Justina Machado is an American actress best known for her role as Darci Factor in the CW show Jane the Virgin. Machado is known for her roles as Vanessa Diaz on the HBO drama series Six Feet Under, and also as Brenda on the drama Queen of the South.
Machado attended Lane Tech from where she graduated in 1990 and moved to New York City. Having gained experience as a performer with the Latino Chicago Theater Company, it helped open the doors for her in that city. She was soon offered a job as a professional actress in Los Angeles, California.
She then moved to Los Angeles landing her first two acting roles. Machado was cast as “Elsa” in the TV series NYPD Blue episode #311. She was then cast as “Val Cho” in the movie made for television No One Would Tell.
Machado was born on September 6, 1972 in Chicago, Illinois, U.S (46 years old as of 2018).
Machado was born the eldest of five children. Her parents had moved to Chicago from Puerto Rico where they had two children. Justina’s parents finally divorced, her mother remarring and had three children. Machado iwas raised Catholic and had a traditional quinceañera. Having grown up in the Nortghwest Side of Chicago, Machado said her family was poor.
Machado has been romantically involved with award-winning producer, writer, and actor Emanuel Gironi. She has also dated actor Christian Svensson in 2003.
Machado has no kids yet.
Machado appeared as a character named Sunny Estrada in the Canadian television series 1-800-Missing.
She appeared as Claudia Diaz in nine episodes on ythe TV series ER also appearing in Body of Proof as villainess Emily Burrows.
She has received positive reviews for her role as a single mother raising two children and struggling with PTSD after serving in Afghanistan in the 2017 remake of One Day at a Time.
Machado also appeared in the music video for TLC’s song “Damaged”. It is the third single from their fourth studio album 3D, as a young woman trapped in an abusive relationship and unsure of what to do with her life.
She auditioned for the TV series Six Feet Under and was cast as Vanessa Diaz, originally a supporting character, later evolving into one of the series’ main characters. Juanita and her cast mates were honored with a Screen Actors Guild Award for “Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series” the series completed its final season in 2005.
Machado stars as Penelope Francisca del Carmen Riera Inclán Ruiz Maribona de Alvarez who is a United States Army Nurse Corps veteran and mother of Alex and Elena. Penelope works as a nurse for Dr. Leslie Berkowitz.
Machado has a recurring role in the third and fourth season of Jane the Virgin as Darci Factor.
Justina recurred as Brenda in the USA series, Queen of the South.
Machado potrays Jo in Angel. Jo is a woman whose baby was intended to become a great force of good. She was then protected from evil demons by Kamal, a Prio Motu Demon. Six months before meeting Angel she was then working the register at Costco.
She recurred on Devious Maids as Zoila’s sister, Reina.
Justina Machado: I’ve always wanted to play that kind of woman, whether or not she is a mother—somebody who’s taking care of people but also taking care of herself. Because I don’t think we see that enough. I love that our show does that. On so many traditional sitcoms, the mom is nonexistent or she’s just kind of there, and it’s all about the kids and it’s all about the man. Penelope is fiercely protective of her children, an incredible daughter, and a wonderful mother, but she’s also young and has a life too. That’s so wonderful to see and I love letting women see themselves like that, to know that it’s not over because you have two teenage kids and you’re in your 40s.
HB: I think it’s especially important to see a single mom dating because so often we see the man move on to a healthy relationship after a break up, while the woman focuses on the kids and has no romance in her life.
Justina Machado: And she gets to be a little superficial! Like,Oh, that guy’s a dork!She’s being real, not like this saintly kind of mother—not someone who’s like,He’s a good man. I should date him.It’s pretty amazing. These are real feelings, real thoughts.
HB: Absolutely. Just like any other woman, mothers shouldn’t settle either. Penelope’s reaction to Victor’s engagement is also realistic. She’s happy for him, but she has some resentment because when they were together he was not the man he is now.
Justina Machado: She’s like,Yo, I hooked him up. And look at what’s happening!It’s something that we’ve heard so many times from all our girlfriends. Like,I did this and now look at that guy! Look at what he’s doing now!I’ve had those feelings. I don’t know one woman who hasn’t had that feeling. It’s wonderful when people can look at this and say,Okay, I’m not the only one.
HB: We also see Penelope’s mental health remain at the forefront as she continues to attend her support group and develop friendships from it. She even talks to her kids about it for the first time and allows herself to be vulnerable in front of them.
Justina Machado: I don’t suffer from depression, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve had more anxiety for some reason. I don’t know why. But it’s fantastic to see that [on the show]. It’s happening to people every day. [Penelope’s story] is teaching the people who are around the people that are dealing with it. So they don’t say things like,Oh my God, get over it. What’s wrong with you? Just breathe!Or they give them all this crazy stuff to help them push things down as opposed to talking about them. I hope it helps people understand that it’s not something they can snap their fingers at, and it all goes away. This is a journey.
HB: As someone who doesn’t suffer from depression, how do you go about getting into that headspace and preparing for that portrayal?
Justina Machado: I think life just prepared me. I’ve known a lot of people that are struggling with it. I’m pretty strong, but one of the greatest things about doing those episodes is that I get to let go. So maybe I do have all that inside me and I’m like,Yes, I get to let it go. I don’t have any kids, but I have four siblings. I’m the oldest. The youngest are twins who are 17 years younger than me. So I have always had an open communication with kids and with my family. My family doesn’t really hide things.
HB: That’s interesting to hear, and to see that reflected in Penelope and Elena’s relationship as well. They are so open with each other about a lot of things. I feel like mothers back in the day, like mine, never talked to their daughters like that. They had their guards up.
Justina Machado: Oh yes,Iwas always open. My mother was not. My brothers and sisters always came to me and I always spoke to them. I wouldn’t talk to my mother about anything and that was really unfortunate. Now that I am older we talk about things, but the weird thing is that it’s a little difficult. Since I never used to talk to her about anything, it’s foreign to me now. That’s a little sad. We never really talked about any of that. We never talked about boyfriends. We didn’t talk about life. We didn’t talk about sex. We didn’t talk about any of those things. In fact now—I’m not even kidding—I keep seeing adults that are married and have kids that will talk about sex with their mom. Not in a grotesque or graphic way, but in a general way, and I’m embarrassed. I don’t want to be a part of that conversation. I’m like, “Your mother’s here!” [Laughs] I did not grow up like that. I don’t know what it would have been like. I assume it would have been really nice.
HB: Penelope’s relationship with Schneider as he goes through an alcoholism relapse also resonated this season. They cannot be any more different—she’s a liberal Latina and he’s a white man who grew up with a Conservative dad—but they see each other’s humanity. What does their relationship mean to you, particularly in today’s climate, where solidarity is often lacking?
Justina Machado: I love that relationship. They are two really great people that have a lot of love and a lot of solidarity and a lot of compassion for each other. It’s not uncommon and it’s unfortunate that we don’t see a lot more of it. I have friendships with Caucasian guys that came from a mom-and-a-dad home, middle class, super different from where I came from. And we have become the best of friends. I always feel like when you’re a person of color, you’re kind of a chameleon because you have to fit into so many different situations. It’s so much easier for us because we’re forced to fit into situations.
I’ve spent my whole life being a chameleon, unlike Mr. Tom Brokaw saying, “Hispanics should work harder to assimilate.” I mean, come on! Give me a break. That’s what we do. I speak Spanish. My brother right below me speaks Spanish and my sister kind of does. And then the twins that are 29 don’t speak one word of Spanish. That just shows you how it trickles down. it’s really interesting.
HB: It is. There’s something to be said in today’s climate where women of color are still expected to fit into one box and make others feel comfortable in our presence.
Justina Machado: That’s the thing. I just know how to do that now. I’ve been conditioned to be that chameleon, to make people feel comfortable around me. I don’t know if that’s just because I want people to be happy around me or if it’s that. Shit runs deep, man. Sometimes you don’t even know where it comes from.
HB: Going back to solidarity, as a loving mother to a queer daughter, Penelope has proven to be an ally to the LGBTQ community. How important has it been for you to foster Penelope and Elena’s relationship and for the series to earn its second GLAAD nomination this year?
Justina Machado: Their relationship mirrors my own life. I have a brother who’s gay. He’s one of the twins. I’m so glad that my brother came into this world and not one homophobic thing has happened to him in our home. Unfortunately we can’t handle what happens outside of the home. There are people that are still archaic in their thinking. Penelope and Elena’s relationship mirrors the way I speak to my brother, and that’s the way my mother speaks to my brother. We were always allies and remain allies. The great thing is, people change and mature. My mother and I didn’t really have that relationship, but she has that now with the young one. So it’s a beautiful thing to see my mother making a 180.
When Elena came out, the writers—Gloria Calderon Kellett and Mike Royce—and I talked about it and I was really adamant (and they were also in agreement) that Penelope accept her, but then have her own little breakdown because that’s real. That’s what happened in our family. My mother and stepfather completely accepted him, but my mother was worried about what would happen to him. I never wanted Penelope to be unbelievable. The way she dealt with it, and the relationship she has with Elena, is a relationship I have with my brother and the relationship my mother and siblings have with him. I was never taught any other way in my home. There was a lot of messed up shit in my house, but that was not one of them.
Being recognized by GLAAD is just so beautiful. Every time we get nominated, it’s great because I can always say I’m an ally but when people from the LGBTQ community say you’re ally, it’s an honor. It’s one of the things that I am most proud of. I love opening up people’s minds. There’s the episode with Elena and her girlfriend that’s pretty fantastic. We’ve never seen that before, two young ladies having their first time together.
HB: That’s so true. Then Elena comes home and of course her and her mom talk about it. [Laughs]
Justina Machado: [Laughs] I know! I’m like, I don’t want to know this! That’s real too! We always see TV shows where they go,Oh honey, you can tell me anything.But of course we see Penelope later at the bar with her friend saying,I don’t want to know this! That’s too much information!
HB: Exactly. Penelope is learning as she goes how to be a parent to two teens who are becoming sexual and, in Alex’s case, being exposed to drugs. She gets so paranoid about Alex that she follows him to a concert because she finds out that drugs will be present. And she desperately tries to fit in there. By the way, kudos on the flower-petal jeans and headband.
Justina Machado: [Laughs] That was classic sitcom, I have to tell you! At first I was like,Uh, I don’t know about this.But it was fun because it was a classic sitcom scene—dressing up and being a dork. A little sitcom fantasy was accomplished with that episode.
HB: That is a classic sitcom move, and many of usSix Feet Undersuper fans also love your dramatic performances. Vanessa and Freddy Rodriguez’s Rico are iconic. You’ve obviously accomplished so much in your career. Do you thinkOne Day at a Timeis a turning point for you and for Latinx representation on screen?
Justina Machado: Absolutely, 100 percent. It’s a statement for the Latinx community.Six Feet Underwas one of the greatest shows ever. That representation of a Latino family was done with such dignity and integrity. And that’s all because of [creator] Alan Ball, [executive producer] Alan Poul, and all of those writers. I remember there was an episode where they had Freddy and I speaking Spanish for no reason. That’s a big issue with me, and with people who grew up in the States. We’re Puerto Rican, and—whether or not people want to believe it—it’s part of the United States. When somebody just throws Spanish at us, we’re like, what’s happening? This would not happen. We wouldn’t do this. We went to the writer at the time (the writer didn’t stay on for too long), and he didn’t want to change it. We had to go to Alan Ball, and he said,absolutely[and had it changed]. He was such an ally for us because those two characters weren’t the butt of the joke. They didn’t wear street clothes. They weren’t the cholo or a chola. We were hard-working, working-class people raising a family and just being normal.Six Feet Underwas incredible like that.
Then fast forward to Penelope andOne Day at a Time, it’s the greatest part I’ve ever had. Because she’s so layered and she’s not in a box. She’s not an over-sexualized Latina or asexual cop or a suffering mother, or all the parts I’ve ever played. (Except maybe not over-sexualized Latina. I haven’t gotten that part yet!) It’s a turning point. It’s a show that I hope is the first of many, many more.