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Stephanie Beatriz, Dascha Polanco, and Daphne Rubin-Vega Are the Holy Trinity of In the Heights

“Tell me something I don’t know,” salon girls Daniela, Cuca, and Carla trill while trimming bangs, painting nails, and waxing mustaches in this year’s splashy In the Heights. While it may seem like they’re combing for gossip, the women, played by Daphne Rubin-Vega, Dascha Polanco, and Stephanie Beatriz, say their business is far more than a café con leche klatch. “It’s about what we bring to the community,” says Polanco. “There’s nothing wrong with a little brush of the hair, and the confidence that comes with it.”

Directed by Jon M. Chu and based on Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes’s Tony Award–winning musical, In the Heights—a film that is “the perfect vax summer treat”—is finally getting the big-screen treatment after being shelved for a year due to the pandemic. “This movie has medicinal properties,” says Rubin-Vega. “That unbridled joy just pops out at you.”

Throughout the musical, Rubin-Vega, Polanco, and Beatriz are hardly seen without each other—or their characters’ signature crop tops and belt bags, for that matter. “These three people know that they function better together than separately,” says Beatriz. And that connection seems to have seeped into real life, too, with all three actresses sharing stories and inside jokes with Vanity Fair over videoconference on a weekend in June. “We’re like a really balanced triple threat,” says Polanco. 

Vanity Fair: What was your relationship to In the Heights before joining the cast?

Stephanie Beatriz: I have known Quiara [Alegría Hudes, the playwright] for a long time. The first professional play that I ever did was a Quiara play. We were young in New York together, and I remember her saying to me, “I think I might write the book for this new musical by this guy named Lin.” I saw the original workshop production, where half of the blocking was just people sitting in black chairs on the side of the stage. I was so moved because I had never seen anything like it before—it was incredible to watch a musical and see people that look like you up there.

Daphne Rubin-Vega: Fun fact—I was actually the voice of the DJ on the radio at the top of the show during the first incarnations off-Broadway, and then on Broadway. I was the DJ who warned you that it was going to be a scorcher!

Dascha Polanco: I didn’t get to see it on Broadway. In my community, financially it’s not a thing we have the chance to take part of. I knew that it existed and was like, ‘Oh, that’s amazing. One day.’ And then my ‘one day’ turned into being a part of the film.

I’m an immigrant and an example of coming to New York City and having a dream. The dream you have is not necessarily believable or supported, because it just doesn’t happen for us so often. You need security—be a doctor, a lawyer, go to school and do what you’re supposed to do. You don’t have time to dream of these fantasy careers. There were so many emotions that came into play about life as I was shooting. It’s like this parallel universe where you realize that you’re not alone.

The movie adaptation of In the Heights has been a huge deal since it was announced all the way back in 2008. What was your casting process like?

Rubin-Vega: I think the whole Latino acting community on the planet knew that this film was going to be made. We all auditioned. I waited as patiently as I could. People thought that because I knew Quiara and Lin, or that I had theater experience, I knew something others didn’t. I was like, “I got nothing. I’m just sitting here waiting.” I’m not going to lie—it was an opportunity of timing and incredible luck. We are very fortunate to be here, because there are a lot of wonderful actors out there.

Polanco: I had never seen an audition room where everyone was a reflection of my family. I was like, ‘Oh, shit. This is a first.’ It didn’t become a competition. It wasn’t ‘I hope this bitch doesn’t get it,’ or anything like that. It was more that we all want to have the opportunity to audition for something, and regardless of the outcome, look at what’s happening. I had never seen such a diverse auditioning room.

It looks like you had so much fun filming, and the three of you seem to have such a tight bond. Was there anything you did to solidify your trio’s dynamic?

Rubin-Vega: Well, we had our own boot camp. In April, we met, learned the songs, and sang together, and in May, we were together every day in the studio rehearsing the choreography. We were really marinating and living together, so that by the time we were shooting in June, we were locked, loaded, and prepared. When we weren’t together, all we did was sleep! But every moment that we spent together was truly charged with magic.

Polanco: We all have qualities that balance our trio. It’s like the yin and yang: I’m the black, Stephanie is the white, and Daphne is both of the dots. I learned from Stephanie and Daphne. Being in the studio was the first time telling the world I love singing. Everybody had to be there while we were recording—Lin, the producers…and then Stephanie walked in with a voice humidity oxygen mask.

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