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

Nina Metz, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Entertainment News

"And I remember being offended that he didn't tell me we were improvising, and that's when my Chicago kicked in and I got defensive: 'Well, he didn't tell me!' Because I really thought he wanted to get to know me -- and he didn't." (Long laugh.)


"I felt like everyone was in the joke except for me. When Nick Cassavetes came over and goes, 'No, Justina, not your real name -- he's improvising,' that's when my no-nonsense side of came out, right away.

"Because at first I was so terrified, I couldn't believe I was working with Robin Wright and Sean Penn, I always loved him when I was younger, I was such a big fan. But as soon as he did that, all that went away! And by the way, how weird is that? We haven't even met each other and you want to start improvising? He didn't apologize or anything -- Sean Penn didn't talk to me.

"But what happened was, we had done his coverage and we were coming back the next day to do my coverage and Nick Cassavetes said, 'You're doing a great job,' and I said, 'How do you know, the camera's not even on me?' And he's like, 'Sean says you're doing a great job' -- so Sean spoke through Nick Cassavetes. But he never spoke to me. But you have to understand it's not like it scarred me, it's just a funny story!"

According to IMDb, the character is listed as "Carmen Rodriguez -- Lady Ticket Taker."

"Yes, because I made up the name! My character had no name, she was just a ticket-seller. But once I realized we were improvising I went along with it and gave her a name. So a lot of that scene is improvised. It was daunting at first, but once I got over the fact of who he was -- and my embarrassment -- I just thought, 'I gotta go for this.' I already saw that he wasn't going to warn me about anything, so I just had to go with it.

"I actually got another job because of that scene, a movie called 'In the Electric Mist' with Tommy Lee Jones. This is really interesting, because Tommy Lee Jones is lovely, really. I loved working with him. But he doesn't suffer fools, you know? So you really have to be on your toes, and that's what one of the producers said when I went in to meet with him and the director, Bertrand Tavernier. They saw me going toe-to-toe with Sean Penn and they thought that I could handle Tommy Lee. I'm not kidding you, that really happened."



"I don't know if there's any kind of takeaway except that it was my first Hollywood experience. Maybe the rose-colored glasses were taken off quickly -- oh, OK, it's like this. Gotta get down to business. Once you're on that set, it's work.

"And I was open, I went back and forth with him and we got a beautiful scene."

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