Count on Rita Moreno—who has appeared in more than 40 films and just as many television shows—to find rediscover the fun of acting with her return to the small screen as Rogelio (Jaime Camil)’s mother on the upcoming episode of Jane The Virgin.
“She’s really rather imperious, and I don’t remember playing someone who’s imperious. She’s very full of herself,” Moreno says of her character, named Liliana. It’s a far cry from her own charming personality, though the 83-year-old jokes that she didn’t have to look far for inspiration. “I just took the worst part of me and imitated myself,” Moreno says with a laugh.
As Rogelio’s doting mother—and Jane (Gina Rodriguez)’s “glam-ma”—Moreno reveals her character is “well turned out and wealthy” with a not-so-hidden agenda: She doesn’t get along with Xo (Andrea Navedo), and will create “a whole bunch of conflict between the two of them that’s really very funny.”
Moreno says casting directors reached out to her for a role on Rodriguez’s request, an opportunity, she says, took her by surprise. “Apparently, Gina’s always wanted to work with me. Apparently I symbolize a lot of wonderful things to her.”
Though for the record, Moreno—who emigrated from Puerto Rico when she was 5 years old and began taking dancing lessons shortly thereafter—is equally impressed by Rodriguez.
“She’s not afraid to speak out. She’s very much her own person,” Moreno says of the Golden Globe winner. “I didn’t have the kind of forward drive she does. I admire it enormously …what I see in her is a new kind of young Hispanic woman, and I am thrilled to see that.”
The EGOT winner—who has been outspoken about having been offered stereotypical roles as Latina spitfires and sexpots throughout her career—says that she’s thrilled to have paved the way for younger Hispanic actresses.
“[Gina] fights back simply by being strong. That’s another way of fighting,” Moreno says. “She has a very positive image of herself. I had a very poor image of myself, because I believed too much of the people around me when I was very young.”
The two struck up a friendship on set (Moreno gave Rodriguez a signed copy of her 2013 memoir, and Rodriguez thanked her with “the most beautiful note”), which makes Moreno hopeful to return to the Jane The Virgin set.
“I’d love to go back and do one more episode with them,” she says. “And Jaime, oh God—I have to tell you, we’re a great team. We’re all hoping I’ll come back!”
Still, the 83-year-old has plenty to keep her busy until Jane showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman calls. Moreno recently filmed a television pilot (“I can’t say for whom!” she says, laughing) and she plans to release an album in May, her first since the release of a self-titled record 15 years ago. The as-of-yet-untitled studio album will include a Spanish version of “Somewhere” from West Side Story as well as ballads and several pop songs. It is being produced by Emilio Estefan, husband to and frequent collaborator of Cuban musician Gloria Estefan.
“Well, I ran into him last year and he said, ‘We have to make an album. You see, you will get a Grammy.’ And I said, ‘Oh my God, please,’” Moreno recalls of Estefan, who has worked extensively with Latin artists including Ricky Martin and Marc Anthony. “I’m really excited. It’s a gorgeous-sounding album, if I can say so myself … Emilio will want to make you want to shake your booty.”
And though the Bronx-raised actress is thrilled about exploring new territory within entertainment, her plans don’t include a return to the stage, where she began her career more than 70 years ago.
“I adore Broadway, but that would take me away from my family. I’m 83 years old now and this is the third act of my life,” Moreno says. “I don’t want to miss out on my grandchildren and my daughter, and doing Broadway would do just that. It breaks my heart because I love theater and I would love to do something on Broadway, but it’s a little too late for that.”
Even so, Moreno has much yet to give. Moreno certainly hasn’t forgotten that—and won’t. “I’m proud of me.”
Jane The Virgin airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on The CW.