Moreno rel­ishes play­ing ‘Jane the Vir­gin’ diva

The China Post - - ARTS & LEISURE - BY LYNN EL­BER

Rita Moreno’s guest- star­ring turn Mon­day on “Jane the Vir­gin” rep­re­sents a trib­ute from the com­edy’s young Latina star, Gina Ro­driguez, to the trail­blazer who helped pave her way.

“I was ap­proached (for the role) be­cause of Gina,” Moreno said. “She told me some won­der­ful things about how I in­spired her, great stuff that made me feel very proud.”

Look­ing back, Moreno, 83, mar­vels at the stage, screen and TV ca­reer that made a “lit­tle Puerto Ri­can girl” one of the rare per­form­ers to win the su­per­sized awards combo: Os­car, Tony, Grammy and Emmy tro­phies.

“It as­ton­ishes me that I’ve come this far. I’m hum­bled by it and thrilled by it,” Moreno said in a phone call this week from New York.

The path wasn’t al­ways easy. Her early movie years were filled with what she calls “dusky maiden” roles be­cause Hol­ly­wood found it dif­fi­cult to see Lati­nos, es­pe­cially ac­tresses, be­yond stereo­types.

“I can’t re­mem­ber play­ing roles in movies that did not re­quire an ac­cent and very dark makeup ... Even in ‘ West Side Story,’ it was (direc­tor) Jerome Rob­bins’ idea that all of the Sharks have very dark skin, be­cause he wanted a con­trast be­tween the Sharks and the Jets,” she said, re­fer­ring to the mu­si­cal’s Latino and An­glo street gangs.

“I re­mem­ber re­sent­ing that,” she said of the pro­duc­tion that brought her an Academy Award. “I thought, ‘I’m Puerto Ri­can. I don’t look like that.’”

She’s pleased to see evo­lu­tion in the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try that has led to shows in­clud­ing CW’s “Jane The Vir­gin,” fo­cused on a Latino fam­ily.

“There’s ac­tu­ally a lot of progress. I don’t think it’s enough but, my God, when you com­pare that to when I was a young woman in movies, it’s to­tally dif­fer­ent,” Moreno said.

The vet­eran actress re­tains the vi­brancy to take ad­van­tage of the changes, with a role in a com­edy pi­lot that’s un­der con­sid­er­a­tion by CBS as well as an up­com­ing al­bum of Span­ish-lan­guage songs, aimed at a May re­lease.

Her guest role part on CW’s riff on te­len­ov­e­las proved a de­light for Moreno: A bad guy, or at least an im­pe­ri­ous woman, who sweeps heed­lessly into the lives of her son, TV star Ro­ge­lio (Jaime Camil), and Xiomara (An­drea Navedo), who are Jane’s par­ents.

“She is a real diva, a rude woman who spouts off mean things to peo­ple,” Moreno said, de­light in her voice. “When she comes on the scene you find out that Ro­ge­lio is a real mama’s boy.”

The char­ac­ter, Lil­iana, doesn’t have a warm re­la­tion­ship with Xiomara, Moreno said, and for “such a hi­lar­i­ous rea­son. I don’t want to give it away be­cause it’s silly and funny. But in te­len­ov­e­las, any­thing can hap­pen.”

“Gina said to me early on, ‘ The per­son I most ad­mire more than any­one is Rita Moreno. It would be my dream come true if she could come on the show,’” re­called ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Jen­nie Sny­der Ur­man.

Moreno turned out to be every­body’s dream, Ur­man said. “She came with so much en­ergy and pas­sion and en­thu­si­asm ... She just in­vig­o­rated our cast and crew. Every­body was so stunned and hon­ored to be work­ing with her.”

The star’s fo­cus now is on her as-yet un­ti­tled up­com­ing al­bum, her first in more than two decades. Emilio Este­fan, hus­band of Glo­ria Este­fan, is the pro­ducer.

“The com­pli­ment is I still have a voice,” Moreno said, prov­ing it by croon­ing a few bars of one of the al­bum’s songs, “Concierto de Aran­juez,” the famed com­po­si­tion by Span­ish com­poser Joaquin Ro­drigo.

She de­scribes the al­bum as an eclec­tic mix that in­cludes “some re­ally ter­rific salsa num­bers,” a jazzy ver­sion of “Brazil,” and “Some­where,” from “West Side Story.”

“It sounds even more beau­ti­ful in Span­ish,” Moreno said.

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