“There’s no way in hell a major network is gonna cast two Latina actresses in such a tight ensemble show I AM SCREWED.” In a blog for Latina.com Stephanie Beatriz shared honest, open thoughts about her initial reaction to learning that Melissa Fumero had been cast as Amy Santiago on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. And she was almost right in her assumption, because, just a few years ago, this isn’t something that would have happened. She went on to describe “The Latina” as a very particular trope on television, and there’s always been just room for one—which is why she thought Fumero’s casting automatically meant bad news for her. FOX surprised Beatriz, and she ended up getting cast as Detective Rosa Diaz. Diaz is al little odd (or a lot), grumpy, hilarious, and she’s Latina, which is cool too—but we’re thankful that this fact doesn’t dominate the character’s personality.
And we’re thankful for a second season of the comedy series. The Brooklyn Nine-Nine premiere airs tonight, and Paste caught up with Beatriz to talk diversity, fun on set, and Season Two spoilers (tiny ones, we promise).
Paste Magazine: I see from Twitter that you’re knee-deep in Nick Offerman’s new book.
Stephanie Beatriz: Oh yeah! It is so good.
Paste: I believe it! I was also reading about how you first moved to New York to pursue acting, then went to Los Angeles. When did you know it was time to make that big move to the west coast?
Beatriz: I didn’t, really. I had been working in theatre pretty consistently when I decided. One thing that helped was that I had a play that had a west coast premiere. So I was in LA doing this play, and thought maybe that was the next thing to do. I was also spending so much time outside of New York doing regional theatre. It’s like, you move to New York to do theatre around the country, and then you move to LA to get on a TV show. It’s kind of weird (laughs).
Paste: Your role did not specifically call for a Latina actress, and you were cast anyway. Looking at shows like Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Orange is the New Black, and others, do you feel like the industry is changing in terms of the types of roles actors of color are getting?
Beatriz: Yes, I actually mentioned Orange is the New Black and lots of other shows in the blog I wrote for Latina.com. Obviously, the face of television looks different from what it was 50 years ago. When you think about it, it hasn’t even been that long since we decided, “Yes, people of color—you should have the same voting rights as white people.” So it is changing. It’s slow, but it’s sure.
Paste: Along those same lines, I also saw that you’re supporting the film Solace. Can you talk about the project more, and why it’s important to you?
Beatriz: It’s particularly important because the filmmaker, Tchaiko Omawale, is a friend of mine. She and I met on the film You’re Not You. She was assistant director on that, and it’s coming out in October. Eating disorders are such a a huge part of our society. The teenage years are a particularly vulnerable time for young women—so much body-comparing and body-hating. It’s so important for a story about eating disorders to be told from the perspective of a young woman of color. It’s not a story I’ve ever seen. It started out as a short, and when I saw that she was making it into a full length feature, I got so excited.
Paste: I was talking with our critic who reviews the show, and he told me that—of all the characters on Brooklyn Nine-Nine—he thinks you have the biggest balancing act. There’s the tough side of Rosa that we usually see, and then that more vulnerable side. Is there one that you have more difficulty playing, or one that you prefer to play?
Beatriz: Selfishly, as an actor, the emotional stuff is really fun for me. Getting really emotional—those epic scenes that you get to do—I love that. But this character is really different from that. She really keeps stuff super close, and it’s just not that kind of show. No one’s tuning into Brooklyn Nine-Nine to see anyone break down (laughs). It’s fun! It’s a fun show. But there are times when I’m like, “C’mon, let’s turn on the water works!” And then I have to remind myself, like, it’s the eighth episode. Calm down. But Rosa is hella fun—she’s hella fun to play. And anytime that there’s a little glimpse of her vulnerability, it’s fun for me.
Paste: This cast has an interesting dynamic, since pretty much all of you are comedians, except for Andre Braugher, who’s considered to be a dramatic actor. What’s the energy like on set?
Beatriz: It’s really fun. Comedians aren’t always on, just like dramatic actors aren’t always down in the dumps. I definitely think that there are some people whose personalities lend themselves to humor, like Andy [Samberg] and Chelsea [Peretti]—they are so witty and fast, and the stuff that comes out of their mouths is hysterical. Going to work with people who are really friendly is great. It gets a little dark at the end of a 12-hour day, but we’re all collectively, without knowing it, doing the same thing. We all like to create an environment that feels like it’s a safe place to be creative in.
Paste: The season premiere is Sunday! I’m sure you can’t give too much away, but what can you tell us?
Beatriz: We’re picking up where we left off last season, but we’re jumping a little bit in time. Jake was working undercover for the FBI, and we’re picking up after he’s come back to the precinct. There are some loose ends that he’s going to tie up. We also get to continue this storyline where Boyle and Gina slept together. That’s going to be really fun to see how they handle that in the office. And we’re going to see what’s going on with Jake and Amy. All of those lingering questions get sort of answered in the first couple of episodes.
Paste: Well, I really love your character, and I’m looking forward to watching more. Thanks so much for this!
Beatriz: Thank you!
Shannon M. Houston is Assistant TV Editor at Paste, and a New York-based freelance writer with probably more babies than you. You can follow her on Twitter.