Most of the television-viewing audience hasn't had the pleasure of hearing this smile-inducing laugh, but that's about to change with the new TV season. Machado made a name for herself with roles in dramas like “Three Rivers,” in which she played a nurse dealing with incredibly sick transplant patients; “Private Practice,” again playing a nurse whose heart gets stomped on by Taye Diggs' Sam Bennett; and “Six Feet Under,” which featured her character being cheated on by her husband, abusing prescription drugs and sinking into a deep depression after her mother's death.
Speaking by phone from her home in Los Angeles recently on a rare day off from shooting, Machado, 41, reveled in her new comedic role.
“I love going to work and laughing and having a good time, but it's definitely hard work,” she said. “It really is, because you have to figure out where the joke is. Is this the joke? Which word should I hit? It's liberating, though. As much as I love my dramatic roles, it's a little tiresome always being the damsel in distress.”
In “Welcome to the Family,” Machado is anything but. She plays Lisette, a fierce wife and mother of two who isn't afraid to put people in their place. The show centers on two teenagers, Molly (Ella Rae Peck), the school-averse Caucasian daughter of Caroline (Mary McCormack) and Dan (Mike O'Malley), and Junior (Joseph Haro), the Stanford-bound Latino son of Lisette and Miguel (Ricardo Chavira). The families are forced together when the teens' lives are rocked by an unplanned pregnancy.
It seems NBC is betting heavily on “Welcome to the Family,” placing it on what used to be called “Must See TV” Thursday in between “Parks and Recreation” and two new shows helmed by former prime-time stars Sean Hayes and Michael J. Fox. While Machado is known for her dramatic roles, Haro said she has a natural comic sensibility that can crack up everyone on set.
“It takes a lot of commitment to pull off a drama with emotion and stakes, and it's really the same with comedy,” he said separately by phone. “I think what helps her, too, is that she's musical and she sings all the time, and comedy is very rhythmic in a way. She's so passionate and so full-out. She's not afraid to be silly or be too big.”
For years Machado did not consider herself an actress. As a child bouncing around the Northwest Side, she danced at Franklin Fine Arts Center for a few years. She always sang (she recently had a role in Broadway's “In the Heights”) and spent her teenage years playing small clubs or bars with various girl bands. She had stage presence, for sure, but theater wasn't what her parents had in mind for her future.
“I am first generation,” Machado said. “My parents are from Puerto Rico. We were lower-middle class. … My family's mentality was, go and get a good job and stay in Chicago and have a family and just be responsible and just have that real Midwestern kind of life. They just didn't really think about anything else. Anything like (acting) was not something that was discussed in my house.”
Needless to say, for much of her childhood Machado didn't spend a lot of time around the arts. After graduating from Lane Tech High School, Machado worked as a teller at First American Bank in the Loop while soul-searching for what to do next.
That was when Myrna Salazar, an agent with her own company, Salazar & Navas, saw that Machado, her daughter's friend, had a distinct X factor.
“It was a force from within her that sent me vibrations,” Salazar said. “It was a gut feeling. … She is short, but when she stands on stage she is 7 feet tall.”
Salazar sent Machado on an audition at the now defunct Latino Chicago Theater Company, and Machado landed a role.
“She was really solid,” said Juan Ramirez, former artistic director of the company. “She was older than her years, but at the same time she had this spontaneity and this ability to explode at a moment's notice. It was just in her.”
It took four or five productions for Machado to see her work with the company as more than a hobby. (She worked on 20 productions in five years with the company before leaving for New York and then LA.)
“I was putting myself in a box, like, ‘Yeah, this is cool for right now until I figure out what I am going to do,'” Machado said. “Then finally it was like, ‘No, this is what I am doing, and this is an honorable profession and I am good at it. People might not understand, but I am going to go for it.'”
Machado's strong commitment to character is one of the qualities that intrigued Mike Sikowitz, creator, writer and executive producer of “Welcome to the Family.”
“She has big energy and is strong, which we thought we needed because Ricardo is strong and Mike is strong and Mary is strong,” he said. “On this show, we don't want to do the sitcom thing where the wives take the back seat and don't have as much of the funny (lines) or as much of the story.”