Actor Corey Hawkins (BlacKkKlansman) might be the only non-Latino actor in the main cast of the upcoming film musical In the Heights, but the 32-year-old performer said his own experience “mimics” that of his character Benny.
Hawkins grew up in the inner city of Washington D.C. but also lived in Washington Heights, where the film is set, while he was attending the Juilliard School in New York City.
“Even though this story is about the Latinx community and is very central to that, as brown and black people, we all have very similar experiences,” Hawkins told Remezcla during a recent interview. “I knew Benny. Benny is the brother in In the Heights. I wanted to be that rock because Benny is that [person] for the community.”
While many of the characters in the musical want to leave the neighborhood and pursue bigger things, Benny is happy with his life. “For him, where everybody else is like, ‘I wanna get out,’ Benny’s like, ‘No, you’re home,’” Hawkins said. “Our community is the dream. I think that reminder is so important because we sometimes look outwards, and it’s great to take that breath and remind ourselves that we’re home.”
Hawkins wouldn’t go as far as calling himself an “honorary Latino,” but since he said Puerto Rican-Jewish screenwriter and producer Quiara Alegría Hudes already deemed him one, he’s comfortable with the distinction.
“I feel that way, but I’m not gonna say it,” Hawkins said laughing. “I’ll let Quiara say it.”
He added that he learned a lot about the Latinx community while making the film, including in the way the community “loves in all its forms,” but especially from a musical aspect.
“Being a part of the New York dance and salsa and merengue community, we all identify with the music,” he said. “There’s this constant beat that’s in our blood as people of color. We all feel that responsibility. It’s a gift.”
In the Heights debuts in theaters and on HBO Max June 11.