The cast and creatives behind “In The Heights” say their new movie musical is all about reaching for your dreams and celebrating your community.
“I think this movie is all about big dreams,” says star Anthony Ramos says during a special Q&A with the film’s cast following the trailer debut. “Everyone in this movie has a dream, a goal and we see how each person individually goes about that personally in their day to day lives and the things that come their way and the obstacles that are presented to them. I think it is a blessing to be able to be a part of it.”
Based on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony Award-winning musical, the movie is set in a community in the Washington Heights neighbourhood of New York City. Centring on a bodega owner (Ramos) who has mixed feelings after deciding to close his shop and move back to the Dominican Republic, the story is one about exploring the idea of what “home” means.
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Jimmy Smits, who plays a taxi company owner, says though the movie focuses on a specific neighbourhood, its culture and its inhabitants are universal. “This notion of home or wanting your next generation to do better than you is a concurrent theme in this country not just for us, but looking at it thru this very specific lens but it’s gonna hit in a way and impact universally as movies always do,” he says.
Miranda, who still calls Washington Heights home, says the neighbourhood has been “the first chapter in so many stories” already. “It was an Irish neighbourhood and Italian neighbourhood. That’s what makes it universal.”
For the cast, being a part of a movie showcasing the Latinx community was a dream come true.
“It’s very rare for us to play roles where we can feel like we are playing ourselves or someone we know is very real,” Leslie Grace says. “To know I am a part of something this beautiful…is something that is incredible and I cry every time I think about it.”
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Co-star Dascha Polanco agrees, explaining she recognizes the characters in the film from the people in her real life.
“It didn’t take much for me to connect with the community in the Heights,” she says. “It made me feel more motivated than ever to be as authentic as I can be and represent in such a positive way. It’s all love, unity, empowerment in the end.”
“It baffles my mind that some little Latin kid somewhere in the world in the ‘hood is going to be able to see this,” adds Ramos. “I’ve never seen anything where there’s 75 Latinos in the middle of the street dancing, full choreography and singing about pride and where they come from… I get emotional when I think about this movie and what it means to me and the culture.”
“I remember Anthony always chanting ‘for the culture we’re doing this’,” Smits says. “Home, community, the notion of wanting your children to excel and do better but you’re looking back trying to pull the next person, all of that is in the film.”
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A true musical, “In The Heights” celebrates the community and its people through song and dance. Director Jon M. Chu is proud of his cast as he exclaims, “there’s no dance doubles, no voice-over doubles. This is our cast, they are pouring it out there.”
Corey Hawkins says the cast had “two months of prep work [and] sweating on each other in the gym.”
“It was so incredibly challenging,” he continues. “Going through that process was wild and scary and new for me. I had never danced on-screen, sang on screen, but I could look to my co-stars to help lift me up and that was just a huge part of it, just trusting and giving over to the message and story and these characters. it’s wild and I just can’t wait for people to see it.”
“We’ve had a hard year but this movie has so much compassion unity hope in it, it pours out of every frame,” Chu adds.
“It’s just uplifting, very necessary right now, it’s inspiring,” Polanco says.
“In The Heights” arrives in theatres on June 18 and, in the U.S., on HBO Max on the same day.