‘One Day at a Time’: Rita Moreno Demanded Lydia Be a ‘Sexual Being’

Rita Moreno is an actor, dancer, and singer who has been active in the entertainment industry for over 70 years. With roles in major motion pictures throughout the ’50s and ’60s, Moreno eventually migrated to a career in television.

These days, she is earning legions of new fans with her role in the series One Day at a Time. Moreno has always marched to the beat of her own drum, and in a recent interview with Esquire, the legendary actress opened up about the demands that she had for her character before she would agree to play Lydia on One Day at a Time

Rita Moreno is an icon of the entertainment industry

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Moreno was born in Puerto Rico in 1931. When she was a very young child, Moreno moved with her parents to New York City.

Not long after arriving in New York, Moreno began taking dancing lessons. By the time she was 11, she was lending her voice to Spanish language versions of American films. Clearly talented and precocious, Moreno started acting on Broadway when she was just 13 years old. 

In the ’50s, Moreno made a name for herself as an actor, dancer, and singer, with notable roles in movies like The King and I, West Side Story, and Singin’ in the Rain. All throughout the ’60s and into the ’70s, Moreno continued acting in movies — all while supplementing her resume with television roles, such as her long-running part in the children’s television series The Electric Company.

Eventually, Moreno became one of the few American artists to have scored all four major entertainment awards — a Grammy, an Emmy, an Oscar, and a Tony. 

Who does Rita Moreno play on ‘One Day at a Time’?

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In 2017, Moreno was cast in the remake of the popular ’70s television series One Day at a Time. As Penelope’s mother, Lydia, Moreno’s character is sassy, smart, and defiant: She lives life on her own terms, in spite of her advancing years.

Led by original series creator Norman Lear, casting Moreno was a major coup for the showrunners, although, as Moreno later revealed, it took a bit of convincing on their part before she would agree to accept the role. In fact, she had specific demands for her character before she would sign on to portray Lydia in One Day at a Time

What were Rita Moreno’s demands for her ‘One Day at a Time’ character?

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In a recent interview with Esquire, Moreno revealed that right from the beginning, she let showrunners on One Day at a Time know what her requirements were to play Lydia: “I said I would love to play [Lydia], but I have one request, and if you can’t do that, I’m not interested. She has to be a sexual being. The inability to conceive doesn’t mean you’re no longer a woman with feelings.”

In an older interview with Jimmy Kimmel, Moreno opened up about her character, and why she thought it was so important to portray Lydia a certain way. “I know she’s an older woman, I know she’s a grandma, but she has to be sexual,” Moreno explained. “I love the character I play because she is really a diva. She’s so dramatic. She’s so theatrical.”

One Day at a Time went off the air in 2020, but Moreno’s influence (and the waves that she made as Lydia) lives on in Hollywood.