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A lot of people have heard of Leslie Grace before – after all, she’s a Grammy-nominated singer whose two albums have rocketed the charts – but she has never been seen on the big screen before. When In the Heights, the great, brilliant film adaptation of the Tony-winning Broadway musical by director Jon M. Chu hits theaters and HBO Max on June 10, Grace will make her cinema debut as Nina Rosario, a native of Washington Heights Home visits from her studies at Stanford that don’t go as well as she’d hoped.
On screen, Grace joins film and theater veterans like Daphne Rubin-Vega, Jimmy Smits, Corey Hawkins, and even Heights co-creators Lin-Manuel Miranda and can more than assert himself. Your Nina is struggling to find a place in the world and struggling with a relationship that may have come to an end, but Grace’s magnetic performance keeps the audience focused on the opportunities that exist for Nina rather than the problems with which she is facing.
Here the actress talks to T&C about the landing of the role, her toughest day of shooting and why Broadway could be her next stop.
I knew about In the Heights – I never saw it on stage, but I fell in love with the soundtrack. I wasn’t a big Broadway persona, the closest I was Rent or Wicked so I didn’t have a lot of theater experience but my manager said, « You have to watch this show, you will feel this way. » I never saw it , but fell in love with the music. Years later, when it became known that they would cast the film, I thought, « I have to be a part of it. » I was really new and really green so this was my first personal audition for a film in L.A .; I even learned about the audition process through this experience, but I was so excited that I could possibly be part of this story that felt so close to my home.
Nina is so popular in musicals and we get to know her better [in the film] and I feel so privileged to be there. I feel seen by Nina like that; I’ve seen many things echo in their story and, more than anything, I was really happy that in this version of the story you have the experience of feeling fragmented, like you weren’t enough of one or the other Assert your identity and walk with pride. She struggles with guilt for admitting a fear of pursuing something bigger than her family members have done in the past. She does this thing, goes to Stanford, people have been cheering her all her life, but then she comes back to her neighborhood and says it’s not all roses over there. In order to fit into this place, she almost has to forget where she is from. And I hope we will see more of these stories.
It wasn’t an easy task! And when you know you are a part of something that can be so special, you don’t want to be the one to screw it up. It is a great responsibility and it takes a lot of hard work and heart. We had 10 weeks to do all of this, which sounds like a long time but felt short, as these numbers were as big as Jon had dreamed it would be. The hottest summer day in the movie was actually the coldest summer day in real life – all of the dancers and Jon were frozen in the pool and it continued to rain. Much work has gone into dancing on the sides of the building; Those were big numbers you want to get right, so you give it your all and break your ass.
For me the special thing was the dance on the side of the building. At the heart of that moment is [Hawkins’ character] Benny and Nina’s last moment before whatever the future may bring – maybe they’re right for each other, maybe not, but they love each other. There is this huge number that they have and the heart of it is that they will make the world what it can be when they are together before they both fly away. It’s such a big cinematic moment. Corey always says that they may not know who Fred and Ginger were, but at this moment they are. Beating that was really hard, but to see that we did it makes me really proud.
Oh yes. I felt like I was coming with musical experience – this is my first film, but it wasn’t overnight – but I felt some of this impostor syndrome because I had no other acting experience other than auditioning. The nice thing about working with people like Corey or Daphne or Jimmy who have experience in the theater is that it made me want to experience that. I will definitely be happy to do that in the future.
In the Heights star Leslie Grace on filming this unforgettable, gravity-defying scene