Summary List Placement
Warning: This post contains major spoilers for “In The Heights.”
When Marc Anthony arrived on set to film his “In The Heights” cameo, director Jon M. Chu thought the singer would be more of a diva given his fame. But Chu was pleasantly surprised at how much Anthony put into his brief, two-minute scene — and thinks Anthony should take on more acting roles after his memorable performance.
“In The Heights,” adapted from a Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes Broadway musical of the same name, is a story about a community from Washington Heights in New York City. One of the people living and working in the neighborhood is teenager Sonny (played by Gregory Diaz IV) who works at his cousin Usnavi’s (played by Anthony Ramos) bodega.
A brooding Anthony plays Sonny’s alcoholic unnamed father.
Despite being on-screen for just over two minutes and saying only a few lines of dialogue, Anthony delivers a moving performance in a conversation with Usnavi about Sonny’s future. Anthony’s last line in the movie hints that his teen son, who was brought to New York City from the Dominican Republican as a toddler, might be an undocumented immigrant (this is confirmed several scenes later when Sonny breaks down at a rally for DREAMers).
While promoting “In The Heights” on Friday, Chu told Insider that Anthony “didn’t even question” making an appearance in the movie even though it wasn’t “the biggest scene” in the musical.
“First of all, he’s so huge,” Chu said of the singer’s fame. “He walked out on the street of Washington Heights and people were coming out from everywhere.”
The director praised how Anthony gave the brief performance his all.
“You think he’s going to be a movie star diva,” he added. “And he just strips everything off and he turns into this character.”
Chu continued: “He was that guy — just so believable. I was like, ‘Why aren’t you doing more movies? You should be.’ He was so good. He was so truthful in that scene. I did not know he was going to bring that.”
Despite Anthony being a talented actor, “In The Heights” is the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter’s first feature-length movie role in fifteen years. His last film appearance was in 2006, in the biographical drama “El Cantante” opposite his then-wife, Jennifer Lopez.
Chu said ‘In The Heights’ is meant to be more ‘human’ than ‘political’
The film version of “In The Heights” differs from its source material in how it treats Sonny’s storyline.
In the Broadway and off-Broadway productions of the musical, Sonny is not undocumented. Hudes (who wrote the screenplay for the movie adaptation) added that to the movie plot after writing a separate musical, “Miss You Like Hell,” in 2018, which also talks about immigration.
“In The Heights” deals with themes of home, community, and a sense of belonging. Chu told Insider that it’s hard having those important conversations without highlighting someone like Sonny who knows where he belongs but is “being told to leave” because he’s undocumented.
The “Crazy Rich Asians” director added that they filmed a take of the scene with Anthony that “is actually twice as long” and the filmmakers briefly considered including the longer cut in the movie where Anthony’s character reveals Sonny’s true immigration status at that point, rather than just hinting at it then (like he does in the film’s final version).
“Then, in the end, we were like, ‘Let’s not tell the audience yet,'” Chu told Insider about the scene with Ramos and Anthony. “We cut it off so you don’t quite know. Some people will get it, some people won’t.”
“It became more dramatic, interestingly dramatic,” he added.
Diaz told Teen Vogue in a profile published on Thursday that he wanted to play Sonny in a manner that would “uplift and show [undocumented people] in a positive sense.”
“It was a conversation that we had just wanting it as not something that defined him,” Diaz told the publication. “But it does exist there and does put regulations on his life because ultimately Sonny just wants to be able to grow up and do big things.”