For Melissa Barrera and Leslie Grace, ‘In the Heights’ Is Setting a New Hollywood Standard


Over a 40-minute Zoom discussion, we talk to Barrera and Grace about bringing this popular musical to the big screen, representation in Hollywood, what it’s really like to work with Lin-Manuel Miranda, and so much more In the Heights scoop. 

Below is a transcript that has been condensed and edited for clarity, full of love and excitement for their proudly Latinx film, no shortage of laughter, and advice for other Latinx people on how to make their own dreams come true.

Glamour: I’d love to start off in the same vein as the movie: What does sueñito (little dream) mean to each of you?

Leslie Grace: Sueñito means all of your deepest desires, even the ones you keep close in your heart and hide from everyone else because you’re so afraid that they might not happen if you say them out loud. That’s what’s sueñito means to me: what you’re willing to risk it all for, what you’re willing to fight for, and that thing that lights you up.

Melissa Barrera: I love the word sueñito, because I feel like it’s such a Latinx thing. In Mexico, we add “-ito” or “-ita” at the end of words all the time. It’s a way of making things feel manageable. A dream can feel daunting and intimidating and sometimes impossible, but adding the “-ito” makes it possible. The sueñito is this little step you want to take. After that you have your next sueñito, and the next. I love that it’s the theme of the movie, because it makes everyone’s dream feel possible.

Speaking of dreams, we see Nina and Vanessa struggle between following the dreams of their parents and the responsibility to always represent and uplift their community. Simultaneously, they have to deal with racism and a sense of otherness while trying to pursue these dreams. Can you talk about why this was so important to represent onscreen?

Grace: Specifically in the Latinx community, it’s a very rarely told story that we get to see through this film: People that are first generation, or immigrants, are shown in this light of “I’m going to find a way to make this little dream possible. It’s not just for me; it’s for everything the generation before me did.” I didn’t grow up seeing movies that represented that, and most definitely not with people that look like me. More than anything, I think it reflects a sense of potential that our generation deserves to see. It’s long overdue that people from where we’re from and that look like us finally get to see that their dreams are possible too.

Barrera: It’s really amazing that this movie has so many different stories and experiences in it. It’s so important to see all the realities and different types of experiences that exist within a community so that everyone feels seen. This movie touches upon microaggressions and racism and all the things the Latinx community goes through that are so important to showcase because it’s a reality. But the message behind it is that despite all the obstacles, despite the struggle, we still come together and celebrate and support each other in the pursuit of our dreams. That’s what sets In the Heights apart.

Anthony Ramos and Melissa Barrera

Corey Hawkins and Leslie Grace

Warner Bros./Everett Collection

You touched on something really important: The film puts powerful Latinas at the forefront and emphasizes their importance in shaping who we are. I would love to know who some of your Latina idols are, and why you admire them.

Grace: Daphne Rubin-Vega.

Barrera: Oh my God, an icon! I was blessed to be able to share a screen with her and share a summer with her and call her a friend. Leslie and I were both huge fans of Daphne as Mimi in Rent. She inspired me and basically single-handedly pushed me to pursue a career in musical theater because I was like, “I can play Mimi in Rent—she’s Latina!”


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