Isabella Gomez, the Latina actor who charmed audiences as the high school-aged Elena Alvarez on the Netflix-turned-Pop TV reboot of “One Day at a Time,” returns to screens with “Head of the Class” on HBO Max. The new series, executive produced by Bill Lawrence alongside exec producers and writers Amy Pocha and Seth Cohen, is another reboot of a classic sitcom. This time though, Gomez is playing a young educator who wants her students to, per the logline, “focus less on grades and more on experiencing life.”
Gomez, who admits a sense of disbelief in taking on the role of the adult in the room, says she feels “lucky” to play the character of Alicia Gomez and “show people that I can also do that kind of work.”
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Here, Gomez speaks with Variety about what she learned from her “One Day at a Time” co-stars and pulls back the curtain on her latest project.
You’re following “One Day at a Time” with another reboot. What’s that been like?
It makes so much sense for me, especially with this character. She’s so different than Elena. The show is so different than “One Day at a Time” that I didn’t feel like, “Oh, I’m doing another reboot.” Right now, we need so much joy and so much laughter after the couple of years we’ve had as humans that I was really excited to sign on board.
You played a student on “One Day at a Time” and now you’re playing a teacher. What’s that transition been like, to playing the adult in the room?
I was like, “Really, they want me to play the teacher? OK…” [There’s] a cool vibe to have Alicia blend in and maybe seem like one of the kids. I was very lucky to work with Justina [Machado] and Rita [Moreno] for such a long time that I feel like I got really used to seeing them lead and seeing them come into a room, so I tried my best to emulate that. It was also just fun in that I have a baby face and I look super young.
“Head of the Class” has a very diverse cast and feels representative of high schools across the country. Was that important to you in taking on this project?
Absolutely. What I liked about it is that it wasn’t even a conversation about that. And in fact, Alicia was Alicia Adams before she was Alicia Gomez. I think that the creative team really went in and auditioned people and just wanted to get whoever was the best for the role. And it just so happened that the cast was super diverse because there’s so much talent all over the spectrum. I was stoked that that’s what the cast looks like. It was just, “Here’s what a normal high school room would look like. And this is how they are.”
Nicole Wilder/HBO Max
Your character in “Head of the Class” is another role that highlights a Latinx perspective. You mentioned they interviewed different people for it, but was that something that you brought to the role?
When they cast me, we got to make her Alicia Gomez and we got to make her Colombian like myself. I love that Alicia is a Latina educator. She’s just a teacher and happens to be Latina. The stuff that we do sprinkle in about her being a Latina isn’t like, “And now here’s a very special episode about our Latinx lead.” It’s just, she happens to be, and so she happens to say and do certain things that might be a little different. But it’s never about that, which I think is really great.
One aspect of your performances across different projects is your ability to express a character’s insecurities while also managing to project a very real confidence. How do you go about achieving that balance?
I myself am like that. In a lot of spaces, I’m very, very confident and very comfortable in who I am. And then in other spaces, I’m really insecure and I feel really uncomfortable. It’s interesting to show that and, especially as the teacher, to make sure that it’s not just her leading the kids all the time. She is also allowed to make mistakes, is also allowed to not know, is also allowed to learn from the kids.
Do you think there are any storytelling opportunities you can find through reboots that are hard to find elsewhere?
What reboots bring to the table is a familiarity and a nostalgia. Sometimes people are a little bit more open and able to listen to those conversations because it feels like home to them already, even in shows like “One Day at a Time” and “Head of the Class.” They’re very different from their originals. It still has that same energy so that not only can the people that watch the originals tune in and be open and wanting to hear out these characters, but just as easily they can get new audiences because they are an entirely new show that is modern.
Let’s say someone gave you carte blanche to make your own reboot of another property. What would you choose? And what would that look like?
Oh man, that’s a good question. The first thing that came to mind is “Hannah Montana.”
Oh OK, I’m very interested in this.
I grew up on “Hannah Montana.” My God, I loved that show. I really like the idea of that double life. I feel like it’s kind of a staple for Hollywood. It’d be really cool to make it now, especially with social media being such a big thing and seeing how a character would handle being a celebrity and also a regular person, while making sure that nobody Instagrams her or anything.
“Head of the Class” streams Nov. 4 on HBO Max.
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