Lights up on Washington Heights! Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s first Tony-winning Broadway musical, In the Heights, is set to jumpstart the careers of its fresh-faced cast members after heading to the big screen (and HBO Max).
Anthony Ramos first caught theater fans’ attention as John Laurens and Philip Hamilton in Miranda’s Hamilton, which started streaming in July 2020 on Disney+, a role he originated on Broadway. When director Jon M. Chu (also known for 2018’s Crazy Rich Asians) cast him as bodega owner Usnavi in the musical about a neighborhood in Manhattan, he and Miranda didn’t realize what a leader he’d be on set.
“If there’s any catchphrase from our set,” Miranda told the New York Times in June 2021, “it’s Anthony screaming, ‘Let’s go! For the culture!’ He really embodied the belief that we are our ancestors’ wildest dreams and we are getting to tell their stories.”
Ramos plays a New York City business owner who dreams of going back to the Dominican Republic to revive his father’s bar. However, it’s Nina’s story of being the successful kid who will leave the neighborhood that the actor related to most.
The Brooklyn native said he “for sure” felt the same pressure as Nina (Leslie Grace), who is returning from her freshman year at Stanford University, where she struggled to feel at home as a minority.
“Because any minute, you feel like you could lose it,” Ramos told CBS ahead of the film’s premiere. “You know, especially when you grow up feeling like one good thing happens and two bad things happen, you know, it’s wild. Sometimes I feel like, you know, I’m the one who made it out. I’m a part of a group of people who can tell the stories.”
While the leading man is getting comfortable on the big screen, Grace is just getting used to acting. In the Heights marked her big screen debut, and Nina is a huge starring role for the singer-turned-actress.
“I just feel so blessed,” the Latin Grammy nominee told AP in June 2021. “I feel fulfilled to be a part of something that not only is so beautiful and so big and was so incredibly challenging and fun to make, but that also gives back and pays homage to the stories of my mother and my grandmother and my family, my dad, you know, the people that I really know that have brought me up and that have supported me in so many ways. It’s a full-circle experience for all of us for so many reasons, but for me it’s really close to home because of the story.”
Scroll through to get to know the cast and characters of In the Heights: