Ahead of the release of the big screen adaptation of In The Heights—with music and lyrics by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, directed by Crazy Rich Asian’s filmmaker Jon M. Chu—this Thursday June 10th in theaters, and on HBO Max (for 31 days following theatrical release), The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann had an exclusive conversation with two of its stars who portray a queer couple in the movie, in a change from the original Broadway production.
Two-time Tony-nominated Daphne Rubin-Vega—who originated the role of Mimi Marquez in Jonathan Larson’s now classic musical Rent—plays Daniela, a Washington Heights beauty salon owner, which she runs with her life and business partner, Carla, played by SAG Award-nominated Brooklyn Nine-Nine star Stephanie Beatriz.
During the interview, the actors talk about their passion for wanting to be part of bringing In The Heights to the screen, the experience of shooting one of the big musical numbers on location in Washington Heights, where the majority of the film was shot, and creating the touching romantic relationship between their characters.
Watch the full interview here, and read highlights below:
James Kleinmann, The Queer Review: you shot the film in summer 2019, but if I could take you back a little further to when you were first offered your roles, why was In The Heights something that each of you wanted to be involved in?
Daphne Rubin-Vega: “I wanted to be in this film because it’s such a great musical, and as a Latina actor it’s not every day that there’s a plethora of roles for Latinos, in one fell swoop, so every Latino actor that I knew was getting ready. When I found out that it was time to prepare for an audition, I prepared. When it was time to go to a callback and have numerous callbacks—because that’s what happens when a film like this is being made—you just get ready for the next one and the next one, feeling like an athlete. So by the time that you get the phone call saying you’ve actually gotten the role, ‘congratulations’, it’s just such a victory lap and there’s so much gratitude to know that you’re going to be of a next level project.”
Stephanie Beatriz: “I was so excited that the film version of this was finally coming to fruition and I very badly wanted to be a part of it because I loved the music and I think the story is incredible. I also really wanted to work with Jon. I think he’s absolutely brilliant. I saw Crazy Rich Asians in theaters multiple times because I was so in awe of what he was doing as a filmmaker and how he was using film in this very magical way. He’s incredibly gifted and I think you can see that in In The Heights, and in the way that audiences have been responding to the film when they see it in a theater. I felt that way when I saw his past work and I wanted the opportunity to be a part of that, and now I have gotten it it’s really amazing and very special to have been a part of the journey of this film.”
Let’s talk about your characters, Daniela and Carla. In the original Broadway production they ran the beauty salon together but their relationships has changed a bit for the movie hasn’t it, what do they mean to each other?
Stephanie: “They live together, they’re partners at work, they’re life partners, they love each other. To put a real clear stamp on it, they’re gay as all get-out! They’re gay, they’re queer, and they love each other and they’re this functioning, happy couple that work together, live together and have made a home with each other, for each other, and in each other. I personally love that it’s layered so subtly into the film because I think many times when we see queer characters, gay characters, we’re focusing on the stuff in their lives that’s hard for them and in this film, I think we’re focusing on the fact that, there’s hard stuff in the community for everyone, but there’s also joy and the ability to celebrate life, even though that hard stuff is going on around you.”
Daphne, as Stephanie mentioned it is quite subtle and I like that about it too. As their relationship isn’t explicitly addressed in the dialogue how did you express their love for one another and that intimacy through things like the body language and the dance as well?
Daphne: “Like Stephanie said, we were just a couple who care about each other so I think that that reflects in the body language. It was really wonderful to be able to have the freedom and ability to portray a character that loves who she loves without all of the sort of social stuff around it. They had to deal with adversity and challenges but being gay is not one of them.”
“Their gayness is also is not an issue for Abuela Claudia or Usnavi, or anyone else in the community. These are women who are loved and trusted, and respected; they’re protectors of their community, and kids are allowed in the salon, as are trans folks, whoever you are, if you want to get a weave, you can get a weave or nails, and who you sleep with, it’s so not about that.”
The salon in particular is a really queer-friendly space which people will be able to see when they watch that sequence. Watching the film I sort thought, okay, well, it’s peaked now, that’s peak energy, but then another big number comes along. 96,000 set in the swimming pool is one of the scenes that was shot on location in Washington Heights itself, what was that like to be part of?
Daphne: “Well, can I just say that it was all shot on location in the heights, with the very rare exception of the interior of the salon at one juncture, and certain bedrooms. But Highbridge pool is a landmark within the community. You know, New York City is so beautiful, so photogenic, so recognizable—cinematically and artistically—but Washington Heights, not so much. So to icon-ify Highbridge pool is such a perk for many New Yorkers.”
Stephanie: “It’s very cool that we got to shoot in that space! What was it like? It was so fun to shoot and rehearse that sequence. We have some of the best dancers in the world in this film and it was such a joy to be around them and watch them, and it was truly a joy to be all together in that space. Those were some fun days shooting!”
By James Kleinmann
In The Heights is in theaters June 10th and on HBO Max for 31 days after theatrical release.