Justina Machado Explains How She Is Moving the Narrative Forward in Hollywood (Exclusive)

Justina Machado
Benjo Arwas

The actress talks to ET about her career, diversity and getting a 'One Day at a Time' season 5.

For over two decades, Justina Machado has been paving the way for Latinas.

"Right now, it's OK for women to be thinking about women and to be moving it forward for us," Machado tells ET exclusively. "For so long, [Latinas] have been on the back burner. So I think that we need to nourish and nurture ourselves right now."

Her 2001 breakout role as Vanessa Diaz on Six Feet Under was originally a supporting role that evolved into one of the HBO series' lead characters, earning her a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series.

Fans may also recognize the actress as Darci Factor on Jane the Virgin and most recently as Penelope Alvarez on One Day at a Time. The latter role, she tells ET ahead of her Dancing With the Stars rehearsals, has been one of her most impactful in leading a change for the Latinx community. 

Inspired by Norman Lear's beloved 1975 sitcom of the same name, the remake follows the Cuban American Alvarez family as they deal with life, love and living together. It features a stellar cast, including the iconic Rita Moreno as matriarch Lydia.

"Vanessa Diaz on Six Feet Under was just incredibly impactful. I had been working before it, many years, but it was definitely the one that put me on the map and opened a lot of doors for me, and to this day is constantly talked about. I would say that has been the most impactful in moving my career forward," Machado notes. "But also Penelope Alvarez has been the most impactful in making a statement and moving not just me forward, but moving a people forward, the Latinxs forward, changing that narrative, putting that out there and telling an immigrant story that anybody can relate to."

Acting is a craft Machado knew she was meant to do. Throughout the years, she's stayed true to herself, landing roles on ER, Devious Maids, The Purge: Anarchy, Welcome to the Family, Private Practice, and many more, knowing exactly who she is and where she wants her career to go. But it hasn't always been a walk in the park. 

"I've been very blessed in this business. I really have been and still [have] ups and downs," Machado, who made her Broadway debut in Lin-Manuel Miranda's Tony Award-winning musical In the Heights in 2009, expresses. "And still, I say this all the time, I still do not get the same opportunities that my Caucasians brothers and sisters do. Still don't get those opportunities that most of the women that you see or men that you see."

"But even with that, I have had a pretty great and am having a great career," she adds, noting that while it doesn't take away from her experiences, there should still be more Latinxs in Hollywood. "It's not just about me. They don't want to see the same people over and over again. We want to have more people come in, young talent behind and in front [of the camera], in the writers' rooms, everywhere so that our stories can be told authentically by us. That's what's important. It doesn't take away from my success here in Hollywood, it's just saying, 'We gotta do better. This has to be better.'"

Among the Latinas who are inspiring her to make a change in the industry are One Day at a Time co-showrunner Gloria Calderón Kellett, America Ferrera and Eva Longoria. "The list goes on and on," she notes, adding, "Gina Torres, Judy Reyes, pretty much every one of my colleagues. Tanya Saracho. There is not one that doesn't inspire me. The list would be every single one of them."

For Machado, it's about amplifying the voices that haven't been able to be amplified. "Anybody who feels like the other, anybody who is not known, everybody who has been forgotten," she says. "Those voices. I would like those voices amplified."

While diversity and inclusion are topics that are talked about, Machado says that the "changes have been minimal" but she sees progress "being made by the women who get those opportunities to make those changes, like Gloria, Tanya, Eva, America. All of these people."

"I see that [effort]," she relays, adding, "It's not a slam dunk by any means. Not at all. Look at the Emmys, where were we represented? There is a far way to go. A long way to go still and that's unfortunate. But I do feel like people are more vocal. People are not as scared as they were back in the day to say something. This is a movement and I see things changing. But for as long as I've been doing this, the changes have been minimal."

What people have been vocal about is their love for One Day at a Time. After being canceled on Netflix following its third season, it was picked up for a fourth on Pop TV. Machado says that the fans' "devotion and commitment" to saving the show "was so inspiring."

"Even Norman Lear said in all of his years in this business, and he's 98 years old, he has never seen that kind of rallying behind a show. That sums it up right there," she notes. "The tenacity, the love, the passion, all of that was impressive and inspiring for us to continue to fight for this show. They fired us up."

What makes One Day at a Time special, Machado explains, is the show's relatability and specificity to the Latinx community. But she also hopes that other races can find something to love and learn from the show.

"One Day at a Time doesn't shy away from the things that are happening now. In fact, we have incredible dialogue and maybe by listening to the conversations [people will learn something]," she shares, explaining that under one roof, fans have Elena's progressive views, Penelope's moderate views and Lydia's conservative views about politics, family and relationships. "When you have these three conversations, those three points of views, underneath one roof [you can see] how things can be talked and discussed, and you can learn from one another and grow."

"I hope that's something that in these times -- besides the laughter, the humor and the love that you feel from this family -- you can also realize that maybe it's not that hard to have that conversation," she states. "And maybe it's time to have that conversation."

With no current plans for One Day at a Time to go back into production, Machado continues to fight for the beloved show. The fourth season will re-air on CBS on Oct. 5 with a three-week, two episode a night event, making it the only show starring a Latinx family on a major network. With the CBS move, Machado and the creators hope to capture a bigger audience and secure a fifth season.

"CBS is a different game… Just the funds that they have in order to market, to push us forward," Machado explains. "I just think that it's a worthy-enough show and it's gotten such great reviews… It's a whole new ballgame if we get a fifth season on CBS. And that will make sure, I think, that other shows like ours get made and will be on the air."

"Not only do we love this show, and love each other, and love telling these stories, we just love the response and the connection that we have with people that can relate," she adds. "It's so rewarding for every single one of us… So hopefully we get to do it for a long time."

Watch the first three seasons of One Day at a Time on Netflix, the fourth on Pop TV, and on Monday, Oct. 5 at 8 p.m. on CBS. Machado is currently a contestant on Dancing With the Stars, airing Mondays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.