sin titulo (sintitulo) wrote in ohnotheydidnt,
sin titulo

Cops with character

A funny thing happened on the way to casting for Brooklyn Nine-Nine, the ensemble sitcom about a New York City police station. Two Latina actresses, Melissa Fumero andStephanie Beatriz, auditioned for the roles of detectives — and the characters weren't even Latina.

Fumero, the daughter of Cuban immigrants, read for the part of an overachieving, by-the-book cop. As for Beatriz, who was born in Argentina to a Colombian father and a Bolivian-Brazilian mother, all she knew about her character was the description "tough, smart and scary as hell."

The two won the roles, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine went on to become a hit, earning two awards at the Golden Globes this year (Best TV Series, Musical or Comedy, and Best Actor in a TV Series, Musical or Comedy, for star Andy Samberg), plus a second season that premieres in September on Fox. The show also has earned admiration for its portrayal of Latinos, as well as other ethnicities and gender orientations. The sitcom presents not stereotypes but realistic, multi-faceted people who are proud of, but not marginalized by, how they were defined previously in entertainment.
Fumero says the characters are detectives who happen to be Latina, but that's not the direct focus. "That blows my mind, it's so ground-breaking."
Breaking cultural ground was never the intention of Brooklyn Nine-Nine writers Dan Goor and Michael Schur, the team behind another hit comedy, Parks and Recreation.
"They just wanted to write a good show with good characters and have those characters be real, well-rounded, fleshed-out people," says Fumero. They wanted Fumero and Beatriz on the show, and the two were Latina, so they made the characters Latina. "There wasn't an agenda. ... I'm almost more proud of that than even the fact that it's such a diverse cast."
Beatriz agrees: "They're interested in writing for an audience that wants to see real world reflected on television."
The roles of Rosa Diaz and Amy Santiago are the type Beatriz and Fumero have been dreaming of and working hard for all their lives.


Beatriz had some early exposure with colorblind casting in her Webster, Texas, high school production of Little Women, when she was chosen to play Jo. "It felt so special, because I didn't look like any of the girls who were cast as my sisters. All of them were white girls ... and there is a Latina playing Jo. And nobody cared," she says. The role led Beatriz to her passion and a confidence she'd never had before. "I felt like a full, real person for the first time."
The feeling of belonging was new for Beatriz, a member of an immigrant family facing challenges in their new home. Beatriz's father, a chemical engineer in Argentina, had to switch to driving trucks when he brought his wife and toddler-age daughters to the United States. "It was much more difficult for my father to find a job, probably because of, you know, societal prejudices against someone whose degree came from South America and whose first language wasn't English," Beatriz remembers. Her mother knew few people. Her sister Jennifer stopped speaking Spanish when she was teased about her Argentinian accent.
But the many adjustments only made their parents more resourceful and supportive of their daughters. Her father now drives a bus for students learning English as a second language; her mother teaches Spanish. "It was important for them to have my sister and I really follow our hearts," Beatriz says. So her parents let her focus on theater throughout high school and at Stephens College in Columbia, Mo.
After graduating, Beatriz worked with Yale Repertory Theatre and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF), where her longtime boyfriend, fellow actor Dan Donohue, is playing Richard III this summer. Through the OSF, she was exposed to Culture Clash, the Latino/Chicano performance troupe. "I've been a fan of (theirs) since I was a kid, and I got to work alongside them," Beatriz says. "That was a big step in my growth as an actor who wanted to do more comedy."
She credits her work in theater with helping her keep in tough, taciturn character during hilarious scenes with Saturday Night Live alum Samberg, Fumero and co-star Joe Lo Truglio. "They're the strongest (at improvisational comedy)," she says. "I just don't want to ruin one of their takes; if I start cracking up, that's it."
When she's not in character, though, Beatriz is bubbly and quick to laugh. "I am very different from Rosa, although she's definitely one of my shadow selves," Beatriz admits. "(Rosa) cares about people, but she doesn't have time for BS. There's too much else going on."
Her character's mysterious background allows Beatriz to add her own touches: She thought Rosa would ride a motorcycle, so she started carrying a helmet onto the set and has even signed up for lessons in case they let her film a scene on one. "If Rosa rides a bike, then I should know how."

In addition to motorcycle lessons, Beatriz wants to return to the place where she found herself, her high school theater department. "I really like talking to teenagers about the industry. ... I wish someone had been able to do that when I was in high school; I had so many questions about the way things worked, and I didn't even know who to ask," she says. "Especially for young women, it's a really tricky world."
Her character would likely agree, though probably wouldn't add a cheerful, "It would be really fun for me!"


Brooklyn Nine-Nine is filmed in Los Angeles, but Fumero can attest to its authentic East Coast look. She says she's a "Jersey girl from Lyndhurst, right by Giants Stadium." She's also first-generation Cuban American. Her parents came to the United States separately from Cuba when they were young and met in high school in New Jersey. "They're still in love, still hold hands," she reports proudly.
Fumero describes her parents as practical: Her mother was a hairdresser who became a stay-at-home mom, and her father was a math teacher who now works in a jewelry store in Manhattan. Yet when their daughter showed signs of a different path, making up plays and performing them as a child, they saved every cent to send her to dance classes.
"I was always performing," she says. When her parents took her to Broadway musicals starting at age 10, "I remember looking at the stage and being like, 'That. I want to do that.'" Her parents sacrificed what they could to add acting classes to their daughter's new obsession.
Their support was validated by an acceptance letter from New York University, one of the most prestigious — and expensive — schools in the Northeast. "NYU was a challenge, but they made it happen. ... I remember my dad sitting down with me and saying, 'You can't not go to this school, so we're just going to figure it out,'" Fumero says, her voice filling with emotion.
Their faith in her drove her to succeed, and mere hours after her final exam, Fumero got word she'd won the role of Adriana Cramer on the legendary soap opera One Life to Live. "That was the biggest redeeming moment," she says with a laugh, remembering how happy she felt: "I did good! I'm going to get you really nice Christmas gifts from now on!"
In addition to gifts and bragging rights, she also gave her parents a son-in-law: Cuban-American model and actor David Fumero, who also starred on the show. The two don't have children yet, something Fumero is asked about a lot. "Once you're married, you're never allowed to have stomach flu, because everyone will think you're pregnant," she jokes.
Her soap opera alter ego became pregnant, though, as well as becoming a model, getting attacked by her stalker, finding love and then leaving her husband to run off toParis. When Fumero left the soap, she was ready for a change, telling her agent, "I'm all cried out from One Life. I really want to go back to comedy."
Fumero hired a coach and spent time at The Groundlings, the legendary sketch comedy troupe and school in Los Angeles, where A-list comedians Kristen Wiig,Melissa McCarthy and Will Ferrell trained.
The results are great timing and a subtle step beyond playing straightwoman to Samberg's funnyman. "I have a very cartoony face," Fumero says of her expressive reactions to Samberg's lines. "When you're acting with Andy Samberg, you definitely have to be on your toes and ready for anything. ... It's very challenging and super fun, and you feel really good and proud at the end of the workday.
"This whole cast and this show has made me grow so much as an actor and as a person," she adds.
While Fumero can't say where her character on Brooklyn Nine-Nine is headed, she has hopes the show will be an influencer on television. "We want to see Latinos do more than be the maid, gangster or drug dealer. I know Latin people; they're not like that. Hopefully people start writing and producing shows that reflect that. The views of Latinos (are) much more diverse. There's a lot of us.
"It sends a message," she says, "without actually sending a message."

Tags: brooklyn nine-nine (nbc), latino celebrities

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