Actress Stephanie Beatriz Talks 'In The Heights'

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday June 9, 2021

Stephanie Beatriz as Carla in a scene from 'In the Heights'
Stephanie Beatriz as Carla in a scene from 'In the Heights'  (Source:Courtesy of Warner Bros.)

If Stephanie Beatriz, the actress who plays Carla in Jon M. Chu's film adaptation of "In the Heights" (premiering in theaters this Friday and on HBO Max), looks familiar to you, you may recall her as Rosa Diaz from "Brooklyn Nine-Nine."

Chances are, though, even if you haven't seen her face on TV, you've heard her voice. Born in Argentina, Beatriz, who came out as bisexual on Twitter in 2016, has done voice work in everything from "Bob's Burgers" and "Family Guy" to "Jurassic World Camp Cretaceous" as plays Tiff and "Devil May Care" as Gloria.

Beatriz is also part of an upcoming comedic podcast series, "Hot White Heist," which is jam-packed with LGBTQ talent including Bowen Yang, Mj Rodriguez, Cheyenne Jackson, Jane Lynch, Peppermint, Alan Cumming, Cynthia Nixon, Margaret Cho, and Tony Kushner. The series details the planning and execution of an unusual caper — a scheme to rob a sperm bank run by the U.S. government — by an all-LGBTQ crew.

"In The Heights," based on the popular stage musical by composer-lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda and essayist Quiara Alegría Hudes, follows the lives of a group of residents in New York's Washington Heights. Many of the neighborhood's residents are immigrants from the Dominican Republic, including bodega owner Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), who harbors hopes for a return to the D.R.

Included among the neighborhood's close-knit community are Carla (Beatriz) and Daniela (Daphne Rubin-Vega), who run a salon. Their business is a nexus of hair and nail care, but also a center of friendship and gossip. And if you get the feeling that Carla and Daniela might be a little more than just partners in business, Beatriz tells EDGE you wouldn't be wrong...

EDGE recently had a chance to chat with Beatriz about big-screen musicals, her longstanding love for "In The Heights," and her upcoming stint with "Hot White Heist."

Stephanie Diaz as Carla and Daphne Rubin-Vega as Daniela in a scene from 'In The Heights.'  (Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.)

EDGE: "In The Heights" doesn't seem to have any LGTBQ themes, but it does seem to have a gay audience. How does the project speak to you as someone who identifies as part of the LGBTQ community?

Stephanie Beatriz: I kind of love that it doesn't necessarily have any overt [LGBTQ] themes because so much of this film is about community. It's about family, and it's about, really, chosen family and who you decided to make your family as you make your way through this world.

And the character that I play, Carla, and the character of Daniela, in this iteration of the musical, are a couple. They are life partners, they work together, and they're part of the core fabric of this community. They're not only in the main ensemble, but they also provide a sort of, I don't know, respite, clubhouse, salon — but also, you know, almost a place of worship of beauty for many of the other characters. I just love that this isn't necessarily a gay story, but it doesn't exclude gay characters and queer people. It acknowledges that we exist in all communities. And it acknowledges that our stories sometimes are just normal, and full of love and joy, and that we're also able to have good, great lives.

EDGE: I did get that vibe, actually — that Carla and Daniela were a couple — and that worked nicely. It's interesting that with "La La Land" a few years ago, and the upcoming remake by Steven Spielberg of "West Side Story," and also with this film version of "In the Heights," big movie musicals are coming back. What's your sense of why this is the moment for this return to movie musicals?

Stephanie Beatriz: American musical theater and American musical comedies are very American, right? There's a huge history of musical theater coming into its own in the United States and having these different time periods of explosions of creativity. It does feel like this is just maybe another crest [in that pattern]. I do think it might be related to our desire for joy in the theater, and our desire to express that joy in music.

One could argue that not all songs in "In the Heights" are joyful. But collectively, they are a self-liberation of being a human person, a human being. One of the great things musicals do, and movies with music do, is that they take these moments that are very human and full of emotion and have kind of bubbled up so hard and high — the emotional feeling is so high and so intense that the character has no choice but to burst into song to express that. It's this really heightened version of being alive: bursting into song. Most of us really only do it when we're alone, when we know we won't be judged, but these people do it in the middle of the street. And not only do they do it, but hundreds of other people join in. It's really special.

I'm not sure why. I do believe that there are no coincidences. I think things happen collectively for humanity when humanity needs them. And I think musicals are very needed right now.

'In The Heights'  (Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.)

EDGE: Had you been a big fan of "In The Heights" before your participation in the movie?

Stephanie Beatriz: I actually auditioned for the very first iteration of "In The Heights," when it was just a workshop production in New York. That was when I lived in New York. I knew Quiara [Alegría Hudes] because the first professional play that I ever did was a play that Quiara wrote called "Yemaya's Belly." And I remember talking to her about how she was maybe gonna write this book for this musical called "In the Heights." She wasn't sure if she wanted to do it. But the writer of the music was so cool.

So I've known about the musical for a long time; I saw the original workshop production, and I have been in love with it, and have been an admirer of the project for a really long time. It does feel very special to be able to be a part of the film.

EDGE: You do quite a lot of voice work, and you are part of an upcoming podcast called "Hot White Heist," where you get to work with an amazing array of LGBTQ talent. Can you say a little about that?

Stephanie Beatriz: Yeah! It's super funny. It's wildly camp, but also very smart. I'm excited to hear it all put together. I was lucky enough to be able to record some of my scenes with Jane Lynch and Margaret Cho. And I'm really excited for audiences to hear it because [there hasn't been] anything like it. It's really off the wall. I'm sure I'm not allowed to curse, but it's fucking hilarious. It's really funny and weird, which is my favorite kind of stuff. My favorite kind of comedy is the comedy that feels unexpected. We've all been listening or watching something, watching something, or listening to something where we know the laugh is kind of coming. And we're like, "I guess I'm this is where I'm supposed to react." But I think things like "White Hot Heist" are so odd and funny and weird that they just catch you off guard. I think that those are the best kinds of laughs — when you don't expect it, and you don't really know why but you just burst into laughter. I was shocked and surprised that the jokes hit you so hard. I think that that's what audiences will really like about it.

"In The Heights" premieres in theaters and on HBO Max on June 11.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.