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With Encanto, Stephanie Beatriz finds yet another voice

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Actress Stephanie Beatriz said goodbye to her memorable role as a stern detective in Brooklyn Nine-Nine in September as the hit comedy wrapped up after eight seasons.

I would be happy if my name is still linked to Rosa Diaz. It’s an honor, Beatriz said of the fan favorite character.

But 2021 has largely been a year of new beginnings for the 40-year-old actress. In early summer, she appeared as Carla, one of the salon ladies in the film adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical In the Heights. She also became a mother for the first time.

Dubbing, a skill she can trace back to when she and her sister claimed to host radio shows with a Fisher-Price tape recorder, is also a constant aspect of her production, most recently in the acclaimed Netflix animated limited series Maya and the Three.

Self-proclaimed Disney adult, whose bachelorette party took place at Disneyland, felt overjoyed when she was cast as Mirabel, the Latin heroine in the 60th animated feature film from Encanto Studios, which takes place in Colombia. Being part of the legacy of magical tales she grew up watching (Sleeping Beauty is a personal favorite), on an adventure to her father’s homeland, stunned her.

When your dream comes true, it’s very weird, she says.

By phone from London, with her newborn baby by her side, the actress discussed Mirabel’s voice search and remembered her favorite animated shows growing up. Here are edited excerpts from the conversation.

You were born in Argentina to a Colombian father and a Bolivian mother, and you grew up in Texas. How do you understand your Latino identity?

I feel like a Latin American which means that there are things that I hold onto that seem uniquely American in my Latinidad, which is my love for Selena. [Quintanilla] and country music, because I grew up in Texas. But there are things that strike me as specifically Bolivian and Colombian, and there are things that are very reminiscent of my experience as an immigrant growing up here since I was 2 years old. The thing that I identify with the most about Mirabel is its feeling of not belonging. It reflects my own identity in the United States.

In your formative years, did you feel represented in the American media?

We recently did a bunch of media interviews and John Leguizamo and I were paired up. He is an icon to me and one of the first Latinos I ever saw on television. I saw him in the filmed version of Freak, one of his one-man shows. In this production, he talks about seeing the character of Diana Morales for the first time in the play A Chorus Line. And so here I’m watching this Latino actor talking about looking at another Latino in a room and deciding that’s when he realized he wanted to be an artist. For me, it was watching him that I realized I wanted to be one too.

Tell me about the process of researching and creating the voice of Mirabels for Encanto.

I originally thought it should sound younger, and leaned towards a higher tone. But the directors pushed me to make it more mature. We discussed how she often had to take care of herself because there were so many celebs in her family. It’s up to her to make sure her needs are taken care of, and with that comes a level of maturity. At the same time, she is playful. Unlike so many Disney heroes, she doesn’t have a sidekick to guide her through the story. Mirabel is sometimes the acolyte and therapist of her family. She uses comedy all the time. There was no other character making jokes on sight or audio. It was Mirabel, and it was very liberating and fun.

You’ve found a career in vocal performance for popular animated series like Bobs Burgers and BoJack Horseman. What do you like the most about this job?

Voice work is one of the only places where it doesn’t matter what you look like, which means you can suddenly become a toucan, a princess, or a monster. Your face is not the most important part and your imagination has no limits. When you are in this recording booth, you close your eyes and follow the lead of the hosts and the director. I was very lucky because that was a big part of what I did and was something I could continue to do for the past two years during this global pandemic.

What excited you about voicing Chimi, a character with a traumatic past, in Jorge R. Gutirrezs’ animated epic Maya and the Three?

Jorge is such a generous creator. I would drop anything anytime to work with him again. There is a lot of pain in Chimi, which turns me on both at Maya and Encanto. People underestimate children’s ability to access and understand their own emotions. We are doing them such a disservice when we speak to them with contempt. We don’t think of them as those amazing little minds. In their own way, both projects approach this by saying that children are able to name, discuss, and go through very adult emotions, because they are only human emotions at the end of the day.

Besides the Disney classics, what cartoons did you watch on TV as a kid?

I watched a ton of stuff: Animaniacs, the old Road Runner cartoons and Bugs Bunny. I loved Tom and Jerry, the eternal battle of good and evil. Also, the Batman animated series with Mark Hamill as the Joker. It was so smart and grown up. It was my block after school. But I was also heavily influenced by Sailor Moon, who was on early morning TV in Texas. My sister and I were getting ready for school around 5 a.m. and I would turn on Sailor Moon.

Considering that Encanto features a racial cast of Latino characters, I wonder what you thought of the controversy over colorism around In the Heights?

Encanto does an amazing job of celebrating the fact that Latinidad doesn’t look one way. Latinos don’t look one way. The movie we made was really strong and John Chu had a great vision for the movie, but I fully understand why the cast of In the Heights was a problem for the Black Latino community. The colourism is real, dark skinned Latinos are not given the lead roles. That their stories come to the fore is so important.

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