In the Heights’ Leslie Grace and Melissa Barrera Say Kids Will Dream Big Thanks to the Film

In the Heights
Warner Bros.

The female leads of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the HeightsLeslie Grace and Melissa Barrera — spoke about how much being a part of the film meant to them, and what it will mean for future generations of Latinx boys and girls, in an interview with POPSUGAR Australia.

The film, of course, is the long-awaited big-screen adaptation of Miranda’s Tony-winning Broadway show, which tells the story of three days in New York’s Washington Heights, and the characters who inhabit it. Both the Broadway show and film have been praised for bringing the often-overlooked stories of Latinx immigrants to life.

Spoiled For Life

For award-winning singer Grace, who plays Nina — “the one who made it out” and returns home to tell her father (Jimmy Smits) that she has dropped out of Stanford University — In the Heights marks her first film role and one she will never forget.

“I’m spoiled for life,” she told POPSUGAR Australia. “And I wouldn’t have it any other way. From the moment we wrapped I just felt that if I don’t do anything else in life or in my career after this, I was just so aware that this was the best experience of a lifetime.”

The film, which was directed by Jon M. Chu, is a colourful celebration of Latinx culture, as well as an authentic portrayal of the hardships the community faces, such as deportation, discrimination and financial insecurity. Equally important, however, is the fact that In the Heights portrays the residents of Washington Heights in a positive, joyful way and drives home the importance of their experiences and their love of one another.

“I think seeing yourself represented on screen is very powerful.”

The Power of Representation

“We grew up without having a movie like this,” Barerra — who plays Vanessa, who dreams of escaping the Heights to become a fashion designer in the West Village — said.

“We grew up without seeing everyone from little kids in all of our complexity and all of our shades and sizes and shapes and different backgrounds and countries all together celebrating each other… we’ve never had anything like it and, and I think seeing yourself represented on screen is very powerful.”

“I felt so I felt unworthy at some moments to just be in the midst of it,” added Grace. “I feel so proud to be a part of this family. And to know that it’s a story that is going to mean so much to everyone else, and will help people shine and feel just as magical and brilliant, which is what we all are.”

Leslie Grace as Nina

Making Memories (and History)

As you might expect, given that this is an adaptation of a Broadway show, In the Heights is jam-packed with show-stopping musical numbers and jaw-dropping dance routines — all of which were shot on the streets of Washington Heights (in the middle of summer, no less) with hundreds of extras. While each and every song packs punch, there was one number in particular that felt extra special to the actresses.

“There are so many special moments that are forever tattooed in my mind and heart,” Barerra admitted. “But Carnaval del Barrio was very special. It was the biggest number we shot in one day and it just felt it had a weight to it.”

The scene, which was shot in a real courtyard in Washington Heights and represents the imminent changes to the neighbourhood, is certainly an emotional scene as the residents convene for what could be their last celebration as their neighbourhood becomes gentrified.

“It had a significance that was broader than a musical number that we had to get right,” Barrera continued.

“It felt like we all made history,” she said — with Grace emphatically in agreement. “It was a moment in time where we all got to wave our flags proudly, and know that the rest of the world was going to see us celebrating our culture and our ancestors. It was just incredible.”

“I feel so proud to be a part of this family.”

Melissa Barrera as Vanessa

The Power of Cinema

Coming full circle to just how important and impactful In the Heights is, and will continue to be, for future Latinx generations, Barrera, with tears in her eyes, had this to say:

“Little children are going to have this movie, and dream big because of it. They’re going to have no limits because this exists. And then after this, there’ll be many more, hopefully.

“And I think that’s the biggest gift that Lin and [screenwriter] Quiara [Alegría Hudes] have given us because it did that on Broadway first: it made people feel seen in the theatre first, and now it’s going to make people feel seen all over the world.

“I think that’s incredible and that’s the power of cinema.”

In the Heights lands in Hoyts Cinemas on June 24, with advance screenings now showing.

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