is a huge deal for so many people.”
Can you talk about what it’s like to work with legends like Rita Moreno and Norman Lear? That’s got to be incredible for a young actor.
It’s amazing. There are no words, really, to explain it. I get asked this a lot too, and I never really know how to explain it. I wrote a letter to Norman for his birthday, and it’s like, not only did he trust me enough to associate his name with mine, but also, he has given me so much freedom to learn in the most amazing of spaces, the people who I adore, and people that want to see my succeed.
And with Rita, too. I tell her all the time that she is my mentor whether she likes it or not, because she’s a comedic genius. I never saw myself doing comedy, so imagine my shock when I booked a sitcom. There are technicalities that I had no idea what to do with that Rita obviously knows, so it’s really amazing to have people who are so experienced to go to for help.
Are you allowed to tease anything about what might be coming for Elena in Season 2?
I’m not allowed to say anything, but it’s gonna be good.
As an audience member I’ve noticed how your cast really seems bonded in between takes. It’s a cliche that we often hear that “our cast is like a family,” but can you talk about how your bond helps with delivery?
It’s really hard to work with people you don’t like, especially when you’re working with them every day. We’re here every day. It’s cliche, and everybody says it, but we really are. I call Justina [Machado] “Mom;” I call Rita “Abuelita;” Gloria Calderon Kellett who is our showrunner, I call her “Tia.” This is my family, and we look out for each other like family, and it makes it so much more genuine on screen.
And do you and Marcel Ruiz fight like brother and sister?
Yes, we do! But that’s a new thing. Last season… we’re both only children, so it was like a lovely “now I have a sibling!” And this season we’re like “All right. Now we understand why siblings fight. Stay in your room, I’ll stay in mine. Thank you!”
(Please note that when Isabella gave this answer it was said in fun, with a smile.)
One Day at a Time Season 1 is currently available to stream on Netflix.