Watch Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jon M. Chu lead an emotional conversation with the cast of In the Heights
"I feel like I've been waiting all my life for all of you," Miranda told his costars and director during EW's Around the Table series.
The lights have finally come up on In the Heights - the film adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda's first Broadway musical - so EW got Miranda, the cast (Anthony Ramos, Melissa Barrera, Leslie Grace, Olga Merediz, Jimmy Smits, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Corey Hawkins, Dascha Polanco, and Gregory Diaz IV), and director Jon M. Chu together for an Around the Table discussion of their beloved showstopper of a movie. Our reports that there were tears are not greatly exaggerated.
Miranda kicked things off by asking Chu his first impression of the show when he saw it on stage many years before. While the Crazy Rich Asians director said he never thought of himself as directing an adaptation of it one day, he did admit to seeing certain moments through a cinematic lens. "Lin, I think you have some sort of connection with the main source of the universe, because you plugged into this thing that moved me so much that I couldn't get it out of my head," he began. "That shot of Usnavi in the window in our movie, and he's singing outside and you can feel the yearning, the hope, what it feels like to dream and yet there's a window in his way. The reflection of what's in the window is the community, dancing and basically daring him to break that window, challenging him saying, I dare you to dream bigger and he has to break it. To me, that was what I got from the show and I knew that image very early that that was what I wanted to do."
Chu wasn't the only one who had had his eye on the musical for some time. Indeed, Ramos had auditioned for the role of Usnavi years before (for one of the previous iterations of the movie) but had, in his mind at least, bombed the audition. Luckily, Miranda has no recollection of that first meeting and instead recalls most vividly Ramos' audition for Hamilton. "I don't remember anything until your Hamilton audition a few years later," he told Ramos. "When you sang 'My Shot' and you looked ready to destroy the world. I was like, oh, this kid is hungry. It was a wrap after that." Later, Miranda added, "I didn't know I was writing [the role of Usnavi] for you until I saw you do it, so imagine my delight - I played Usnavi, and Anthony is Usnavi." We warned you there were tears.
Ramos found that Usnavi's experience mirrored his own in many ways. "I wanted to run away for so many years because I thought if I could leave [my neighborhood], I'd made it," he said. "If only I can get out. What this movie taught me…over time, is that it's actually finding peace within yourself, which is what this character Usnavi - this dude who is dreaming of leaving - [does]."
Likewise, Grace auditioned for the role of Nina, but it wasn't until she returned to audition a second time a year later that she had enough life experience to really relate to the character's struggles and therefore bring her to life. "I was in real time experiencing a lot of the pressure that Nina does feel and that we do explore through the character in the movie, which is the guilt of not feeling fully comfortable stepping into a path that your parents worked so hard for you to even dream of and the responsibility…of taking care of the people that brought you up and admitting the fear of that." Again, there were tears.
At this point, Smits stepped in to explain the cast are very "emotionally available" to one another, partly due to a two-month bootcamp in which they all partook prior to filming commencing. "That cohesion that happened, in terms of what ensemble is and what community is, those are the themes that Lin and Quiara [Alegría Hudes] wrote when the show was originally done."
For Hawkins, getting the chance to be part of the first Broadway musical he'd ever seen still seems unbelievable to him, as is being part of something that elevates representation. "To be a part of something that just lifts up who we are on screen and representation and to literally see ourselves...it was just beautiful," he said.
Barrera was similarly blown away to be part of a musical she saw many times on the stage. Knowing her dedicated fandom, Miranda surprised her on set by calling Karen Olivo, who originated the role of Vanessa on Broadway. "Literally, my legs gave out," said Barrera. "I was already nervous because it was day one of shooting and I had to jump into song and dance of 'It Won't Be Long Now' and then seeing her and having her be so sweet and wish me luck, it was exactly what I needed that day."
Having shed a lot of tears and reveled in their love for one another and the magical movie they created together, Manuel signed off with a touching declaration. "This show exists because I just didn't see a way forward," he said. "I love musicals so much and I just don't dance well enough to be a Shark [one of the gangs in West Side Story]… I feel like I've been waiting all my life for all of you, and thank you Jon for dreaming so big on behalf of all of us."
Watch the full video above.
In the Heights is in theaters and on HBO Max now.