INTERVIEW: Isabella Gomez of One Day at a Time
by Alyssa Sileo
If you’re not already a One Day at a Time fan, it’s only a matter of time before you’ll become one. Season 3 of this hilarious, brilliant Netflix original series, inspired by the 70s-80s sitcom of the same name, is finally here.
One Day at a Time shares the triumphs, tribulations, and adventures of the Alvarezes, a Cuban-American family living in Los Angeles. Penelope, a veteran and nurse, raises her teenage son and daughter along with her mother, who immigrated from Cuba in the 1960s. Their landlord Schneider and Penelope’s boss Dr. Berkowitz are basically Alvarezes, too, considering how often they’re with the family and a part of their shenanigans.
I’ve been a fan of the show for about a year now. I was hooked by the first two seasons that never failed to inspire, catch me by surprise, or crack me up. And as for this recent installment of the Alvarez family’s stories, the ODAAT team has once again created such a real-world series. Topics like queerphobia, sexism, racism, and xenophobia are aptly addressed in ODAAT, providing incredible teaching moments for both the family and the audience. The effective inclusion of these issues is something I rarely see on TV, so that’s why this show is so important.
A couple days after Season 3 came out, I had the ultimate-fangirl opportunity to chat with Isabella Gomez. She portrays Elena, who is 17 years old in the series. Elena has come out as gay and has experienced great support as well as great disappointment. Throughout this journey, with her family and partner by her side (a non-binary character, by the way), she learns about self-confidence and self-worth. Elena’s story means so much to me as a queer person, and I am so grateful that the ODAAT creators are committed to positive representation of a young queer woman.
On the phone, I chatted with Isabella about what it’s like to film ODAAT, these lovable characters, queer icons, Elena’s story, and, since we both love theatre, our favorite musical. There are some slight series spoilers below, so to those who have not watched the whole series yet, I encourage you to come back and read this once you’re done! (Honestly, you could make a weekend out of it — Season 1 on Friday, Season 2 on Saturday, and Season 3 on Sunday.)
When I asked her about her favorite memory on set, she told me about a tradition she has with Marcel Ruiz, who portrays her younger brother Alex. To warm up her articulators, they’ll both recite some tongue twisters before filming a scene. We shared a laugh about this because I definitely recite some tongue twisters before I go on stage, too.
I also asked Isabella about who she would consider to be her LGBTQ+ icon, and she named Stephanie Beatrice. This actress stars in ODAAT Season 3 as Elena’s cousin who is also queer. Stephanie, who also portrays a bisexual character in Brooklyn 99, is a bisexual woman in real life. Since bisexuality is so often misunderstood or misrepresented both inside and outside of the queer community, Isabella is inspired by how Stephanie promotes positive bisexual visibility. This is because Stephanie having a husband doesn’t make her any “less gay” or “more straight.” She’s bisexual no matter who she is with or not with.
Then we chatted about the ODAAT characters, and who Isabella thinks she’s most similar to, besides Elena. Because of Penelope’s stubborn, headstrong, and empathetic personality, Isabella considered herself to be most like this character. Something about Penelope that Isabella also relates to is Penelope’s genuine desire to learn more about the topics and identities that she does not know about yet. She has this want to learn so that she can better care for her friends and family. I personally think this character quality is one of the most wonderful things that the ODAAT creators have chosen to include in this story. This shows the audience that we may not know everything, but we should always pursue to educate ourselves. And, when I asked Isabella which characters she thinks she would be best friends with, she named Jill and Ramona who are in Penelope’s therapy group. Isabella loves both these characters and these actresses, because they’re super funny on and off stage.
It came time to talk more about Elena’s queer journey. When asked which was her favorite part to portray, Isabella mentioned the moment when Elena has to stand up to her dad, who had initially rejected her for being gay. Elena is challenged to assert to both him and her own self that no matter what he thinks about her, she will never have to give up who she is, which is one of the best parts of her. I bet this moment of growth meant so much to so many audience members of all ages, but especially teenagers who are pursuing their coming out journeys and are sadly having to face adversity.
As for the most difficult moment to portray in her coming out and growing up, Isabella pointed to Episode 7 of Season 3, in which Elena her Significant Other Syd (or Syd-nificant Other) decide that they want to be intimate with each other. When it came to this episode, Isabella wanted to ensure that she was being true to Elena’s experience with this new part of her life, rather than project her own personal experiences with this topic into the portrayal. The fact that these scenes involve positive, safe, and healthy interactions surrounding consensual intimacy is something that means so much to Isabella, because this shows the audience what these conversations can look like. Unfortunately, so many people are not being shown this in school or at home. Since we can learn so much from the media, we must make sure that we are promoting behavior that values consent. Isabella, as well as I, also appreciates how the ODAAT writers did not jump on the bandwagon with the the large majority of the on-screen portrayal of queer women. This would mean over-sexualizing them (or, on the other hand, just considering women in love as “very very very best friends.”) Thankfully, Elena and Syd’s relationship is not about them doing or being anything to satisfy the male gaze, or to uphold common perceptions about queerness. This is simply about two people wanting to be together and to experience their relationship how they wish to.
As our interview came to a close, I couldn’t help but ask Isabella about her favorite musical, and I found that we have that in common! (Well, this is considering that I have 20 equally-favorite musicals). Isabella loves In The Heights because she participated in the makeup crew for her high school’s production in her freshman year. This musical is what helped her cultivate a love for theatre. Not only is there wonderful Latinx representation, there’s also amazing music and the legendary Lin-Manuel Miranda. That’s totally how I feel about ODAAT — not only is there positive LGBTQ+ representation, there’s also amazing jokes and the legendary Rita Moreno.
I am already waiting for Season 4 of ODAAT because I love how full of heart this whole series is. The onscreen and offscreen family is constantly making me smile. I am so grateful for the ODAAT Team, the chance to interview Isabella, and every effort to forward positive representation of marginalized populations in the media!
About the Author:
Alyssa Sileo’s Thespian identity comes first and foremost in anything she carries out. As a member of the Drew University Class of 2022, she studies theatre arts, women’s and gender studies, and Spanish. She’s a proud NJ Thespian Alumni and member of their state chapter board. She is the leader of the international performances network The Laramie Project Project, which unites worldwide productions and readings of the acclaimed Tectonic Theater Project play and encourages community-based LGBTQ+ advocacy. Alyssa is humbled to serve as the 2017 Spirit of Matthew Award winner and as a Youth Ambassador for Matthew Shepard Foundation. She believes there is an advocacy platform tucked into every piece of the theatre catalogue and intends to write outreach into the canon.