You know Justina Machado as Taye Diggs’ girlfriend on the ABC medical drama “Private Practice” and Freddy Rodriguez’s wife Vanessa Diaz on the late, great HBO funeral drama Six Feet Under. But now she takes on a different role on the NBC sitcom Welcome to the Family (premiering at 8:30 p.m. Thursday), which takes a slightly twisted look at an Anglo and a Latino family brought together by a pregnancy.
Machado talks about the show, how it feels to break away from drama, and exactly why she and Rodriguez had such great chemistry.
Tell us about “Welcome to the Family.”
It’s two families coming together with different personalities colliding and different philosophies of life colliding. My son, who’s sort of the superstar of the family in that he’s smart and he’s gonna go to Stanford, impregnates their daughter, who’s like a screw-up and doesn’t go to school much, but is very lovable. And they get together, and because of that, now we all have to live together.
Was a role in a sitcom a big departure for you?
I think that people think it is, but for me it doesn’t seem so. But yes, I think people are shocked because they’re so used to seeing me so dramatic. But I love it — I’m happy that I can take a break from being a suffering Latina for two seconds!
Speaking of being a suffering Latina, everyone loved you in “Six Feet Under.” Was that your big break?
I think it was, actually, because even though I’ve been a part of so many great projects, that really is the project that everybody remembers me from.
When you were filming it, did you realize something groundbreaking was happening?
Not at all. I had no idea until probably the third season. I don’t know if it’s because I was so much younger. One of the things that happened when I was younger was, I was always looking for the next job and never was in the present and happy about what was going on. So I didn’t realize what a special thing it was until suddenly it was like, “Oh my God, people really like us!”
Do you still keep in touch with any of the cast?
Oh yeah. Freddy Rodriguez is like my brother. He and I grew up in the same neighborhood in Chicago, we’re both Puerto Rican, and I’ve known him since we were like 16. I love him to death. He’s the only one — I mean, I see everybody, but we don’t keep in touch.
So you were friends going into the show?
Oh yeah. I think that’s why we had such great chemistry, because we sounded like we spoke the same language because we came from the same place.
Was it weird portraying a romantic relationship with him?
Yes, totally [laughs]. We would die laughing for I don’t know how many minutes if we had to do an intimate scene. It was ridiculous.
As a Puerto Rican girl from Chicago, what do you think of Miami?
Oh my God, I love Miami! Are you kidding me? The first thing I do is get a cortadito. I freaking love Miami. It’s a sexy, fabulous town.