Take a New York City subway ride to 181st Street and you'll soon enter the bustling and lively neighborhood of Washington Heights.
The new movie In the Heights, which is based on the Broadway musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes, is a love letter to the community. The film follows the modern-day tight-knit Latinx residents of this special New York neighborhood.
With themes of family, love, immigration, and perseverance, the story lets viewers easily connect to its characters.
Distractify spoke exclusively with one of the film's stars, Gregory Diaz IV, about portraying Usnavi's undocumented teen cousin Sonny, filming on location in the New York City borough, and more.
Gregory Diaz IV talks filming on location in Washington Heights and difficult scenes to shoot.
It's not unusual for films to use soundstages or have set designers "dress" a neighborhood to depict the place being portrayed in the movie. However, In the Heights did not go this route.
"We were in Washington Heights, which brings such an authenticity to the film," Gregory told Distractify about shooting on location. "You can very obviously see it on the screen."
The 16-year-old New York City native even revealed that the film used people from the neighborhood as extras in the background. He said, "At times it was hard to differentiate who was actually part of the film and who was in the neighborhood. I think filming on location was just so amazing compared to filming on a stage."
Since the movie was shot on location, sometimes nailing a big choreographed number proved difficult, especially when mother nature was not on their side.
During the musical number "96,000," the cast and crew shot at a local pool. However, Gregory revealed that it was not the hot summer day that the movie depicts.
"The weather was just not on our side those days we were filming '96,000,'" the actor told us. "It was raining which was really unfortunate. We kept the energy high. We kept our spirits up. The water was just super cold because of the rain."
He continued, "I was in the water for like two to three hours. In between takes, I was shivering but then as soon as they called action I was like, ‘OK, I’m warm now.’"
Gregory was "glad" Sonny's storyline changed from the original Broadway version.
Though there are only a few changes in In the Heights compared to the original Broadway musical, one of the biggest differences is Sonny's undocumented immigrant storyline.
Gregory opened up to Distractify about his character being a DREAMer and why it was important for the film to address such an important political issue.
"As an actor, I was really glad they added that because it added a whole new dimension to the character and something new for me to tackle," he said when asked about the storyline being changed.
While Gregory noted that being an undocumented immigrant is something that does affect Sonny's life, he doesn't want it to "define" who the character is.
"It was really about wanting to elevate and uplift the message in a positive tone," he said. He added, "If there is someone out there who is watching this film that is undocumented and maybe feeling the same way that Sonny is, just letting them know that you do belong."
In the Heights is now in theaters and available to stream on HBO Max.