You probably know her as the “tough, smart, and scary as hell” Rosa Diaz from the critically acclaimed Brooklyn Nine-Nine comedy series. But Stephanie Beatriz wants to channel her tough-girl energy into roles with even more depth.
She’s looking for films that will flex her Shakespearean theater-toned chops (she did a stint at regional repertory theater, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival before going on television). More important, the Argentina-native is ready to fight for more representation in Hollywood. And she may have finally found just the dynamic role she’s been looking for in upcoming drama The Light of The Moon.
This SXSW audience award-winning film features Beatriz as a rape survivor named Bonnie. Beatriz told us that the film allowed her to push herself out of her comfort zone while teaching herself a thing or two about how women are portrayed in the industry. We hopped on a call with the actress to talk all things drama, comedy, and the genre she wants to tackle next.
What do you want to see from your Brooklyn Nine-Nine character Rosa Diaz next season?
I want to see Rosa do some more action stuff. Last season, we had Rosa parkour up a wall hooked up to this giant rig and it was so fun to do. We had a stunt double, but I think they ended up using most of the shots that I did because I can recognize my own butt on camera by this point. See I would really love to use our smaller screen to do sort of the same thing Wonder Woman has done for the big screen. At one point, I was watching the movie thinking, I’ve never had this feeling, when I’m watching a superhero movie and can see myself as the hero. I want Rosa take down the really bad people like that.
You also want to play Marvel Comics’ America Chavez or “Miss America” superhero.
Of course I want to play her! I’m hyper-obsessed with the comic right now. She’s just such a bomb character and personally, I love that she’s bisexual. I think that exploration in a superhero would be really, really interesting and cool. I think every Latina in Hollywood probably wants to play her, but I’ll fight them for it. I’ll fight ’em.
What is it about Rosa that made you want to play the role? Is it that kind of badass attitude?
You know, the backstory is that I actually originally auditioned for the role of Amy. In the script, Amy was specified as Latina. So I went in and read for it, and the casting director, Allison Jones (who also cast Freaks and Geeks and Parks and Rec), was like, “You’re great! I’m going to have you come in for this other role, too.” That other role was this character named Megan, really funny and aggressive. I just loved her immediately. I got really lucky in that the writers were unperturbed by me being Latina, they were excited by it. And so that character turned into Rosa.
You did repertory theater at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival before you landed your role on Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
The year before I got Brooklyn, I was doing nine-month-long run for Measure for Measure playing Isabella. There are so many wonderful, powerful, and strong characters in Shakespeare. When I went to LA, I realized Hollywood wasn’t necessarily allowing women to be as strong as they actually are. To see Rosa’s character written that way was just really cool.
You seem to be constantly surrounded by comedians on set. What have you learned from being surrounded by people who must constantly have you in stitches?
Yeah, I’m actually also on a dance squad with various female comedians, too, called “LA City Municipal Dance Squad.” I found some really deep and true, authentic friends in that group of people and I’m so grateful for that. I think part of why they can be so funny and fun, is that they’re really observant. I think (my co-star) Chelsea Peretti is a great example of a comedian who’s just hyper-aware of the world around her. I’m continually flabbergasted at just how fast her brain works.
What’s it like to work with Andy Samberg as well?
Andy’s the same way on the set. Some kind of problem will come up in the script or some kind of thing that isn’t quite working right, and Andy will just shoot out quite a few ideas off the top of his head. It seems like it’s easy for him, but it’s not. He’s working all the time. That’s the thing that I’ve noticed about most comedians, is that it seems so easy for them, but they are working so hard.
They never turn their brains off.
They probably want to. A lot of actors are like that, too, though. I think one of the reasons I wanted to start acting was because I was so observant as a kid and I’m not fast and witty like Chelsea or somebody like that, but I feel like I’m emotionally observant. I modify my behavior and move around other people’s energy, which is a great thing to do in acting because basically, all you’re doing is responding to another person.
Let’s talk a little bit about the industry and representation. You were cast in a series that has two Latina lead characters and a plotline that doesn’t focus solely on their heritage. What’s that like for you?
When you think about prime time television when I was growing up, there was no representation—I was watching Sesame Street, way past when I should have been because there were Latinos on it, you know? It’s absolutely thrilling that our show has multiple leads of color on it and it’s thrilling that it’s happening more and more in television.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a comedy series, your upcoming film is a heavy drama—what genre do you want to break into next?
I’d love to do a romantic comedy. I haven’t seen a woman of color, specifically, a Latina, lead in a romantic comedy for a long time. The only one I can think of was Salma Hayek in Fools Rush In, and that was a long time ago, girl! It’s been a minute. It’s been too long.
Are you looking to break more into movies or do you want to do both movies and TV?
Film is an incredible medium, but television has turned itself into an incredible medium as well. Look at the breadths of the storytelling that’s happening right now in television. You have so many different kinds of stories from so many different perspectives and it’s thrilling! I would love to continue doing television and open myself up to more film. But specifically, I would love to do a romantic comedy because I just don’t think anyone expects it from me. I just think it would be so fun.
On the other side of the coin, you’ve done this movie, The Light of The Moon, about a rape survivor. Why did you want to take that role?
I wanted to do something challenging—specifically, I wanted a meaty, dramatic role. And when my agent sent me this script, I was sort of astounded because I thought wow, we’re actually going to talk about how this specific person feels after this horrible thing happens to her and how she’s going to try to become whole again. I’d never seen anything like that, so I was really excited to do it.
It’s a powerful topic for a lot of women.
It was very powerful and it was very intense. It touches a lot of people. Sadly, I have a really good friend who is sexual assault survivor. So I actually sent her the script when I was thinking about doing the movie and asked her to read it for me. She wrote back and said, “Yes, please do this movie. It’s just like my story, and I want you to tell it.”
How do you prepare for a role like this?
There’s not a lot of preparation you can do. And honestly, I wanted to go into the day of filming that awful rape scene like (my character) Bonnie would be going into her life. She doesn’t expect that shit to happen to her, ever. You hear about it, you read about it, you maybe know people who’ve gone through it. But you don’t really think it’s going to happen to you. I kind of wanted that feeling of, “this is all new and it’s happening right now,” in the actual shooting of the scene.
Was it like to actually shoot the rape scene?
We were down in the basement, of this building in Brooklyn that was really dark and dingy and sweaty and hot. Once I was standing there with this person next to me, with their hand on my arm, it was terrifying. Shooting was really rough for me, sometimes. I was looking around myself in real life wondering okay, is it going to happen now? Is it going to happen now? And what I felt is nothing compared to what actual survivors feel.
What was it like having to slip back into playing Rosa after working on that film?
Most actors are pretty good at switching those gears quickly. But there were a couple times where I was like, “Oh, you feel so crazy wound up inside and you’re having this third glass of wine right now because of what you were just shooting.”
Would you say that that particular role struck a chord with you, that hasn’t been hit before?
Yes. I had never done anything like the rape scene. I had never even done any sex scenes. And it’s, TBH, TERRIFYING to do a sex scene for the first time. I mean, it’s awkward enough to have sex with somebody for the first time. Imagine doing that, except there’s no good part of it because you’re not actually getting to have sex and there’s like, five other people in the room.
What do you want people to take away from watching the film?
To me, if a survivor comes to see the film and feels that I touched on something that they’re struggling with, that means everything.
What have you learned about yourself as an actress at this point in your career?
I’m stronger than I think I am. I think most of us are, we just have to believe it.
See Beatriz in season five of Brooklyn Nine-Nine airing on FOX this fall and in The Light of The Moon, also scheduled to premiere this fall.