Gregory Diaz IV has 96,000 reasons to be excited. It won’t be long now before the 16-year-old actor leaps onto the big screen as Sonny in the highly-anticipated film adaption of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway sensation In The Heights. The NY native says he’s in love with the Tony-winning musical, which chronicles characters on Manhattan’s Washington Heights, and would’ve been excited just to watch a film version as a spectator. Of course, then he received a call to audition.
Get to know the talented star on the rise as we chat all things In The Heights, the FaceTime from Lin-Manuel Miranda he almost didn’t answer, his next dream project and more.
Gregory: That’s a good question, but no! None of them were entertainers in an acting way.
Yeah, I was. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see it on Broadway. My first real introduction to it was through the hype for ‘Hamilton’ and then listening to the cast album. From there, I fell in love with the story. I could relate to the people so much.
Nah, I was super chill about it. I was very hyped about it being such a huge fan. Even if I didn’t get the job - just the film being a thing. I would be excited just to go see the film.
I had just gotten out of the dentist. I got a random FaceTime call from a number that I don’t know. Usually I would just decline something like that, but my dad was, like: ‘no, you should answer it!’ I answered it and in popped Lin-Manuel Miranda. He’s just like talking to me and I’m like trying to keep my composure on the outside, but on the inside I’m completely fan-girling. This all actually happened a couple hours after my final chemistry test slash director’s session. He pretty much just popped the question: ‘Do you wanna be a part of this project?’ And I was like, ‘yeah, of course it would be an honor.’I can never really put it into words. The way I think about it now is the same way I felt then. I felt like I was flying almost. I couldn’t begin to fathom and really understand what I was going to be a part of.
I had just gotten out of the dentist. I got a random FaceTime call from a number I didn’t know. Usually I would just decline something like that, but my dad was, like: ‘no, you should answer it!’ I answered it and in popped Lin-Manuel Miranda. He’s just like talking to me and I’m trying to keep my composure on the outside, but on the inside I’m completely fan-girling. This all actually happened a couple hours after my final chemistry test slash director’s session. He pretty much just popped the question: ‘Do you wanna be a part of this project?’ And I was like, ‘yeah, of course it would be an honor.’
I can never really put it into words. The way I think about it now is the same way I felt then. I felt like I was flying almost. I couldn’t begin to fathom and really understand what I was going to be a part of.
We filmed two years ago - I think we started filming around June. The scene I was filming was heavy. It was a protest scene that Sonny and Nina, played by Leslie Grace, attend. We find out some things about Sonny that impact him in a major way. To come into set - day one - having to just do it was me wanting to bring my A-game and set the path for the rest of filming. It was a nervous experience, but once we started rolling it kind of went. That’s kind of how I am as an actor. I describe it as when I’m in the wings and get butterflies and I’m nervous, but as soon as my foot is on that stage and in the scene, I’m chill, I’m cool.
You know, as an actor when it comes to a role that you’re not originating, you wanna make it your own. You wanna try not to be compared to the original. So when it came to fleshing out more of Sonny in the film, it was a conversation between myself and Quiara [Alegría Hudes] the writer. She kind of brought to me this idea of like, ‘this is what’s new.’ The idea of not wanting it to be something that took over Sonny’s life, it was more so something that was there on the sidelines. As an actor, we really just wanted to elevate what it was and portray it in a positive way.
I would have to say when we filmed ‘96000’ over the course of three days and the weather was not on our side at all. It was raining while we were trying to film this pool scene. So, any chance we got, when it just stopped, we would roll the camera out from under the tent and try to get that scene done. I was in the pool for probably two and half to three hours. I didn’t get out. And it was freezing! I don’t think I’ve ever felt that way before in my life. It was crazy because when I was just in the pool waiting for them to change the camera or something I was shivering, but then as soon as they were like ‘action!’ I was warm and Sonny. I just got into it.
Coming from a theatre background where you do eight shows a week. If you mess something up you get to hopefully fix it the next night. With film you get a couple takes, but once they move on that’s it. There’s no coming back to it. With theatre, yeah you get that other show to fix it, but it’s live and it’s in front of people on stage and you want to bring your A-game and do your best. That kind of traveled with me into my TV and movie career with the mindset of I’m really gonna enjoy just hitting the head on that scene and there’s this adrenaline rush.
It’s just... it’s Lin. It’s Lin-Manuel Miranda. [laughs]. Again, being such a huge fan of ‘In the Heights’ and ‘Hamilton’ before I even found out there was gonna be a film… on the inside I’m fan-girling and can’t keep my composure. On the outside I have to contradict that and stay cool and calm. I’m here to work. Immediately upon meeting Lin it’s just this warm fuzzy feeling and you feel like you become part of his family. He was there every day whether he was actually filming or just watching. Having him there drove everybody - the cast and crew - to really portray his story.
I was excited to learn that Marc Anthony would be playing my Dad. My family was even more excited! Unfortunately, we didn’t get to shoot a scene together but I did visit the set on my off day to meet him. I was a bit starstruck because he is such an icon. We got to chat for a bit about life and although his role in the film may be limited, it is very impactful!
At first I was like, ‘man this really sucks,’ but when I really sat back and thought about it, it was definitely the right decision. The film itself really deserves to be seen in theaters. It elevates the experience so much.
I’m a HUGE superhero nerd. I’m a really big Marvel Cinematic Universe fan. There’s one particular character that has not been done yet. He’s Puerto Rican. His name is Nova. He comes from space and helps people out. They kind of teased him a little bit. I don’t know if he’s coming up anytime soon, but…
In The Heights hits select theaters and HBO Max (where you can stream it 96,000 times) on June 11.