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Stephanie Beatriz on Playing the Fierce Rosa Diaz on 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine,' Joining an Ensemble and Wearing Glasses to the Golden Globes

Photo of Alison Willmore By Alison Willmore | Indiewire January 31, 2014 at 4:52PM

Stephanie Beatriz talks playing "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" tough cookie Rosa Diaz, the chances of her character getting together with Joe Lo Truglio's Charles Boyle and the importance of having Latinas on screen as something other than maids.
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Eddy Chen/Fox Melissa Fumero, Terry Crews, Stephanie Beatriz and Andy Samberg in 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine'

Over 14 episodes, with a 15th set to air in a prime post-Super Bowl slot this Sunday, police department comedy "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" has grown into one the season's strongest new shows. Earlier this month, the freshman series even walked away with a Golden Globe for Best TV Series, Comedy/Musical, besting the likes of "Big Bang Theory," "Girls" and "Modern Family," as well as fellow Michael Schur creation "Parks & Recreation."

And while Andy Samberg also snagged a statuette for his performance as gifted cop and terminal manchild Jake Peralta, what's made the series come together is the depth of talent of its ensemble, from Andre Braugher as the deadpan Capt. Ray Holt to Joe Lo Truglio's tyrannized Det. Charles Boyle to Stephanie Beatriz's perpetually scowling Det. Rosa Diaz.

Beatriz has emerged as a standout even in a cast crowded with very funny people, her Diaz a leather jacketed tough cookie who has half the precinct quaking in their boots -- even Boyle, who also has a desperate crush on her. The role is the first regular small screen one for Beatriz, who comes from a theater background and recently appeared in critical darling "Short Term 12." Indiewire caught up with Beatriz by phone to talk about her role in the Fox comedy, being part of a cast that actually looks like New York and the serious side of the comedic process.

There are many cop shows on TV, but "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" doesn't really feel like one of them -- it's more like a workplace comedy. Was it a relief for you to go into a role where it wasn't all bursting through doors with a gun and reading Miranda rights, or is that something you'd like to try out one day, too?

I totally agree with you -- it’s a weird mix of stuff, our show. It is a cop show, but it's not. I don't know if you've ever watched any "Barney Miller," but that's a perfect example. It's an old sitcom based in a precinct, and they're doing paperwork the entire episode. There's shenanigans happening, but our show feels like that.

I would not say no to something action-y. I've always dreamed of doing stuff like this. I can remember wanting to be a cop on TV as a kid -- not a real cop, a cop on TV. I'm in the middle of my dreams coming true. You could throw anything at me -- "Do you wanna play this?" I'd be like, "Sure." I love everything right now. It’s an amazing world. 

The cast is an interesting mix of people like Andy Samberg, who’s known for his comedy work, and Andre Braugher, who’s more associated with drama. Does that lend itself to an interesting dynamic?

What I find interesting about it is that Andre approaches his comedy work in the same way he would approach anything else. He's serious about it -- not like life and death, where Andre's about to explode, or anything -- he just asks these really smart questions and is very interested in developing character through action. He wants what he's doing onscreen to reflect something deeper, more about the character. That's such a smart way to look at the comedy work.

Whereas I watch Andy, and he can be really serious sometimes. If a joke's not quite working the way they want it to, or we're doing alternate lines, I watch Andy when he's thinking, and he's so concentrated. Then he comes out with five or six lines where one is more hilarious than the last, and he’s so light and fun and brings this great energy to everything that he does. They’re very different, but they love each other, and I can tell that they learn from each other all the time. Which is really great as an ensemble member -- to watch two members of your ensemble learn and grow from each other’s work. 

How much room is there for improv and looseness in each scenes?

Most of the time we stick to the script, because they’re so well written. However, lots of times we do something at the end when everyone knows that we’ve got everything -- we'll do something called a "fun run," which is a take where we stick to the storyline but add in things that are off-the-cuff, which terrifies me because I'm not good at improv, so I’m always just standing around while everyone's flying around me.

Your character has such a serious demeanor, and the only one who's more serious is Andre Braugher. I always want more storylines with both of you together.

Yeah! I can’t tell you anything else, but we did have a table read yesterday, and there’s a storyline you’re going to enjoy.

What is it like to play a character who puts up this very tough front?

It's really fun. I think everybody has that side of them that’s closed off, or wants other people to see them a certain way for whatever reason. That's easy to tap into, but there's also something really fun in Rosa -- because it's a comedy, because we're creating as we go, there’s not explanation for her toughness. It just it was it is, and I love that. She just is this person, she doesn't explain or answer any questions. It's a fascinating character to throw in with all the others.

We’re getting to learn more details about her -- I love the fact that she was a ballerina and that she and Peralta were in the Academy at the same time. I'm assuming a lot of these details you learn as the writers come up with them, but are there any that as the character was laid out to you that you've found particularly interesting?

I love that Rosa and Jake were in the Academy together. It textually frames something that was happening chemistry-wise anyway. Andy and I get along as buddies, and Rosa sees him as a buddy. I love finding that out, and I thought, "Oh, yay, there's why I feel so easy. Because I knew I felt easy, and now I have the backstory. There's why I feel so easy in my relationship with Jake." Everything else has been fun and surprising.

It is weird, though. You don’t build that much of a backstory in your mind. You do, but you don’t, because you have to be flexible. Because if the writers tell you this week, "Well, actually, X, Y, or Z," and you've been working on A, B, or C, you've got to just change your mind. That's the truth now, or that was the truth back when I didn't know it. There are mindfucks sometimes, but it's a ton of fun. 

Eddy Chen/Fox Stephanie Beatriz and Joe Lo Truglio in 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine'

Where would you place Rosa’s relationship with Boyle now? She’s been pretty clear in turning him down, but he also took a bullet for her.

You know how in kindergarten, you'd bring a bean from home, and you'd put it in a paper cup in grow it? There's a stage where you just told your mom that you need to buy beans for a project -- we're at that stage. We're way, way, way at the very beginning of any relationship that they're going to have. Both of them could use therapy, they're total weirdos. Imagining these people having a functioning relationship... there's no way they could ever do it now.

But I think, given some time... he did just take a bullet for her, and they had that exchange in the coat closet, where he said, "When you do go out with me, and you will..." -- he's so confident. There are these little steps of growth that they're going to have to through to get to the point where they're even anywhere near a first kiss. I think. But the writers may say, "Next week on 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine'"...

"There's a certain type of guy that tattoos his neck, and I think that's the guy that Rosa's attracted to."

She’s also mentioned a boyfriend a few times. Are we going to get to see him anytime soon?

Man, I hope! I really hope! I think that'd be really fun, and I'd also enjoy coming to the casting. That would be fun for me as well.

Do you have any hopes for how that would go? I feel like he'd have to be someone either completely tough, or completely surprising and unexpected.

I imagine neck tattoos. There's a certain type of guy that tattoos his neck, and I think that's the guy that Rosa's attracted to.

I heard Michael Schur speak at a panel about sitcoms a couple of years ago, and he said he felt comedies don't really find their voice until after they're on air. Do you feel that "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" has changed since its premiere, or maybe found a groove that's different than the one that it started off with now that you're halfway through the season?

You know, I don't know. My perspective is so different from someone who's watching from the outside. I wouldn't be able to tell you, "Oh, that piece of work has found its voice," because I'm so entrenched in it. I will say that the camaraderie in the cast has created a working environment that's so amazingly creative and fun that I can't help but hope that that is reflected in the work as we go on.

Shooting that pilot, I was peeing my pants. I was so nervous, I didn't know anybody, I was a fan of Andy's, I was a fan of Andre's. When you're in that place in your mind, it can be very... "whoa!," you know? So I was fighting that, trying to get through the pilot, just talking to myself in my head, "Be cool, be cool, be cool, be cool." I didn't feel that way shooting this next episode, because I started to get to know people as ensemble members, and it just became something different. If anything, collectively as an ensemble, we are finding a groove, and we continue to find a groove. That kind of thing only comes with time, so that's definitely been a major change as we go along.

The show just got nominated for a GLAAD Media Award...

Yeah!

...It also has one of the most quietly diverse casts I can think of on network television, and treats these aspects of the characters in a really nice way. Sexuality and race are not the focus of the characters, but they're not ignored either. Sometimes shows err on that side...

Yeah, where they mention it once, and that’s it.

Is that something that appealed to you, in going into this role?

Well, I'll tell you what -- going into it, I knew very, very little about it. I knew who the writers were, I'm a huge fan of "Parks & Recreation." And slowly, cast announcements started coming out. As I was looking at that stuff online, I was like, "Oh my gosh, we’re going to look like New York! This is great." So I was definitely excited about it.

The thing that you said that stood out to me was "quietly diverse." There’s something really great that the show looks how it looks, and that's how the world looks when you go outside for a lot of the country. You go outside and live your daily life, and you run into lots of different kinds of people. And for most of us... I'm not wearing a shirt that says "I'm Latina," you know? That's not the focus of my life. So I think that these characters, we're treating them as real people. That's not the focus of their lives, either. Their focus is fighting crime.

And their crazy coworkers.

Yeah. I love that. It's much more real and more normal than anything I can think of that I've watched on television. I've watched television and looked for myself, and not found myself. I'm looking, I'm looking, I'm looking, and, oh, there I am, I'm a maid. I utterly respect that there are lots of people who do service jobs and deserve our respect, because they make our world function. And I've been glad to play a maid in many variations. But that's not the only thing. Watching the show, it just seems normal, and I love that.

Cinedigm 'Short Term 12'

You were also in "Short Term 12" last year, which is such a great film. What was the experience like, seeing it come out of SXSW and get more attention and acclaim as the year went on?

My agent got the audition. He said, "Look, it's a small role, it's an indie film, but Brie Larson is attached." I had just seen "21 Jump Street" on video, and was floored: "Oh my god, she's so cute and hilarious." And the script was so bomb! Halfway through, I was sobbing, and I didn't stop until the end. And I thought, "Oh my god, if I could be lucky enough to be in this film." And then I booked it, and I couldn't believe it.

It was really special. Brie in particular was so lovely and calm the whole time we were shooting. She just really kept in that, this graceful, gentle... "come with me, let's go into this world." I think it really shows in the performance. I remember just having to tell her when we were shooting a scene in the kitchen, "You realize you're so, so fucking good in this. Everyone is going to notice this, Brie." It's a beautiful, beautiful story, and I think Destin Cretton, the writer and director, is one of the most talented voices in film right now. My little opinion, but he's just so good.

So, I loved your glasses at the Golden Globes, and I saw them much talked about on Twitter. Are those the glasses you wear normally?

Those are the glasses I wear normally. I have really rough astigmatism, and those are my glasses, my everydays. I actually didn't wear them on the red carpet, because I thought I should look glamorous. Then I get inside and sit down at the table, and two seconds later, Meryl Streep walks by in her glasses. I turned to Joe Lo Truglio and said "If Meryl's wearing glasses, I'm going to wear mine!" So thanks, Meryl Streep!

This article is related to: Television, TV Interviews, Interviews, Stephanie Beatriz, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, FOX Broadcasting, Short Term 12