Although she’s worked in television and movies her entire professional life, and will be a special celebrity guest at the Pacific Northwest Multi-Cultural Readers Series & Film Festival this summer, Rose Bianco says it’s only recently that she’s really felt successful.
Her recurring guest-star role as Rosa, Miguel’s doting grandmother in Cobra Kai, (Netflix) has something to do with that. And her break-out role as the maid in Being Mary Jane (BET) with Gabrielle Union provided critical exposure for the actress who’s upfront about the realities of being a Puerto Rican woman in show business.
“The parts I play are usually in Spanish or with a thick accent,” Bianco says of her roles.
“I don’t want to be ungrateful,” she adds. “It’s a need I’m able to fill. The roles I play are very maternal and motherly and nice. I guess the thing I rue the most – it has to always be the tropes, that stereotype, and I wish we could get past that.”
In fact, she says of fans and people who don’t know her, “It takes them by surprise that I’m literate and well-spoken and have vocabulary.”
Rose Bianco started out in an inner-city, all-girl, Catholic high school in Chicago, where two nuns lit her creative fuse when they told her she was funny – “very funny.” This encouraging feedback struck a chord in the girl who “ran to such a different drummer. I was such a nerd!”
Sister Pat and Sister MaryAnne “got me into college,” Bianco recalls. She was pre-law at DePaul University when, on a senior-year whim, she joined a friend taking a theatre-games class.
Theater games are techniques, she explains. For example, “How would a butterfly do this? This character is like a spider. It helps you approach texts in a circular way.”
A world opened up. “I said ‘Oh my God this is what I’m going to do with my life!'” And she immediately switched her major to speech and drama.
Bianco’s creative vision focused early. She trained with Ted Liss and, at age 18, was cast in her first role in a play at Chicago’s historic Victory Gardens Theatre.
Next, she moved to San Francisco where she played the Spanish Gypsy in City Preacher written by Ed Bullins, a card-carrying member of the Black Arts Movement. Bianco remembers the playwright pacing, pacing, pacing during rehearsals in San Francisco’s Magic Theater.
“It was juicy and wonderful,” Bianco says. “An all-Black cast directed by John Doyle. It was tremendous.”
Next stop: New York where more creative stimuli came in the studio of Julie Bovasso, an actress and playwright in the avant-garde theater Off Broadway and Off Off Broadway.
Bovasso “was a good and important teacher to me. She was a very very hard-core teacher – no spare the rod,” Bianco recalls. “Some acting teachers are deliberately abusive. No. A real good acting teacher knows what the scene needs.” Bovasso’s intensives were “Big learning experiences. That’s how I trained.”
Currently, Bianco’s taking on-camera acting technique classes with Liza Jaine, a show-business veteran who specializes in close-quarters combat and other physical techniques.
“You’re always learning,” Bianco says. “Practice makes perfect.”
For people starting out, Bianco has advice:
“If you really want to do this, hope for success, put plan for a long-term goal. Learning lines is not the hard part. The hard part is making a living, paying your mortgage, your car, your insurance. That’s what’s hard. You have to arrange your finances.”
She adds, “It’s difficult. It’s a difficult career. I wouldn’t suggest people do it unless they’re passionate.”
For Bianco, a dependable paycheck and medical insurance for her family were provided via her day-job career as a paralegal. Along the way she says, her husband would tease her and call her The Amazing Rose. “When I put my mind to something, I figure out a way to get it done.”
Being a hard-core perfectionist doesn’t mean she can’t chill, however. She enjoys cooking Puerto Rican style rice, beans, and chicken when her kids come to visit. Her not-so-guilty pleasures include playing Wordle, Spelling Bee and crosswords. “I could spend three hours in a chair doing puzzles,” she laughs. “You don’t have to be productive 24 hours a day! Dammit!”
Down time is important balance to the work-a-day show-biz realities of “rehearse, take classes, audition, send postcards, social media,” she points out. These are her keys to building the comprehensive resume of television and film work she’s done for the likes of CBS, Starz, Legacy 3C, Gulfstream Pictures, Dominion Pictures, 20th Century, Amazon, Netflix, HBO Max, Disney+, Warner Bros, and Paramount.
Lately, Bianco says she’s enjoying getting back to her roots in live theatre.
Last year at Aurora Theatre in Atlanta she played Marislaidy in the premier production of a farce called Swindlers. “It was fast and loud and hilarious” she says of the five-week run.
She also did a new work by Odelia San Diego, playing Mamá in Elevenses about abortion access. “It’s funny and heavy at the same time,” Bianco says of the play that was chosen for Atlanta’s Stripped Bare program for new work. And she’s “very excited” that Odelia San Diego is currently fundraising because she’s been accepted to the Labryinth Theatre Intensive Ensemble Workshop in New York.
“As a Latina, I can tell you the Latino show business population not as big as it should be,” she says. “I’m trying to help make that happen.”