Leslie Grace on Those Gravity-Defying Dance Numbers From ‘In the Heights’

Portrait of actress and Latin Grammy nominee Leslie Grace
Leslie Grace's last venture is hip-hop musical-turned-film, 'In the Heights.'Mark Adriane/Nox Media

Latin Grammy nominee and Bronx native Leslie Grace talks gravity-defying dance numbers, frozen desserts, and starring as Nina in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop musical-turned-film, In the Heights. But first, the basics:

  • Age: 26
  • Lottery ticket or scratch-off? Scratch-off!
  • Favorite workout? My mom loves some Zumba. She always drags me to class.
  • Songs to get pumped? Straight-up Marc Anthony.

 

When you first met Lin-Manuel, were you more Billboard-charting singer or theater nerd?

Nerd all the way. I didn’t want to start a conversation with him because I didn’t know if I’d be able to hold my end up. Then I met Lin, and he’s as equally warm as he is brilliant. And we filmed in his Washington Heights neighborhood, so he brought all the homie vibes to the set.

The local bodega is at the heart of this story. What’s your corner store go-to?

All the candy. I want the Blow Pop, the Ring Pop. I’ll add Fritos. And a lotto ticket for Grandma.

What In the Heights lyric do strangers randomly sing at you the most?

“Piragua, piragua.” Anyone who really knows the Heights will start singing that song.

There’s a pivotal scene where Lin, who plays “Piragua Guy,” fights with Mr. Softee. But, fess up, do you get shaved ice or a cone?

I’m not going to lie. I love me some piragua. But sometimes I’ll cheat and have a Mr. Softee. One day after we finished shooting the number “Breathe,” my co-stars and I took the long way around the block to get back to our trailers. This woman recognized me…and there was an ice cream truck. She treated and we all had ice cream with sprinkles. But if Lin was there, he wouldn’t be happy.

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Steal anything from the set?

You know, I did. I took a little bead necklace that Nina wore. My mom has it saved. And an ear cuff that was stuck to my ear for the “When the Sun Goes Down” number. I couldn’t have earrings that didn’t look gravity-less when we’re dancing on the side of a building. That illusion is nuts. There were no harnesses, just us dancing. We held position for a certain amount of time so you don’t notice that the side of the building, the set, was actually tilting.

Looks like you took over the Heights with hundreds of dancers every day.

The energy was incredible. Especially the “Carnaval del Barrio” scene. It was one of the proudest days of my life. There’s this moment when Lin’s up on the fire escape. He’s looking down like a proud dad at this community of dancers of different shades and origins celebrating their nationality. Their roots. We exploded out of that energy. All the pride you see in that number is real. We kept on shouting for 20 minutes after the director, John Chu, yelled cut.

There’s a pretty great Dominican food porn sequence, too.

Oh man, I love me some mangú. I love mofongo. And I know there’s debate whether it’s Dominican or Puerto Rican. But my favorite is the classic rice, beans, and chicken. That’s my comfort food, and now I’m getting hungry.

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You moved to Florida when you were young. So…Yankees or Marlins fan?

Yankees girl all the way. My grandma’s first apartment was at 161st Street and Walton Avenue in the Bronx. We would watch the games at the old Yankee Stadium from the fire escape.

How do you keep your Leslie-From-the-Block attitude?

My mom gives it to me straight. The cast and I have all been saying that we couldn’t have even dreamt of being in this film. My parents have no idea what it means yet. They’re like, “Oh, you’re dancing and singing in a movie? OK. Why is it taking so long to come out?!”

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