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Get To Know The Cast Of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s ‘In The Heights’ Musical Film

The movie musical features a cast of Broadway veterans and new talents to watch.

Over a decade since it first premiered on Broadway, Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first musical In The Heights has made its way to the silver screen. Directed by Jon M. Chu, the same talent who helmed the juggernaut hit film Crazy Rich Asians, In The Heights tells the story of a largely Latin American community living in Washington Heights.

Whether you’re a fan of musicals or not, the utterly stellar In The Heights cast and the film’s uplifting narrative is sure to draw you in any way.

That said, the road to the In The Heights movie finally being made wasn’t necessarily a smooth one. With a cast of characters who are predominantly immigrants of Latinx descent, Miranda explained he struggled to get the film greenlit—mainly for commercial reasons.

Studios claimed that they needed a well-known “bankable” Latinx celebrity to star in the film, with Miranda telling Variety that a lot of the pushback he received amounted to “We’re not taking a chance on an expensive movie with Latino stars.”

(For what it’s worth, a 2021 study estimated that Hollywood studios were leaving a potential $10 billion dollars every year as a result of undervaluing diversity.)

Watch: In The Heights (Official Trailer)

Thankfully, In The Heights was ultimately greenlit and found itself an assembly of talented actors to bring the Tony award-winning musical, whose book was written by Quiara Alegría Hudes, to life.

Here, the cast of In The Heights and where you may have seen them before.

Meet the In The Heights cast

Anthony Ramos

Anthony Ramos as Usnavi de la Vega

Our handsome leading man and narrator throughout In The Heights is Anthony Ramos. Hamilton fans will recognise him as a previous collaborator of Miranda’s, with Ramos having appeared in the original cast of the Hamilton musical. Ramos played John Laurens and Alexander Hamilton’s son, Philip Hamilton. This also isn’t his first time appearing in In The Heights, during a 2012 production of the musical he appeared as the character Sonny de la Vega.

Usnavi is torn between his dream to return to the Dominican Republic he remembers from his youth or remaining in the community he loves very dearly, including of course Vanessa, his crush.

Leslie Grace

Leslie Grace as Nina Rosario

Leslie Grace is an American singer and actress of Dominican descent who plays Nina Rosario, the golden child of Washington Heights who many pin their own dreams on—including her family.

Nina is struggling under the pressure of carrying her father’s dreams, facing cultural isolation while studying at the prestigious Stanford University and, because this is a musical after all, working through her feelings for Benny.

Grace, like her character, grew up in New York City and while In The Heights is her first film credit, as a solo artist she’s been nominated for multiple Latin Grammy and Billboard awards.

Corey Hawkins

Corey Hawkins as Benny

One of the few non-Latinx actors in In The Heights, Corey Hawkins plays Usnavi’s friend Benny, an ambitious young man who works for Nina’s father Kevin at the family’s business, a car dispatch. Like so many of the In The Heights characters, Benny dreams of bettering his life and moving up in the world—for him, the ‘out’ is through his professional hustle.

Hawkins is a Tony-award winning actor who you might recognise from the critically lauded film Straight Outta Compton or his time on The Walking Dead television series.

Melissa Barrera

Melissa Barrera as Vanessa

Mexican actress and singer Melissa Barrera plays Vanessa, who is not only the object of Usnavi’s affections but draws the eye of nearly every hot-blooded male in Washington Heights. Her character Vanessa works at Daniela’s hair salon and dreams of escaping the neighbourhood—she wants to become a successful fashion designer and move downtown. 

Barrera has a number of Spanish-language telenovelas under her belt, including Siempre tuya Acapulco and Tanto amor and also starred in the drama series Vida.

Olga Merediz

Olga Merediz as Abuela Claudia

One of the original members of the In The Heights musical, Olga Merediz actually garnered a Tony Award nomination for her performance as Abuela Claudia in the original Broadway show.

Claudia is the matriarch of the community—though she has no biological children so many characters in the film consider the Cuban immigrant a mother figure. Merediz has also appeared in Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Orange Is The New Black.

Daphne Rubin-Vega

Daphne Rubin-Vega as Daniela

Longtime Broadway actress Daphne Rubin-Vega plays Daniela, the owner of the hair salon that Vanessa works at—though she intends to leave the Heights neighbourhood to move her salon to a busier locale.

Rubin-Vega is a Panamanian-American who originated the role of Mimi in the acclaimed musical Rent, as well as having performed in productions of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Les Misérables.

Stephanie Beatriz

Stephanie Beatriz as Carla

Stephanie Beatriz plays Carla, who is both the life and business partner of salon owner Daniela. You’ll likely recognise her from a very different performance as Detective Rosa Diaz in Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

Dascha Polanco

Dascha Polanco as Cuca

Cuca is actually a newly created character, who doesn’t appear in the original In The Heights musical. Here, the vibrant character is played by Dascha Polanco, who is known for her roles in Orange Is The New Black, as well as turns in The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story and Russian Doll.

Marc Anthony

Marc Anthony as Mr de la Vega

If there is a ‘name’ amongst the In The Heights cast, it’s Marc Anthony. The Latin musician is a juggernaut popstar, having won multiple Grammy Awards and selling over 12 million albums globally.

His star status was in fact so legendary that the film’s creators weren’t even sure how he’d handle the small acting part created for the musical’s film version. “I just love the fact that he chose to do that. That scene was a gift to all of us,” said Anthony’s co-star Jimmy Smits. 

It’s worth going into In The Heights not knowing too much about Anthony’s character, but suffice to say he is Usnavi’s uncle and Sonny’s father.

Jimmy Smits

Jimmy Smits as Kevin Rosario

Veteran actor Jimmy Smits plays Kevin Rosario, Nina’s well-meaning but pressurising father who is striving to create a good life for his family.

Smits’s career is expansive, having held roles in a myriad of TV shows and films. Places you’ll have likely seen him before: The West Wing, Dexter, How To Get Away With Murder and Sons Of Anarchy.

Gregory Diaz IV

Gregory Diaz IV as Sonny de la Vega

Young actor, singer and dancer Gregory Diaz IV  takes on the character of Sonny, Usnavi’s younger cousin who works with him at the bodega. Whipsmart and passionate about justice, Sonny advocates for his community whilst dealing with his own struggles as a ‘Dreamer’ and undocumented immigrant. 

Diaz has appeared in the Broadway production of Matilda the Musical, several Off Broadway shows and had a part in The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

Christopher Jackson

Christopher Jackson as Mr Softee

A nod to both Hamilton and musical fans, the character of Mr Softee is played by Christopher Jackson.

Jackson has been appearing in Broadway musicals since 1997 and was recently, of course, part of the original Hamilton cast with Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Lin Manuel Miranda

Lin-Manuel Miranda as Mr Piragüero, aka the Piragua Guy

While Lin-Manuel Miranda played Usnavi in the original In The Heights musical, Miranda ultimately gave the part to Anthony Ramos as he considered himself now too old for the character.

Throughout the In The Heights film, Mr Piragüero sells piraguas, a shaved iced dessert. He also competes with Mr Softee, who the film paints as a kind of a symbol of commercialism and erosion of tradition.

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