Rita Moreno might be best known for her role in "West Side Story," for which she won the Oscar for best supporting actress in 1962. To date, she's the only Latina EGOT, having won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony award over the span of her illustrious career. She is also the voice of Abuelita on Sprout's new animated show, "Nina's World." She's joined by Michele Lepe who plays Nina on "The Good Night Show," a live-action program dedicated to lulling kids to sleep with soothing songs and stories.
The center of "Nina's World" is Nina, a six-year-old Latina girl who learns about her culture through family, friends, and life in a multicultural neighborhood. The show is bilingual, which is sure to be appreciated by Latina moms in search of shows that reinforce bilingual language acquisition. It will also please those looking for kid-friendly stories depicting a Latino family.
The show represents a return to children's programming for Moreno, having playing many characters on the PBS children's series "The Electric Company" in the '70s. I sat down with Moreno to discuss motherhood, culture, and her newest role.
Photograph by Jay Miranda
Q&A WITH RITA MORENO
Latinamom.me: "Nina's World" is a bilingual program for children. How do you think bilingual programming will affect the generation of children growing up with it?
Rita Moreno: Oh, it will. Because there's English and Spanish, but there's also culture. Kids learn from culture, too. And not just that, but every episode teaches them something—a lesson—for instance, "everything doesn't always work out." That's a tough lesson, yes, but one worth learning.
Latinamom.me: You've spoken about being a Latina in the entertainment industry when not many were representing. What do you think of Latina representation in entertainment today? Rita Moreno: I think it's vastly improved. It can be better, but it takes time. When I started, the roles were so limited —a servant, an illiterate. People ask me, 'Why did you take those roles?" You know, I thought that in time and through hard work, it would change. And that they would see that I had real talent. It takes perseverancia. On ["Nina's World"] we have a diverse cast... actors who are Latino, Black, Asian. That's important.
Latinamom.me: You're a mother and you've also had an amazing career — what is your advice for working moms who are trying to balance the same? Rita Moreno: It's been such a long time since I had to do that. I'll tell you what I did: I just didn't work. For the first six months after Fernanda Luisa was born, I stopped working. I'm glad I did that, but I hate giving that answer because I know there are people who can't do that.
Latinamom.me: That time was valuable. Rita Moreno: Oh yes.
Latinamom.me: How was the transition returning to work? Rita Moreno: It was difficult, actually.
Latinamom.me: A lot of moms say that. Rita Moreno: Do they? I had such a wonderful time; I missed it. I missed the feeding times. I was constantly on the phone with my husband, asking, "How's the baby?" It was also hard because I'd returned to my profession, which was artifice — acting, make believe. But motherhood, that was real.
Latinamom.me: What's the greatest lesson your mother ever taught you? Rita Moreno: She taught me to love unconditionally, to love my child unconditionally.
Latinamom.me: In storytelling, there's the classic three-act structure and I recall you mentioned the same in your Screen Actors Guild lifetime achievement award acceptance speech. How does one know when they're entering a new "act" in their life? Rita Moreno: You don't think people know when they're entering a new act? You have to! Motherhood, well that's the second act. The third act is when your kids leave the home and you're alone. And that's so hard. You have to begin anew.
Latinamom.me: You never stop being a mother. Rita Moreno: No, never.
The creators of "Nina's World" seem to be aiming to put forth a show that feels authentic while also being educational. In other words, it's classic Sprout. Overall, the animation is bright and cheerful. Spanish is intermixed throughout, as are nods to Latino culture — the singing of "Las mañanitas" at a birthday party, kids eating sopapillas, the neighborhood panadería. It shines most because of these subtleties. It's a glimpse into the Latino-American family, as seen through the eyes of a child.
Nina's World premieres Saturday, September 26 at 7 p.m. ET.