Aussies love her as the tough-talking, hard-bitten detective Rosa Diaz in the binge-worthy sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
But now fans are set to see a completely different side to actress Stephanie Beatriz when she appears in the big screen version of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical In The Heights, out in cinemas on Thursday.
When news.com.au sat down with her on the set of the film in New York in 2019, Rosa’s iconic features – her deep voice, curly hair, leather jacket and stand-offish vibe – were nowhere to be found.
Instead, Beatriz had transformed into hair stylist Carla, sporting tight-fitting activewear, hair extensions and hoop earrings.
She went out of her way to make the assembled journalists feel welcome on set, bounding over to say hello between takes filming a musical number.
News.com.au asked her how her character in the movie differed from the one viewers love so much on TV.
“The voice first of all,” she said.
“Something that I believe really strongly is my favourite kind of acting is character acting, meaning when a character is shaped and created from resources that you’ve gathered and also parts of yourself that you’ve kind of turned up the volume on or exploded.”
In the case of Carla, Beatriz has cranked up the volume on her voice, ratcheting it up into a cartoonish register that couldn’t be further from Rosa’s monotone.
“For fans of the show (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), who have watched seven seasons out there, I hope they’re going to be pleasantly surprised that I am a pretty damn good actress.”
The musical, written by the man behind smash Broadway show Hamilton, is a colourful celebration of New Yorkers fighting to achieve their dreams in the rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood of Washington Heights.
The filmmakers have high hopes it will win hearts, even going so far as to compare it to one of the most beloved movie musicals.
“There have been a lot of musicals of late and they come in different shapes and sizes,” producer Scott Sanders said.
“Disney does their version; La La Land is a different form of musical.
“I would say in some ways this feels more like Grease.
“If you think about those big tent-pole musicals with lots of characters and fun and whimsy and dancing – not necessarily the period piece of it, but certainly from the choreography and big production numbers and intimate moments combined – it’s got a little bit of the spirit of Grease.”
One of those key moments is an eye-popping musical number shot in an outdoor swimming pool, which took three days to shoot and includes 1000 extras.
Some of the scenes were shot on the streets of New York, while other moments were captured on a set inside a former armoury in Brooklyn.
A small grocery shop was built opposite an appropriately dated hair salon, both of which were so authentic you could see the inner-city grime caked onto the windows.
News.com.au was able to watch Beatriz in action during the filming of the number No Me Diga (which means “You don’t say”), an exuberant song that sums up the gossip that goes down in a hair salon.
The salon sported gold-rimmed mirrors, wood panelling and a lino floor that made it look like the decor hadn’t been touched since the 1980s.
Like Grease before it, at the heart of In The Heights is a love story between Anthony Ramos’s shopkeeper Usnavi and Melissa Barrera’s Vanessa, who has dreams of becoming a fashion designer and moving downtown.
Barrera says of her character: “She’s this girl that puts on this facade of ‘all the men want something to do with me’ … but what you really want is someone to see who she really is. Besides just your physical appearance, who’s going to really see?
“And that was Usnavi. He’s been ‘seeing’ her since they were kids. So it’s a very beautiful little love story that they have.”
Ramos did Barrera a big favour during the audition process that helped her score the role.
“I hit up on Melissa privately on Instagram – I slid into the DMs – and I said, ‘You want to meet up like an hour before the audition to grab a bite just so we ain’t going in there like strangers? We gotta act like we’ve been in love for all this time, we’ve known each other. If you want to meet up, let’s do that,’” Ramos said.
“And she sent me this long-ass message like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so happy you hit me (up)!’”
Barrera said the brief meeting before their chemistry test was the clincher.
“So we had lunch. And we clicked. It was like we’ve known each other from past lives or something. We just connected,” she said.
“If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know if I would be here, so I’m forever grateful.”