When Melissa Barrera landed a role in the 2021 cinematic version of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway musical In the Heights, the only main American project she had worked on prior was the Starz series Vida from playwright and TV series producer, Tanya Saracho.
Barrera wasn’t sure what a feature film as massive as In the Heights might do for her career. Since it was one of the first movies being released at theaters and HBO Max during the pandemic, it was difficult to predict what the box office numbers were going to look like.
Ultimately, In the Heights underperformed, pulling in about $45 million worldwide on a $55 million budget. In an interview with NME, Barrera said the film’s unsuccessful theatrical run was tough for her at the time.
“I did take it very personally,” Barrera said. “I don’t anymore. But it was my first big movie, everybody was saying it was going to be this huge hit, and it meant a lot to have a big studio movie with an all-people-of-color cast.”
Barrera said she was “proud” of the film and the positive reviews it received from critics. She believes it didn’t do as well as hoped because of the pandemic and the fact that it was released simultaneously on HBO Max.
“It wasn’t a great time,” she said. “But I wouldn’t change it because it taught me a lot about the industry. If it had come out and become this huge hit and I had skyrocketed and become a global superstar, I don’t know if I would understand the industry so well.”
One issue also may have contributed to the lackluster box office that Barrera didn’t reference were the accusations leveled at the film about its exclusion of Afro-Latine actors.
Miranda said, “at the end of the day, you can’t control how the world receives something. All you can control is what your intentions were.”
In general, Barrera agrees about her experience with In the Heights. “There are so many things that I have no power over, so I learned the valuable lesson that I can’t let that stain or dampen my experience of making a film,” she said.