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Rita Moreno backstage at the 2014 Screen Actors Guild Awards

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The 20th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards took place on Jan. 18, 2014, at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. Here is what this Screen Actors Guild Award winner said backstage in the Screen Actors Guild Awards press room.

RITA MORENO

Life Achievement Award

Would you say that today is one of the best days of your life?

Oh, without question. You didn’t ask, but I’m going to tell you anyway. The difference between getting an Oscar and having an honor like this tonight is that the Oscar is really meant for a performance in a specific film. This [SAG Life Achievement Award], I don’t call it an award. I call it an honor, because it’s about a lifetime.

I was told I had one minute [to make my speech], and I thought, “Wait a minute! I’m Puerto Rican! I can’t even say hello in one minute.” And I worked very hard to make it brief and the essence of it as possible.

In a way, it was good that they limited me, because it really made me search for the essence of what I feel. And boy, that song absolutely says it all. And it’s a song I use when I do concerts. I end the show with that. It’s a great song. It’s only a piece of a song, by the way, that Sinatra sang for a long time.

After all these years, Latinas are still fighting an uphill battle in the entertainment industry. Are you surprised?

I’m not surprised, because as long as you’re going to have immigration and the reform of immigration, it’s always going to be difficult. A lot of people say, “What’s your secret? I really don’t have one. But it’s about persevering.

We’ll get there. The door is ajar — Ricardo Montalban said that — and I’m saying we have to open that door some more. It will happen. I don’t think it will happen in my lifetime. I’m 82, so I’m lucky if I have another 10 years.

Can you talk about your long friendship with Morgan Freeman?

We go back years and years and years. He reminded me of that tonight. It’s been at least 46 years, maybe more, when we were doing “The Electric Company” together, along with Bill Cosby … along with Irene [Cara]. We knew each other then, and we just hit it off. We just have this super, wonderful chemistry. We make each other laugh a lot.

And I thought it was so fabulous that he said just a couple of weeks ago to SAG-AFTRA, “I want to sit at her table. And I want to walk the red carpet with her.” He didn’t have to do that. All he had to do is present me with the award. That’s the kind of fellow he is.

And that’s the kind of gal I am. I would have done the same for him on other occasions. We’re dear friends. We have enormous respect for each other. And we do make each other laugh, and we do get raunchy.

Can you put into words what this SAG Life Achievement Award means to you?

Did I already say this? I’ve had one glass of wine, and boy, I’m a disaster. One glass of wine, and I can’t speak. Two glasses of wine: I belong to anybody. So did I already say how it’s different [from an Oscar]? I did. So that’s what it’s about to me.

But you know what’s really great about this evening for me? My grandchildren Justin and Cameron and Fernanda Luisa, my daughter, that means everything to me. When you’re 82, if you don’t know that’s what life is really about, something is really wrong with you. I’ve already turned down some shows on Broadway that take time. I said, “I don’t have that kind of time anymore. I have to be with those I adore and love.” It’s lousy timing. I wish that had happened sooner, but that’s life.

You look amazing for your age ….

Have I had any work done? No, ‘though if I have to tell you the truth, if I had, I wouldn’t tell you!

What is the secret to living a long well-lived life?

Living in the moment, smelling the roses, smelling the coffee — whatever it is that makes you happy. I think we spend an enormous amount of time resenting the terrible things that happened to us. And let me tell you, if you read my book, then you know a lot of things happened to me. And you just have to put those out of the way and say, “But look at tonight.”

Look at the wonderful reception that I got. Honestly, I didn’t expect that. I just didn’t. I expected people to stand up and applaud, because that’s the respectful thing to do. But I didn’t expect people to cheer and carry on. And to see Meryl Streep going [she gives a nod of approval], that’s amazing. I feel amazing.

Which designer are you wearing?

I may be the only performer here tonight who’s actually paid for this stuff. It does not go back at midnight or in the morning. I bought these. This [jacket] is Herve Leger. It’s not
Hervé, because if it were Hervé, it would have an accent with the “e.” And this [dress] is Roberto Cavalli. But you know, it’s so interesting.

This particular biker-chick jacket doesn’t have silver studs. It has burnished gold studs, which I love. I just think it’s edgy, but it doesn’t look like I’m trying to look too young. And I think it’s elegant and just terrific. I feel I look swell!

For more info: Screen Actors Guild Awards website

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