Interview With Stephanie Beatriz, Star Of HALF MAGIC
"[It] should be the norm that we’re just casting across the board all kinds of different people, because that’s how our world looks" - we spoke with the insightful and delightful Stephanie Beatriz, who stars in Heather Graham's HALF MAGIC.
You may recognize her most notably as the tough, no-nonsense, mysterious, monotoned character Rosa on the hit television show Brooklyn Nine-Nine. With supporting roles in films like Short Term 12, Pee-wee’s Big Holiday, and Ice Age: Collision Course, Stephanie Beatriz has been steadily building her silver screen filmography. Last year, she made waves executive producing and starring in The Light Of The Moon, which critics virtually unanimously hailed as a showcase for Beatriz’s range. In her latest role, one that is perhaps the polar opposite of the stern, unemotional Rosa on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Beatriz plays the bubbly, endearing Candy in Heather Graham’s impressive directorial debut, Half Magic.
On the verge of Half Magic’s theatrical release, I had an opportunity to speak with Beatriz. She is tremendously smart, driven, down-to-earth, and as funny in real life as she is in her comedic acting roles. During our conversation, we discussed her process as an actor, working with Heather Graham and Angela Kinsey and how she prepared for Half Magic, what she looks for in roles as a Latina actor, the current state of diversity in Hollywood, her phenomenal work on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and what she’s working on next after Half Magic.
Alex Arabian for Film Inquiry: Congratulations on an awesome film, Half Magic. It’s wonderful.
Stephanie Beatriz: Thank you! Thank you very much! Glad you liked it.
You’ve displayed such amazing range between Short Term 12, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Light of the Moon, and now Half Magic. How do you typically get into a character for a given role? What’s your process to relate to a script?
Stephanie Beatriz: Well, first of all, thank you for the lovely compliment.
Stephanie Beatriz: I think the main thing I do is probably what most actors do, right? We’ll use that script like it’s the Bible. And everything that you need to know is in that script, probably. Whether it’s people talking about your character, whether it’s the writer saying something about how you enter the room or what you might be wearing or what you’re interested in. You can just mine that script for every little piece of gold and maybe every building block like you’re gonna find everything you need in there. That’s the first place I start, so the foundation is always the script.
And then I’m lucky enough on this project to have Heather [Graham] there. So, any questions that I had, I could always turn to her and ask. But I initially just connected with it. The feeling of Candy in that script is that she’s so joyful, and no matter what, she still believes in magic. No matter how many times she’s been told no, no matter how many time she’s been told she’s stupid or that she doesn’t deserve it, or that she’s not really anything important in the world, she keeps focusing on that idea that there is magic and there’s magic inside her. And I just thought that was so beautiful because I know so many women who, whether it’s trapped in self-esteem issues or trapped in a relationship in which it’s not really working for them, or trapped in a job that they feel they have to keep or trapped in toxic friendships – so many of us lose that feeling that we are worthy and magical.
And I thought it was so great to see in the script Candy sort of like – there’s a certain journey to what she thinks is magic and then realizing that she is really the core of the magic in all of her life. I just thought that was so beautiful and empowering. And also, she comes off as so naïve and sweet in the film, and I thought it would be a really fun turn from the character that I had been playing for a while, Rosa, who [laughs] isn’t so sweet.
Right, right. And one wouldn’t realize this, but this is Heather Graham’s directorial debut.
Stephanie Beatriz: Yeah!
And it doesn’t seem like it. What was your experience like working with Heather?
Stephanie Beatriz: Oh, it was amazing. I mean I think the reason it doesn’t seem like that is because she’s so smart. She’s usually the smartest person in the room, but also, she’s the humblest, so the mix of those two things often creates a little bit of tension in that no one else seems to think that she’s probably the smartest person in the room, but she is. And that’s how she came off as a director. She was prepared. She was generous. She was funny. She was fun to work with. She’s all the things that you want in a director, and also wrapped up in this amazing scene partner as well. She’s so funny to work with and she is so fun and generous and giving. She was great. I mean, I wasn’t surprised. I didn’t go into this thinking like, “Oh, no. How is she gonna be?”
Because she’s had a long career in Hollywood and she’s worked with many, many people. And you don’t work with that many people and see scripts and read scripts and be a part of things without learning stuff along the way. And then, on top of that, this was her passion project. She was drawing herself into every part of it at all times. She was absolutely tireless and incredible to be around.
Yeah. I could imagine. And Half Magic is such an empowering and uplifting film with themes of overcoming sexism, escaping one-sided relationships, challenging our patriarchal society, the power of belief and self-love, which you’ve touched upon. How important is it for you to relate to the source material on a personal, cellular level?
Stephanie Beatriz: I mean, it’s very important to me. I am a storyteller, first and foremost. That’s the thing that I love to do. That seems to be the thing that I’m best at doing, it reading something on a page and being able to sort of bring it to life. So, for me to be able to do that to the best of my ability means that I have to look at a story and desires to do that, right? So like, if the character that I’m going out for isn’t someone that I feel is complex or fleshed out – and that doesn’t mean they have to be a good guy always, right? I’m totally down to play the bad guys, too. It’s just, I feel like I’ve seen enough of the same kind of thing.
Or, conversely, I’ve seen enough of the same kind of person playing the lead roles, right? So, one of the things that I felt was so amazing, when I went into this role, it wasn’t specifically written as Latina at all and it wasn’t anywhere in the script. There was no mention of any of the women’s ethnicity. And so I sort of went in thinking like, “I don’t think I’m going to get this,” because this seems like the kind of role that I can cast in my head in a certain way that I think Hollywood would often cast this kind of role – sort of the amalgamation of every other type of Bohemian girl that you’ve ever seen. So, I didn’t expect to get it. In fact, the day after the audition, I went and dyed my hair bright pink – the front of my hair bright pink – because I was so sure that I wasn’t going to get it.
And it’s a testament to Heather and her open mind that she saw an actress and saw all the connection to the character that she wanted, and it didn’t matter that I was Latina. In fact, that wasn’t really something that was on her mind at all. She just cast who she wanted to cast. That’s so special. Unfortunately – I’m just like getting a little emotional talking about it – unfortunately, it’s still special. That should be the norm that we’re just casting across the board all kinds of different people, because that’s how our world looks.
So, to me, when I read the script, I’m looking for stories that I think are important, stories that I think are real, stories that I think are fun, and I’m also looking for whether or not the world reflected in any of these scripts is a world that I would live in, possibly, or that I would like to live in. No tea, no shade, I know lots of people love Woody Allen films, but there are no people of color in those movies, there are very few.
Stephanie Beatriz: And that’s not the world that I live in. It’s just not. And I’m tired of Hollywood just sort of defaulting, if you will. And I don’t think all of Hollywood is doing that anymore. I mean, look at our show Brooklyn Nine-Nine and it’s not that at all.
Rosa is another role that I won wasn’t written as Latina. It was actually written as Megan when I originally auditioned for it, and they changed the name because I won the role. And I just think that there’s more and more of that happening all the time. Like audiences, they’re sort of waking up to the fact that they have power and networks and all of the people that are decision-makers, right, and that are writing the checks, and also waking up to the fact that audiences want themselves to be reflected in film and television. It’s a very exciting time to be an actor of color, and a person of color, in general. Freaking Black Panther is opening this weekend to massive presales. That’s not an accident, everybody.
Stephanie Beatriz: You know, that’s a real thing that’s happening.
Yeah, there’s definitely a paradigm shift happening.
Stephanie Beatriz: Yeah, it’s exciting.
Speaking of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, you’re working with such incredible comedic talent all the time on the show across the board. Has that helped you hone your comedy skills and comedic timing, or is that something that’s always come natural to you?
Stephanie Beatriz: I think both. I mean, I’m hopeful that I’ve picked up from my colleagues, coworkers, their amazing skills. I mean, Jesus, I’d be an idiot if I wasn’t trying to press up with much as I could because I’m around people that are absolutely geniuses in their own field. I mean, talk about someone who’s brilliant, brilliant, brilliantly smart, Chelsea Peretti is an amazing person to be around. She’s just really smart, fast, and she has so many amazing insights about not only the work, but being a human and a woman in this industry
I think that maybe because I trained in theater, maybe because I spent most of my early career doing theater, comedy and drama were sort of…they’re those two masks, they’re two sides of the same coin, right, that you need to apply all the skills that you have to the one, to the other. Most of the theater actors that I would talk to or friends of mine would say, “yeah, they’re the same thing. It’s just executed in different ways.”
I absolutely agree. Rosa’s character arc is probably my favorite on the show.
Stephanie Beatriz: Oh, good!
Yeah, it’s amazing! Because there’s always an element of mystery to her character, so there’s always something revealed…
Stephanie Beatriz: Yes.
…throughout every season. Especially in the latest season, I thought it was amazing how she came out as bisexual. How much say do you have in your character and for each actor and their character on the show?
Stephanie Beatriz: With that particular storyline, I think it was something that Dan Goor was interested in maybe attacking for a while. He asked me about it quite a few weeks, months, probably, before – yeah, it was months before anything was even written. He said, “I know you came out as bi, would you be comfortable with us exploring whether or not Rosa is?” And I was like, “Abso-fucking-lutely! Yes. I would love to explore that storyline.” I ended up suggesting Danny Trejo and Olga Merediz as my parents.
And I got to see some additional, initial scripts. There was a breakfast or coffee that I had with Carly [Hallam], who was one of the writers on that script. In the script – it was the first pass – were the words, “I’m bisexual,” and as soon as I saw the words on the page, I got so emotional, and I pointed to them, looked at Carly, and I was like, ”I don’t care what else happens. We have to keep this in. This is so important. We have to keep this.” She was like, “Okay. Yeah, we’ll do everything we can to keep it in.” Not only was it in, but it was repeated multiple times in that script.
I’m very proud of having been a part of that because, as someone who is bi, I’ve never seen that on television before. Not explicitly; there’s always characters that sort of date both men and women, but it’s really important to have that visibility and to be able to point to a network television show and say, “Look at this character that we all love and we know and is not going to be used as the queer baiting moment.” Nobody is coming out and then automatically getting killed off so as to just have an emotional moment about a gay character. Like, we’re not doing that. Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Dan Goor decided, I think, beautifully and rightly so, that this character was a part of the ensemble, part of the family, and they wanted to explore that story.
And I also loved that, and this is not really my input, but I loved that Rosa’s coming out was awkward and uncomfortable and horrible at times, you know? Because not everyone’s coming out is beautiful. There’s a lot of beautiful stories on the internet about coming out, and there’s a lot of ugly ones. And then there’s some that are just kind of in the middle and hard and sticky, and I don’t think Rosa’s mother will never talk to her again, but I think that those conversations will be strange for a really long time. But I think that’s something that I really identify with, and I think a lot of people in the LGBTQIA community can identify with, too. I was really glad to be a part of that.
Yeah! It’s amazing. Congratulations on that amazing storyline.
Stephanie Beatriz: Thank you.
Are there any exciting projects in the future that you’re working on?
Stephanie Beatriz: Yeah. Well, there’s next season of BoJack Horseman. I’m going to be doing a really cool arc of quite a few episodes, I think that’s all I can say. But, yeah, I’m super excited about that because I love doing voiceover work. I think it’s really fun, and I was so excited to come on board on that show because I think it’s so groundbreaking and cool and amazing. So, yeah, that’s coming out. I’m not sure when, probably in the summertime sometime, but you would have to check.
Sweet! Yeah, I love that show.
Stephanie Beatriz: Me too. It’s so dark. So dark.
Yeah. [Laughs] It’s awesome, definitely groundbreaking. And would you work with Heather Graham and Angela Kinsey again? You guys seem like you became good friends on the show.
Stephanie Beatriz: Oh, yeah. In a minute, in a minute. I love both of those women. I think they’re so spectacular and extraordinary. And both of their lives are – I don’t know how to say this without sounding super cheesy, but they’re the kind of women that I want to be. Heather is really smart and so is Angela. Both of them have done these amazing, amazing things in their careers. Those are the kind of women that are like, “yeah! This is who I want to be hanging around, hanging out with!” They’re amazing.
I know people talk about – I think it’s a falsehood that all women are in competition with each other. It’s not that. I haven’t experienced that on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and I never want to experience that. And I didn’t experience that on Half Magic and it was a joyful, wonderful thing. I think the more women recognize that their power really lies within themselves and connecting with each other, the better off we’re all gonna be.
I completely agree. Stephanie, thank you so much for your time. And congratulations again on the upcoming release of Half Magic.
Stephanie Beatriz: Thank you.
I look forward to watching it again. I look forward to the second half of Brooklyn Nine-Nine season 5.
Stephanie Beatriz: Yay!
Film Inquiry would like to thank Stephanie Beatriz for her sagacity, perspicacity into acting, keen perceptions into the changing nature of Hollywood, and her time.
Half Magic opens theatrically in the U.S. on February 23, 2018. For more information on its release, click here.
“The clock has run out on sexual assault, harassment and inequality in the workplace. It’s time to do something about it.” Read the Letter of Solidarity here. Make a donation to the legal fund here.