Sonia Sotomayor and Rita Moreno discuss men, moms, love, life

Sonia Sotomayor (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters file photo)

Sonia Sotomayor had already teased out all the details of her pal Rita Moreno’s hot love affair with Marlon Brando (“we were obsessed with each other”), which naturally led into a conversation about their upbringings. The Supreme Court justice divulged that she had no memory of her mother kissing or hugging her; the actress said her mom had terrible taste in men that colored her own choices growing up.

“I made a lot of mistakes,” sighed Moreno.

“Don’t we all,” Sotomayor shot back.

Rita Moreno (Matt Sayles/AP file photo)

So it went during a rollicking and surprisingly candid 90-minute onstage conversation between two Latina pioneers at Shakespeare Theatre’s Harman Hall that had a sold-out audience screaming with laughter and shouting with solidarity Monday night. Though the two women are from different fields and different generations, they seemed to share an easy camaraderie. Judging from their questions, both were clearly familiar with each other’s new memoirs, which the event was arranged to promote. (Sotomayor’s “My Beloved World” reviewed)

“It was like being in a room with my wife and her girlfriends,” Adams-Morgan neighborhood activist and non-profit director Bryan Weaver told us. “Except one of them is 81 years old and the other is a Supreme Court justice.”

This is the point where we sadly confess: We weren’t there! The event, organized by the National Hispana Leadership Institute and the Eva Longoria Foundation was officially closed to reporters, at the request of Sotomayor. Why? Court officials did not say, though justices have frequently imposed such rules on semi-public speaking engagements at law schools and other such venues, explaining that the presence of reporters would inhibit candor or distract from the natural give-and-take.

Which is pretty silly if you think about it.  Because Monday night’s event was open to the general ticket-buying public. And you know our friends the general public — they love to talk, and they love to tweet. It was pretty easy to recreate the evening with their help. (Thanks, in particular, to Isabel Lara and Midy Aponte for their dispatches from the night.)

Moreno and Sotomayor at a book party for the release of "Rita Moreno A Memoir" in New York this month. (Bobby Bank/WireImage) Moreno and Sotomayor at a book party for the release of “Rita Moreno A Memoir” in New York this month. (Bobby Bank/WireImage)

The mutual admiration society between the two goes back a while. Moreno said she burst into tears when she first heard a Hispanic woman was appointed to the highest court; Sotomayor asked Moreno to read the audio version of her new memoir.

If Moreno, the first Latina to win an Oscar, was a little looser and more outspoken than her stage partner  — well, hey, she’s Rita Moreno. (“I’m a raucous Puerto Rican!” she told the room. “I like to sing, I like to dance, I like to drink, I like to get buzzed.”) Plus, in a format where the two were asking each other questions, the former prosecutor had the upper hand. When Moreno complained that she was doing all the talking, Sotomayor responded, “I am used to asking questions and getting answers.”

But Sotomayor did talk candidly about a breakup with a boyfriend, and how a female friend counseled her that “lust is one thing, love is another.” And she bonded with Moreno over how their Spanish-speaking moms embarrassed them by mispronouncing certain words — “sheet” and “beach” always coming out like profanities.

Other highlights: Moreno breaking out into song, unaccompanied, a tune about missing one’s homeland and loving what one can’t have that left everyone in the room with goosebumps. . . . Sotomayor asserting that “it’s only the people you love that hurt you, because the others ‘que te importa.'”. . . Sotomayor insisting that she’s really just “an ordinary person” blessed by extraordinary circumstances.

The event was billed as a Q&A but the rapport between the two women was so fluid that they just kept talking to each other, without going to the audience for questions. In the end, it was the justice, not the actress, who gave the acting advice. Sometimes, Sotomayor told the audience, if you are intimidated by a task at hand, play it like a role — pretend to be someone you admire. “To be successful in life, you have to ‘play’ more than you are,” she said.

Sounds fascinating. Wish we could have been there.

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Amy Argetsinger is an editor for the Style section.
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