In the Heights – Interview with Olga Merediz and Jimmy Smits


Lakshmi Iyer

Veteran actors Olga Merediz and Jimmy Smits play important roles in the musical, “In the Heights”. Ms. Merediz plays the beloved Abuela, grandmother to the entire neighborhood. Jimmy Smits is cast as Rosario, the car dealership owner who has high hopes for his daughter, Nina, and is ready to get into heavy debt to finance her expensive college education at Stanford.

Excerpts of the interview:

India Post (IP): Considering that you have done such a diverse range of roles over your career, how different was it working in a musical like this? 

Jimmy Smits: It was a little tool in my toolbox that I had since high school (laughing)! I don’t know… that thing is there in my toolbox, and I haven’t pulled it out. There was not heavy lifting in that regard. But I still had to do a lot of work. I have four vocal coaches on two different coasts to prove that (laughing).

But it was a joy to be able to do just in terms of what the film was saying and my participation, what I wanted to do more than anything was try to keep what I did grounded in the kind of reality because it’s part of kind of, I felt, what was needed in a film where you have a lot of music and dance happening at the same time.       

Olga Merediz (interjecting): Yeah, you are a master at that!

Jimmy Smits (continuing): So, it was important to kind of have that happening at my end. But I got to see Olga do this in three different iterations – off Broadway, Broadway and then on the silver screen, to see her be able to do that not only that show stopping number but kind of theme that is so universal that anybody can understand, that any immigrant community can understand…having faith and patience, knowing what home is, knowing what our community is. That’s why Jon Chu was THE person, Olga, I said this before, he’s born to direct this film. It’s what all our dreams are about coming to this country.  

IP: What inspired each of you to take up acting? 

Merediz: I think acting is something you have to do; it’s inside of you. I was going to do something else; I was going to be an international something or other, with many languages and then I just tried it and I said I have to do this. It’s just something you either have a gift for or you don’t, it’s inside of you, it’s a way to express yourself and you have to express yourself, you have to let it out. And I was just going to give myself two years to see if it worked out and it worked out (laughing). 

Smits: For me, after a little bit of therapy, (laughing) I’ve noticed that…my family moved around a lot when I was growing up for a lot of different reasons – economic, health, family reasons. And because of that, we were forced to go to different neighborhoods because of our economic thing and I was always trying to fit in. It was a time when we moved from the United States back to my mother’s homeland in Puerto Rico where I had to go to school, and I just immersed myself in the culture that I kind of knew peripherally. 

And I think that all of those things – those components of trying to fit in and assuming different characters – have a lot to do with why I chose doing what I do. A therapy session and rehab at the same time! (laughs)