Exclusive: Leslie Grace Is On Top Of The World
The Dominican American singer makes her acting debut in In The Heights, which finally hit the big screen this week! Here, the princess of bachata talks about her role in the movie and her real-life passions.
Making her acting debut in the musical In The Heights -now on the big screen and streaming on HBO Max - is a dream come true for singer Leslie Grace, 26. To celebrate the release of the film, she invited family and friends to a Miami movie theater and enjoyed a special screening with her loved ones, courtesy of Warner Bros. "It was incredible being able to watch this with my family and have my grandma, my aunts there with me, my dad, it was beautiful," she says. "A lot of people who have supported me throughout the years are getting to witness their little girl live her dream."
Filming In The Heights -a joyful celebration of Latin culture set in New York's Washington Heights neighborhood- and finally seeing it with loved ones after a year of pandemic lock downs was a surreal, says Leslie Grace. "It was a blessing to have my first opportunity as an actress in a movie that is so special and personal to all of us who were part of this experience," she says of the big-screen adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda's hit Broadway musical. "Being from New York, my mom had her first beauty salon a couple of blocks from where we were shooting all summer. We have such an affinity to the entire story of In the Heights."
Leslie Grace took on the role of Nina Rosario, a girl from the barrio with big goals and dreams, in the film. "It's something I have always loved, like music, and I wanted to wait for the right time to start pursuing it," she says of acting. The stellar cast includes Nuyorican crooner Marc Anthony, Dominican American actress Dascha Polanco, actors Anthony Ramos and Jimmy Smits -both of Puerto Rican descent- and Mexican actress Melissa Barrera, among others.
"You feel and empathize with these characters because you know somebody who has gone through something similar or you have gone though it," she says. "Nina's story is universal - [a] story of growing up, taking ownership of our future, how we move forward with all the sacrifices that the people before us made for us to have an education, to make a change," she adds about her character. "She's carrying all the weight of that, and a lot of us, especially first and second generation [latinos], feel that type of pressure and responsibility to be better and to do more."
While she was filming the movie in New York City, she also found true love with dancer, choreographer and director Ian Eastwood. "When Ian and I met, it was at the perfect moment in each other's lives," she recalls. "I was filming In the Heights and he was in New York as well for a dance convention. We were both very focused on ourselves. Moms always tell you: 'Your love will come when you least expect it, don't look for it,' and that's how it was. We hit it off as friends immediately. We got to know each other and really clicked. It's wonderful, especially during this time, to have somebody who understands you and is there for you."
Getting married and becoming a mom are "all dreams that I have," she says, for the future. "One day I do want to have a family, I do want to have a personal life," she adds. "It's been nice to have some downtime to reflect about where I am in my life and my career, and what are priorities for me." She feels like she's on top of the world with her blooming career and love life. "Ian is great. We consider each other equal partners," she continues. "Being able to have somebody who is equally passionate about what they do and understands your world but is also a normal human being is very hard to find."
The creative couple has also joined forces artistically. Eastwood directed the music video of the new version of "Conga" -the Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine hit song from the 80s- that Leslie Grace recently released with her own unique touch.
"She means everything," she says about the Cuban superstar. "When I was a girl, Gloria and Selena Quintanilla were the first female artists that I saw singing in English and Spanish, which for me -a young, first generation aspiring artist- was motivating. I thought: 'These women represent our culture so well and they are still global stars and can sing in the two languages I speak.' They were very inspiring. I felt very blessed to be able to make the 'Conga' song something new and mine. I felt blessed that Gloria and Emilio Estefan trusted us to add our new flavor to this classic."
Leslie Grace is also working on new singles and a new English-language album. "I can't give too many details, we are still molding the project. I know the fans are expecting a new album and I've been working on new music," she says. "I'm very excited to share it soon. I feel so blessed and grateful. This moment and this film are something big, not only for me in my journey, but for all Latinos, and I feel happy to be a part of that."