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My worst moment: Justina Machado on unexpected improv with Sean Penn

Nina Metz, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Entertainment News

The Netflix sitcom "One Day at a Time" -- which just premiered its second season -- is one of the better shows to emerge from the nearly 500 scripted series of the past year or so. A remake of the original 1970s comedy, it's been updated to center on a Cuban-American family. Both funny and emotionally resonant, it stars Justina Machado, a Chicago native who began her career working with companies such as Organic, Victory Gardens, the Goodman and the Latino Chicago Theatre Company.

Though based in Los Angeles for the last two decades, Chicago remains a big part of her identity. "I have friends here in LA who make fun of me all the time: 'All right, Chi-Town.' And I'm like, 'What are you talking about?' And they're like, 'All you ever say is you're from Chicago,' and I'm like, 'No I don't!' But it's true. Look, I'm from Chicago and I'm very proud and grateful. I have three brothers and a sister; one brother lives with me in LA and everybody else is still in Chicago. And they're happy for me but they're so Chicago -- my career is impressive for about a minute. They keep it real real, my family, I'll tell you that."

Despite her years working as a performer in Chicago, she stuck with theater and avoided sketch and improv. That's an important detail to remember for her story below.

"Quite frankly, I'm not into it," she said about improv. "If I have to do it, I'll do it, but you have to be so quick on your feet. I admire it, but it's not my cup of tea."

MY WORST MOMENT ...

"The first awkward thing that happened in my career was when I had just moved to LA and I had an audition -- but I was at the wrong Warner Bros. building. I went to the one in Hollywood as opposed to the one in Burbank, which was a stupid mistake, but I had just moved there so I didn't know.

 

"So I'm looking for the room and I wasn't in the right place, but a casting director for a different movie was there and he said, 'Oh my God, would you read for this movie? I think you'd be perfect.' And I was like, 'OK,' so I walk in and I read and I get it! It's a little part in a movie with Sean Penn and Robin Wright called 'She's So Lovely' (from 1997).

"I don't remember what the role was -- I was selling him tickets to a dance I think, and Robin Wright was embarrassed because he didn't have any money, that's what it was. He didn't have any money to get in and he starts charming me.

"So I'm on set the first day, we're about to shoot the scene and I remember being so nervous and wanting them to write me out because I was so scared! I didn't want to do it! And then I see Sean Penn walking toward me, and I had never seen a movie star before and the first thing I thought was, 'Oh, my God, he's so short!' -- because you're so used to thinking people in movies are tall, but he was short!

"He comes up to me and he goes, 'What's your name?' and I said, 'Justina Machado!' But he was improvising. And I didn't realize that until the director, Nick Cassavetes, goes, 'No, Justina -- not your real name.' And I was like, 'Well, how would I know? He didn't tell me he was going to improvise!'

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