Rita Moreno Mixes Up a Carnival in the Kitchen | Modern Society of USA

Rita Moreno Mixes Up a Carnival in the Kitchen

Rita Moreno Mixes Up a Carnival in the Kitchen

Rita Moreno took a deep, languorous inhale. “I love this smell,” she said. “Can you smell this? It’s an unusual smell.”

The famed actress of stage and screen had just poured ruby red annatto seeds into an oversize pan. After allowing them to sizzle for a few minutes, she used a slotted spoon to fish them out, leaving a rust-colored oil behind. “Now we can do some frying,” she said, raising her eyebrows with excitement.

It was a mild Sunday afternoon, and Ms. Moreno was demonstrating her kitchen chops at the Midtown Manhattan apartment of Jamie deRoy, a Broadway producer. Around her was a four-person documentary crew, there to film her for a coming episode of “American Masters,” the PBS show that chronicles the lives’ of artists.

She was making picadillo, a stewlike dish of ground beef, peppers, olives and raisins. “It means chopped up,” she said, surrounded by small piles of diced ingredients. “First, let’s put in the onions and the garlic.”

While the reboot of “One Day at the Time” sticks to the classic sitcom format, it’s not only played for laughs. Story lines tackle social issues like immigration, clinical depression, gun ownership and L.G.B.T. identity.

“Norman’s the kind of person who can manage that,” she said. “It’s a hard, hard balance to achieve, to have a show be very funny and, at the same time, sometimes break your heart. He doesn’t want us to just go out and be funny. He wants it to have a base.”

She also called Mr. Lear, who is 96 and on set every day, an “old fart.” “But don’t forget,” she added, “I’m the old fart-ette.”

With the onion and garlic nicely browned, she tossed in a colorful blend of yellow, red and green bell peppers that had been finely diced. “Look how pretty this is,” she said. “It’s a carnival!”

As Lydia, she brings her own spice to the screen. “I did say to the writers and to Norman: ‘I know she’s older. I know she’s a grandma. But she still has to be sexual,’” Ms. Moreno said. “And they were thrilled about that. Getting old doesn’t mean you lose all of that good stuff. My ovaries may not make babies, but I’m not done for — by a long shot.”

Neither is her acting career. Ms. Moreno has a pivotal supporting role in Steven Spielberg’s forthcoming remake of “West Side Story.” While she was nervous to take the call from Mr. Spielberg, she walked away with a fond view. “He’s just lovely — friendly, warm, unaffected in any way whatsoever,” she said. “A nice Jewish boy next door who just happens to be a genius.”

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