When Isabella Gomez was invited to audition for One Day at a Time, the call came with an unusual instruction: don’t wear makeup.
The directive makes sense to those who know and love Gomez’s character on the series. Elena is an activist who cares little about her appearance—much to the chagrin of her vain abuela, Lydia (Rita Moreno). “What really stood out to me is that she was such a real, layered character,” she says. “When you’re 18, [and a] girl, a lot of the characters you go out for is ‘cheerleader,’ ‘pretty girl in the hallway.’” Elena, on the other hand, is defined more by her intellect than her looks—an appealing change of pace for 19-year-old, Colombia-born Gomez, who has been acting since she was 5 years old.
Though she never saw herself venturing out of dramatic work, she‘s now got a pretty decent comedy mentor on set. Moreno, Gomez raves, is “just so brilliant; she knows everything about everything. She will casually talk about dating Elvis like it‘s not a big deal.” And she‘s taught Gomez several valuable new skills. “Comedy was never my strong suit,” the actress explains. “It was never what I thought I would do. So to be able to have a comedic genius on your side, and be able to go knock on an E.G.O.T.’s door and be like, ‘Hey, can you help me with this joke?’ It’s amazing!”
The show as a whole has opened her eyes to the possibility of being an actress who juggles both comedy and drama. “So I never want to say no to anything now,” she says. “I would try anything once, at least.”
One Day at a Time does give Gomez’s dramatic chops plenty of moments to shine as well. Last season, Elena’s coming-out story was a particularly resonant arc—perhaps because, as Gomez notes, the story comes from an authentic place; Elena is based on co-show-runner Mike Royce’s daughter, who came out just a few months before the series started production. This season, the fallout from that revelation continues—and comes to a head when Elena tearfully tells her father that she’ll be fine regardless of whether he’s in her life. Gomez’s prep process was simple: “What I did was, I stood outside of the door and listened to their conversation as if Elena was trying to gather up the courage to go in there,” she says. She’s also so invested in Elena that she got angry just thinking about anyone daring to hurt her like this.
Sometimes, Elena’s struggles hit closer to home. There’s a thread running through One Day at a Time about the character’s complicated relationship with her heritage—including the fact that, as Elena discovers in the season premiere, she is white-passing, which means that strangers often don’t even know she’s Latina. That story line led Gomez to her own epiphany. “Ariela Barer, who plays Carmen in the first season, and I are really good friends, and we always talk about the industry, and she’s told me horror stories about the racism that she’s encountered because she’s Latinx,” Gomez said. “I was like, ‘That’s funny! I’ve never encountered that.’ And then I got this script, and I was like, ‘Oh my god. This makes so much sense.’ . . . It’s so good to be aware of your privilege that way, and I absolutely identified with Elena.”
That moment was typical for One Day at a Time, which offers one of the most hyper-specific representations of Latinx life on TV—a fact Gomez is particularly proud of. Much like Jane the Virgin—the first series with which Gomez really identified personally—One Day at a Time feels distinctly rather than generically Hispanic. “It makes you connect with the characters in a way that you wouldn’t otherwise, if they didn’t have those very specific things,” Gomez says. “And it was also very important to Gloria [Calderón Kellett], who’s one of our show-runners—she’s Cuban, and so that’s why the family’s Cuban. She’s writing about her family, and she wanted to make sure people felt identified.”
The L.G.B.T.Q. community has also found a home on One Day at a Time—particularly those who haven’t seen themselves represented on television much before. This season introduced Syd, Elena’s romantic partner, who identifies as non-binary and uses “they/them” pronouns. And while Syd’s identity confuses most of Elena’s family, their conversations unfold in an organic, genuinely kind way that avoids making Syd or their identity a punch line. Gomez said she often finds herself doing research to keep up with her own character’s level of awareness: “Elena knows everything, and so I should if I want to play her right.” Some of her castmates, particularly those of previous generations, found it difficult at first to grasp the concept of gender-neutral pronouns; Gomez remembers just thinking to herself, “Oh my god, I just really don’t want to fuck this up.”
The show’s queer fan base, she continues, is “fiercely loyal, and they’re so passionate about it because they lack representation. And the representation they do get is so shallow—we always see the gay man story line, and we never see young lesbians. And when we do, we see it for the benefit of men and we sexualize them,” Gomez says, sounding every bit like the character she plays. She’s received an outpouring of positive feedback from fans, who say things like, “If I had had Elena when I was 15, my life would have been easier.” It’s a lot of responsibility—but Gomez is up for the challenge. “It is so cool to be a vessel for Elena,” she says. “And it’s so mind-blowing that me having fun and getting to do this character that I love can do that for somebody.“
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Westworld (Season 2)
HBO is once again hoping you’ll ignore the big Game of Thrones-shaped hole in its schedule and turn your attention back to the sci-fi mind game that is Westworld. The Emmy-nominated series, starring Evan Rachel Wood and Thandie Newton, is ready to confound you once again in its second season. Until its spring 2018 premiere, take a trip back in time and revisit nine burning questions we still have about the finale.Photo: By John P. Johnson/HBO.
Yara Shahidi takes the lead in this youthful Black-ish spin-off set to air on Freeform starting Jan. 3, 2018. In this series, Zoey is finally off to college, stumbling through cringeworthy rites of passage like embarrassing herself at a frat party and hiding secrets from her parents.Photo: By Eric Liebowitz/Freeform.
Every superhero you love is coming out with a new movie in 2018. In no particular order, get ready for a bounty that includes: Black Panther,Avengers: Infinity War,Deadpool 2,The New Mutants,X-Men: Dark Phoenix,Ant-Man and the Wasp,Venom, and Aquaman.Photo: By Zade Rosenthal/©Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/Everett Collection.
The Winter Olympics
’Tis the season to watch a bunch of perfect human specimens fight for tiny gold medallions. This year’s Winter Olympics will kick off on Feb. 9, 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea.Photo: By Julian Finney/Getty Images.
After breaking out on Master of None and winning a historic Emmy for one of this year’s best TV episodes, Lena Waithe is ready to claim her spot in the prestige-TV realm. Enter The Chi, her Showtime series about young people coming of age in Chicago, set to premiere on Jan. 7.Photo: By Matt Dinerstein/SHOWTIME.
A Wrinkle in Time
The classic Madeleine L’Engle tale is finally coming to the big screen on March 9, 2018, thanks to Disney and director Ava DuVernay. The sci-fi story about a girl tesseracting her way through time to find her missing father will star newcomer Storm Reid alongside stars like Oprah Winfrey,Mindy Kaling,Reese Witherspoon, and Chris Pine.Photo: By Atsushi Nishijima/Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios.
Solo: A Star Wars Story
After some catastrophic ups and downs, Han Solo’s origin story will finally be revealed to us on May 25, 2018. The Star Wars spin-off stars Alden Ehrenreich as the galactic smuggler and also features Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian and Emilia Clarke playing a mysterious character named Kira.Photo: From Lucasfilm Ltd./Everett Collection.PreviousNext
Laura BradleyLaura Bradley is a Hollywood writer for VanityFair.com. She was formerly an editorial assistant at Slate and lives in Brooklyn.