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Rita Moreno: On Her One Woman Show, Life, And J-Lo

Rita Moreno

First Posted: 08/24/11 12:59 PM ET Updated: 10/24/11 06:12 AM ET

Latina.com

Rita Moreno has done it all. She's won an Oscar, an Emmy, a Grammy and a Tony, and she's already played the role of her dreams—the part of Norma Desmond in a London production of Sunset Boulevard.

Now, the 79-year-old Puerto Rican legend is ready to play the one role she's never played before: herself! "I'm going to play the great Rita Moreno!" declared the fierce actress, who on September 7th will world premiere her autobiographical one woman show, "Life Without Makeup," at the Tony-winning Berkeley Repertory Theatre in Berkeley, California. The show, which is set to run through October 30th, will tell the story of Rita's personal and professional life—the good times and the bad.

During a phone conversation with Latina.com last week, the astute and friendly Moreno spoke not only about her upcoming one woman show, but also about her interesting life, which serves as the inspiration for the theatrical memoir. She spoke candidly about what it was like growing up Puerto Rican at a time when Latinos weren't as accepted in America as we're today. She shared that when she was growing up, there wasn't a single Latino role model to look up to in Hollywood, which is why she wanted so badly to be accepted as an American. "First of all, you learn the language really well, as I did. And you try very hard to be thought of as an Americana," said Moreno.

The first Hispanic to ever win an Emmy also told us why she thinks more Latinos aren't winning awards at the Emmys and shared her thoughts on the career of fellow Puerto Rican actress, Jennifer Lopez.

On Her One Woman Show: “Essentially it’s the story of a little girl who comes from another country. She's a foreigner and she finds out that it's not a good thing to be this particular kind of foreigner—which is Puerto Rican. She then goes on to spend too much of her life trying to be somebody she's not. It's about wanting to be someone else—because you've begun to believe that what you are is not good enough. It goes into all of my Hollywood experiences—some of which are hilarious and some of which are heartbreaking. I sing and I dance in the show, and I'm going to be 80 in December!" {Laughs}.

On Growing Up With No Latina Role Models: "My idol when I was a kid was Elizabeth Taylor. I had no role models from my own community—there was no such thing. Earlier on, there were people like Dolores Del Rio, but I was too young for that—that was before me. There was really nobody out there. So what do you do if you want to be in the business and there’s nobody from your community? You pick the one that appears to be the most successful and the prettiest, and God knows Liz Taylor was certainly that!"

On Losing A Part of her “Latina” Self: "If you're in a business where Latinos only play Indian maidens and what I call “Conchita Lolita’ parts—the little fiery spitfires—you do what you have to do. That’s really what the story of my play is about—it’s called “Life Without Makeup” for a very good reason—this is where I really talk about my life, I talk about how difficiult it was in Hollywood at the time for people like myself...I didn’t lose it—it came back. But what you do is, you put it aside, and you hope that someday you’ll be able to avail yourself of it again."

On the lack of Latino stars nominated for Emmys this year: "A lot of young Latino actors have said to me: 'Why can’t we get an Oscar? Why can’t we be nominated?' And the terrible truth is that if you don’t get the right parts—you’re not going to be. Are you going to get an Oscar nomination for one of those Judd Apatow movies? Not likely—no matter what nationality you are. And I think that until we as Latino actors get to do roles that have really serious meaning, it’s going to be impossible to get nominated."

On Opportunities for Latinos in Hollywood: “As Ricardo Montalban once said—and I love him for saying this—he said, “the door is ajar.” I love it because it means that it ain’t wide open—it means you have to push it really hard to get it open."

On Jennifer Lopez: “I think Jennifer Lopez is a phenom. And as far as I'm concerned, she's really a very smart businesswoman. But she’s not the same thing as…someone like Andy Garcia or Jimmy Smits—that’s different. Jennifer has made a choice to do the kind of films that she thought would be popular and commercial, and that’s perfectly fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. Unhappily, they haven’t had much success—which is really kind of peculiar in my way of thinking because she's such a HUGE star. It’s crazy and it’s kind of bizarre that her films haven’t done that well. But you know what film I loved her in? The one she did with Marc AnthonyEl Cantante. I thought she was fabulous in that! I also thought she was fabulous in that movie she made with George Clooney {Out of Sight}. But I think that maybe her choices have not been very wise.

On Whether J.Lo Deserved an Oscar nomination for El Cantante: "Oh absolutely! Absolutely! But you know, that {snub} would happen to someone who wasn’t Latino also, because it was a very small movie. I wouldn’t even call that any kind of bias or prejudice—the movie industry is pretty bizarre and if it’s a little movie, I don’t care how good you are—it ain't gonna happen. Am I right?"

On Her Latino Fans: "It means so much to me that my people—mi gente!—have affection for me and are proud of me. I can't tell you how often I run into people on the street or at the grocery store and they say, 'you put our names en alto!' That just knocks my socks off. Wow, me? I suppose that in the final analysis what has kept me going for years is that I am a stubborn person. As scared as I can be and as shy as I can get, it always amazes me. I've never looked at my background on Youtube or Google, but friends of mine have and they've said, "My God, I had no idea you had done that much work!' I have no interest at looking at that. I don't know why, but I don't. Maybe it's because I don't need to be reassured.

On her Dream Role in Hollywood:
I've done it. I did it on stage. I played Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard in London and it was extraordinary. And now I'm going to play the great Rita Moreno! {Laughs}. It's terrifying and exciting!


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Filed by Cindy Y. Rodriguez  |