Remember rubbing up against people? Or better yet, remember walking around your city in the midst of a sweltering heat wave wearing next to nothing, glistening with sweat and just knowing that you are physically and metaphorically hot and that everyone is feeling you? Well, if you’ve forgotten what that very specific and very titillating feeling is like, In The Heights will promptly remind you. The musical, which is set to be released in theatres and for purchase on demand on June 10 (Canadians can rent the movie on the Cineplex store and other digital rental platforms), is, in a word, sticky. Based off the Lin- Manuel Miranda-created musical of the same name, the film — which follows several Latinx residents of Washington Heights, NY as they chase their respective dreams (or suen֘itos) — is the official antidote to the last year-and-a-half of isolation, an out-of-this-world homage to dancing, touching, and, honestly, straight-up sweating. From over-the-top dance numbers in the street, to sultry salsa in a NY club, to lead character Usnavi (played by Hamilton star and hunk Anthony Ramos) spending a majority of the film sweating in a tank top, the film is all about embracing: the heat, your dreams, your culture, other people — and it’s hot.
But, the film also has heart. For all of the sweeping outdoor musical numbers (like the iconic “96,000," which takes place in the neighbourhood’s local pool), a lot of the community is fostered in the more intimate spaces, like Abuela Claudia’s kitchen and Usnavi’s corner store. One of those spaces is Daniela’s hair salon. Played by Daphne Rubin-Vega, Daniela and her friends Cuca (played by Dascha Polanco), and Carla (Stephanie Beatriz), create and offer a space for women in the neighbourhood to get together, gossip, and share their mutual experiences, all while primping and being pampered. It’s a space — and an experience — that’s integral to members of the Latinx community, and one that’s familiar to many women IRL. Which is what makes the film all that more special.
Ahead of the June 10 release of In The Heights, Refinery29 Canada sat down with stars Rubin-Vega and Polanco over Zoom to talk about women as community builders, their personal connections to the characters they played, and their plans for a steamy, post-COVID summer.
Refinery29: One of my favourite scenes was the song in Daniela’s hair salon and the community that's clearly fostered there. These women fill everyone in on what’s going on in the community and keep them connected, something we’ve been missing in quarantine. I’m wondering if you also feel this way, and can speak to the importance of these spaces?
Daphne Rubin-Vega: “Oh, absolutely. [Dascha and I] share a lot of this. A lot of our female ancestors did hair to be self-sufficient and empowered within our communities. This is a representation of that. I love to call us the high priestesses; we protect, we nurture, we groom inside and out; we give therapy. You just reminded me, Dasch, we take care of kids [and] it's a nursery, too. So there’s a sense of healing inside and out. Also, there's gossip. It's like that female embodiment of that kind of energy that's protective. I love what the salon evokes.”
R29: Dascha, I read that your mom was a cosmetologist. Did that inform how you approached the role?
Dascha Polanco: “My mom was a cosmetologist, but she never got to really practice except on me, so that's a different type of expert because you don't get no choices there [laughs]. But it’s a cultural thing for the Latinx community; my aunt has a salon, so I drew a lot of that from her. These are the women and the places that we go to on a weekly basis, and they see us grow up and they give us advice or they tattletale on you to your mom. But most importantly, they start off with a dream and they own something in a foreign country, [an idea] that for them was never possible. So although our dreams are different, the common denominator is that. It starts off with a dream, of hope, of pushing through adversity and creating these neighbourhoods. That’s our family, that's our safe place. Some of us stay and some of us move out. But throughout it and in the salon, working along Daphne and Stephanie [Beatriz], it was amazing to see you how we come from different journeys and trajectories. But we all had that that bond; we’re generous with one another, we had a lot of intention and purposes, and we wanted to have fun and be as authentic as we can be.
“The only thing that I would take back would be not being as confident as I should have been. Because this is new, right? [We’re] not [usually] in these productions. We’re not usually in these films where everybody you look at [on set] is a reflection of you, and they understand the language, they understand why you move certain ways, they understand your food, they understand why we're so touchy and why we kiss and hug each other. There wasn't tension. The vibes and the energy [on set], everybody was flowing and comfortable, and that is what our communities are. The noise that for some is noise is music for us.”
DR-V: “That's when I listen to my block.”
R29: This movie is also really steamy and sexy. As the first big summer blockbuster to come out since the pandemic started, it’s perfect because everyone’s raring to get outside and to have a hot and steamy summer. What are you both most looking forward to doing post-Covid?”
DP: “I'm ready to celebrate and go to the movies and be around people and germs! I’m a very social individual; I enjoy people, I enjoy being present. After COVID, I am so much more inspired — especially by this film — to create more stories and create more of my music and just really enjoy now, because life is not guaranteed. You’re here one and you're not here the next and you have to live in the moment. I always say that: let live, respect others, and be free.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.