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Gloria Calderón Kellett’s ambitions are considerably grander than her condo turned office, which is nestled between a mall and her alma mater in one of those sprawling Playa Vista apartment complexes. Having first come to Los Angeles to study acting at Loyola Marymount University, Calderón Kellett has now parlayed her stint showrunning the critically adored remake of Norman Lear’s One Day at a Time into a rich deal with Amazon Studios — where she’s now got four projects (plus one movie at HBO Max). The pact’s first fruit — With Love (out Dec. 17), a serialized rom-com that upends the white, heteronormative genre by centering on POC, queer and trans characters — is as much a mission statement as it is a cozy holiday binge watch.
Bubbly and provocative during an hourlong conversation in mid-November, the Portland, Oregon-bred Cuban American gives the impression that she could make acting her full-time gig. But the married mother of two, who worked for more than a decade in other people’s writers rooms (How I Met Your Mother, Rules of Engagement and Devious Maids, among them), says she’s far more interested in holding on to the creative reins now that she’s got them.
What interested you first — acting or writing?
For somebody who doesn’t grow up in this industry, acting is your conduit. Watching The Facts of Life and Who’s the Boss?, I don’t even know that I was aware that the actors had writers. When I came to Loyola to study acting, Linda Cardellini and I were in the same year. But when I went out auditioning, it was for “gangbanger’s girlfriend” or maybe “a prostitute.” I thought it was a joke. Linda was going out for the cool, edgy chick. I wanted that. I tried to talk to my agents, and they were like, “They’re not really looking for you.” I was told I wasn’t “Spelling enough.”
As in the actresses on Aaron Spelling’s shows?
Yes, which meant I wasn’t good-looking enough and I wasn’t thin enough. I was 95 pounds, and I had tits and ass. They didn’t know what to do with that. This was when the Judy Greers and the Janeane Garofalos were cast as the best friend. The best friend was always white, maybe Black but very rarely a Latina. There was just … nothing.
And that’s where writing came in?
My senior year of college, I wrote a play. It was the first time I thought, “Oh, maybe I need to be on the other side for any of this to happen.” So, worrying I’d wasted college by studying acting, I went to grad school in London to immerse myself in theater and come back [to Hollywood] with a new mission. I just wrote my ass off and worked in all of these theaters on the West End so I could see everything for 5 pounds. I was undocumented, by the way, because by the time they realized I didn’t have paperwork, they said, “Eh, you’re our best bartender.”
There are a lot of LGBTQ characters in your work, particularly on With Love. What inspired that?
As a young actress, I was immediately accepted by LGBTQ people. Before I was supported by the Latino community, I was supported by the LGBTQ community. What I’m fighting as a Latino woman is what the LGBTQ community is fighting. We’re doing intersectional work. And being in writers rooms is an education. On One Day at a Time, [co-showrunner] Mike [Royce] and I knew we wanted to make Elena [Isabella Gomez] gay. So we were like, “We’d better fill this room up with some lesbians.” Because I don’t have that story. I’m not even bi. The lesbians on staff actually rated me and said I was something like only 3 percent gay, which was very upsetting.
We’re only just starting to see characters like these come out of the background in rom-coms.
When you’re marginalized in any capacity, and you just never see yourself at the center of the story, you don’t get all those layers. That’s what With Love is about. I get to show machismo Latino man, who’s like, “I just want you to be happy” to his gay son. I get to show an Afro-Latino man and a Latina woman fall in love in a two-minute short film… to an Afro-Cuban song! The fact that I got to make this show is still crazy to me.
How would you describe the transition from being a solo playwright to working in writers rooms?
Look, some of these rooms were hard and some were lovely. And, in every one, I had somebody who was kind to me and supportive of me. But some of those rooms were toxic, and they were all pretty white and much older. That was mind-blowing. When you’re a teenager, you watch TV and think, “I’m not cute enough” or “I guess I need to be blond and white to be happy.” I wish I could tell my 14-year-old self, “The people who are writing this shit are old white guys that you’re not going to be attracted to. Chill. You’re fine, honey.”
You spent three years on How I Met Your Mother, which I re-watched at the beginning of the pandemic …
Oh, God. Is it problematic?
I’m not sure that the misogyny of Barney, Neil Patrick Harris’ character, would fly today, so I wondered how much his line-crossing was discussed in the room.
Never. At that time, that’s what it was. And by the way, those guys [Carter Bays and Craig Thomas] were two of the nicest showrunners I’ve worked for. They allowed me to be in editing and help with casting. I could say to them, “Really? Ted Mosby [Josh Radnor] is in New York City and he hasn’t dated one Dominican?” I couldn’t do that in a lot of rooms. Because they were nice guys, commenting on a type of man, none of us thought that Barney was a good guy. He was reflective of a guy that existed in that moment. We all knew people like Barney.
How was your own experience being a “co-showrunner” on One Day at a Time?
As soon as I said “OK,” Norman was like, “Oh, there’s this guy already attached.” I’ve heard that story before. The guy that’s attached. And you’re really just the Latina name so nobody gets in trouble. But the first time I sat down with Mike, the first words out of his mouth were, “I’m going to teach you to be a showrunner and you’re going to be able to do this job. If you like it, you can do this job for the rest of your life.” It put me on the map. I had been a journeyman writer for 12 years.
That show got yanked around a lot, first when it was canceled by Netflix then again with the implosion of Pop TV. What did you learn from the experience?
There were so many firsts for me on that show, and I got to say so much of the stuff I wanted to. If you told me I could have three and a half seasons of that, I would do that all again. But is it unfortunate that algorithms are racist? Because they are.
Tell me more about that.
When something hasn’t existed, it’s not part of the algorithm. So, if you’re really committed to diversity, equity and inclusion, you can’t solely live and die based on an algorithm. We have to give this data some consciousness. These little shows that are meaningful and good for the community, give them a little more press love. Put them out for awards. Onscreen representation affects how people feel about marginalized communities. That’s a lot of power. We’ve got to take that seriously.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in the Dec. 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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