Actress Olga Merediz stopped by Deadline’s Contenders: New York on Saturday to talk about reprising her role as Abuela Claudia from Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes’ Broadway musical In the Heights for Jon M. Chu’s Warner Bros film of the same name.
The Tony nominee called the film “a joy ride” and noted the different perspective she brought to Claudia’s story, 10 or so years down the line. “When you do a role, usually, you give it your all, finish and say goodbye,” she said onstage at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens. “But I had to remember what I did on Broadway and Off Broadway, with the difference that in 10 years, we all as human beings grow every year. So, I gave it more depth and more of the person I had become.”
In the Heights is set in the titular Latinx community of New York City’s bustling Washington Heights. When the neighborhood’s charismatic local bodega owner (and the pic’s humble narrator) finally decides to fulfill his dream of going to the island his parents called home, his departure changes his beloved block forever.
Merediz’s Abuela Claudia is a neighborhood matriarch with a rich and complicated backstory, who advises the young people around her as they look to find their place in the world as immigrants or children of immigrants. The character’s own journey as an immigrant is fully captured in the song “Paciencia y Fe,” which the actress performed in part at today’s event.
“Since my family were immigrants from Cuba, every single line of that song has some sort of memory or experience attached to it that I brought from my own background,” she said.
Merediz noted that when it came to the original stage production of In the Heights, she’d actually wanted to play a different character, telling its key creatives in auditioning for the role of Abuela Claudia that it was not going to work. “And of course, I auditioned and the rest is history,” she recalled. “Then, I had to kind of step up to the plate.”
In the Heights also stars Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrer, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Gregory Diaz IV, Stephanie Beatriz, Dascha Polanco and Jimmy Smits. While the film’s release was initially set for 2020, it was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic. It made its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in June, hitting U.S. theaters and HBO Max the same month.
Hudes adapted the screenplay and produced alongside Miranda, Anthony Bregman, Mara Jacobs and Scott Sanders, with Jill Furman, Kevin McCollum, Kevin McCormick, David Nicksay and Jeffrey Seller exec producing.
Check out the panel video above.