The Lesson This Young ‘In the Heights’ Star Learned From Lin-Manuel Miranda on Set

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Photo Source: Emily Assiran

The following Career Dispatch essay was written by Gregory Diaz, who stars in Lin-Manuel Miranda and John M. Chu’s film adaptation of “In the Heights.” 

I couldn’t have asked for a better experience working on the set of In the Heights. We started with four weeks of dance and singing rehearsal—rehearsing with the top dancers in New York City inspired all of us to bring our A-game every single day. During this time we also recorded tracks in the studio to play back during filming of the musical numbers. It was also during the rehearsal process that my castmates and I started building a bond, and I think that chemistry is apparent on the big screen.  

The sense of community Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jon M. Chu, and the other producers and crew created was extraordinary. The fact that we shot on location in Washington Heights helped elevate the authenticity of the characters and story, and helped create the recipe for success this film will inevitably have.

I was a bit nervous walking on to set my first day of shooting, especially since I was filming one of my more emotional scenes. But Jon M. Chu was able to bring so much out of me and that made the rest of my shooting days go so much smoother. 

Working on such a huge movie musical was an awesome experience and every day was an adventure. Our music and dance numbers are so BIG! I’m still not 100% sure how we pulled it all off in such a short period of time. (For instance, “Carnival del Barrio” was shot in only one day.) We really have to credit the creative team for dreaming big, getting the best out of us, and getting it done.  

All my castmates were so incredible, too. I was such a huge fan of Lin-Manuel Miranda, Anthony Ramos, and Jimmy Smits before getting to meet them. Being able to spend an entire summer watching them work was an unbelievable experience. I am still speechless at times trying to describe the feeling. I was able to pick up bits and pieces from all of them and utilize it in my work.  The same goes for the stories I heard on set from the extras, who were Washington Heights residents. 

Filming “96,000” was my favorite scene to shoot. We filmed over three days and the weather wasn’t cooperating at times but with over 500 extras, it still felt like one huge pool party.  

I am so excited for this film to finally be out there on the big screen after the COVID delays. The entire cast and crew put their blood, sweat, and tears into it and I can’t wait for everyone’s reactions. I hope moviegoers walk away feeling the themes of the film and have some type of connection to home and family; dreaming big; a sense of community. I want the Latinx community to be empowered, represented, and proud. I hope this movie unites us all.

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