With a smiley face bucket hat on his head, Gregory Diaz IV beams down the Zoom lens as he recalls his time filming In The Heights. An adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s latest Tony-winning musical, it’s a blockbuster of epic proportions that celebrates New York’s vibrant Latinx community (although it has been criticised for its lack of Afro-Latino representation). There’s singing, there’s rapping, there’s dancing and there’s romance – everything you need for a post-pandemic, feel-good summer hit.
“I felt like I was going to summer camp everyday to hang out with friends and family. The cast is truly like my second family now,” says Diaz of the filming experience. “Just the experience of being on set with such a large Latinx community, both on and off the camera, I’ve never been a part of something like that before. It was really eye opening and just great to be able to show the positives behind our culture and really help represent.”
Now 16, Diaz has been in the limelight throughout his teenage years, getting his first taste of musical theatre in productions of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and Matilda in 2016. Since then, you might have seen him pop up in Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Shmidt or 2020’s Vampires vs. The Bronx, a comedy horror that takes on gentrification with holy water and homemade weapons.
For In The Heights, Diaz stepped into the shoes of Sonny, a plucky teen with big dreams and odds stacked against him. He’ll make you laugh, for sure, but he might also make you shed a tear or two, as Sonny comes to terms with the systemic barriers that might prevent him going to college. But, to be fair, the whole film is full of tear jerk moments, both happy and sad.
“I saw [the film] with my mum and dad. It didn’t really sink in until the end. I look over and they’re both crying. I’m like, ‘Why are you crying?’ And I immediately started crying right after that,” Diaz says, before feigning a sob. “It was like, ‘Oh, this is why you’re crying’.”
There’s no (real) tears today, though. Instead, Diaz presents THE FACE with his five most treasured items, that bring on all smiles when he thinks about them.
“To tell you the truth, I definitely got this way back in 2010 for participation, not for winning anything. But I still found value in it, because it was the very first trophy that I’d ever gotten, and it was for something I love doing. Baseball was and continues to be a huge part of my life, especially since I played it for five years. It was what I wanted to do professionally until I discovered acting. When I first first started acting, I was juggling it with baseball a lot. I would often miss practice and stuff like that. I’m pretty sure they were about to kick me off the team and I just kind of made the decision myself, like ‘What do I want to do more?’ But to still have the trophy, and be able to look back and reflect means a lot.”
NEW YORK YANKEES HAT WITH PINS
“On the note of baseball, my favourite team is the New York Yankees and I have a hat with over 20 pins on it. Every time I go to a game, I add a pin. I’ve been doing this tradition for years, but my head has gotten bigger, so I have to get a new hat and transfer all of them. I just love going to the Yankees’ stadium. It’s in the Bronx, where I and a lot of my dad’s side of the family grew up. It’s great to go together to a baseball game. I feel like it’s in my blood. This season, even though it’s moving pretty fast, we’re trying to take my little brother to a game. He just turned five, so it will be his first one.”
HIS GREAT GRANDMOTHER'S BRACELET
“I made the bracelet for my great grandma when I was in elementary school. She just had it stored away in a jewellery box for years. I always knew where it was, but I never dared touch it. I never went into her stuff. She recently passed and I decided to take the bracelet back to wear it. I often don’t take it off unless it’s going to get wet. Whenever I look at it, I’m reminded of her and remember how much she helped shape the person I am today.”
“I have a hoodie, a hat, a scarf and a pillow that I made for the cast on the national tour as a closing gift. They’re all reminders of that time in my life, when I was travelling around the country performing and having fun. It’s also a reminder of when I really found my love for performing, because I realised that it was something I wanted to do when I saw Matilda on Broadway around the age of 10. Just seeing kids my age on stage acting, singing and dancing, which I had never seen before, immediately made a connection with it. The first goal that I had set for myself in my young career was to be a part of Matilda. I auditioned two to three times and became a part of the project when I was around 11.”
IN THE HEIGHTS PHOTOBOOK
“I got this as a wrap gift from the amazing Corey Hawkins, who plays Benny and in In The Heights. It’s hands down one of the best wrap gifts I have ever gotten, because it captures the beauty of that summer filming so well. Like I said, the cast is truly like a second family and whenever I miss them I just flip through the book. Some of them are professional photos, like when we were doing camera testing, and then some of them are selfies. And it’s not just the cash too, it’s also of the crew, so it’s really nice. My favourite pictures are probably the ones of me… Just kidding. There’s a picture of me, the director Jon M. Chu, Corey Hawkins, Anthony Ramos and Noah Catala – that’s Usnavi, Benny, Sonny and Graffiti Pete [in the film]. We’re walking down the street for the song 96,000 in between takes. That’s definitely one of the more memorable ones.”