SINGAPORE - American actress Stephanie Beatriz is best known for playing the intimidatingly smart and stoic detective Rosa Diaz in all eight seasons of the police sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine (2013 to 2021).
In the animated musical Encanto, produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios, her character is the opposite of that. She voices Mirabel, a young woman who is the only ungifted member of a family blessed with supernatural powers.
Encanto opens in cinemas on Nov 25.
In an online press conference for global journalists, Beatriz, 40, says that self-doubting Mirabel is someone she identifies with.
"I find her extremely relatable. There have been many times in my life when I felt I didn't measure up, that I wasn't talented enough to be there. I've had impostor syndrome," she says.
But like Mirabel, Beatriz says she grew to accept her accomplishments as well as her limitations.
"Getting older, working more and trusting myself, I discovered that I do have something to offer. Not everyone is going to love it, but those who do will love it very much," she says.
There is another facet to Mirabel that reflects Beatriz's own personality. The actress uses humour to cope when she is feeling awkward. She had Mirabel do the same with improvised lines in the recording studio.
"When I'm uncomfortable, when I don't know what to do or how to handle a situation, I try to make a joke of it, to make someone else feel comfortable," she says.
Making directors Jared Bush, Byron Howard and Charise Castro Smith laugh was her way of judging if her ad libs were landing. Their chuckles were not just a boost to her self-esteem, they were a sign that her contributions would make the final cut.
"If they laughed, I would be like, 'Oh yeah, I don't care if anything else makes it.'"
The story revolves around Mirabel and her family, the supernaturally gifted Madrigals, who live in an isolated town in Colombia. There are ominous signs that the family magic, which has kept the town safe and prosperous for years, is fading. Mirabel, against the wishes of her elders and siblings, breaks taboos to discover the cure for the loss of power.
As was done for recent Disney productions such as this year's Raya And The Last Dragon (set in a mythical version of South-east Asia) and Luca (a coming-of-age comedy set in Italy), the creative team took care to not just steer clear of stereotypes, but also bring out the richness of the underlying culture.
Giving an example of how that was achieved, director Bush, who is also a co-writer, spoke about how the film's songwriter, the celebrated actor and musician Lin-Manuel Miranda, created an ambitious mix of songs reflecting Colombia's wide palette. Miranda is also credited as a co-writer.
"We have everything from a reggaeton, which feels very contemporary, to Dos Oruguitas (Two Caterpillars), which references a folk song that's been around for 100 years," he says in an online interview with The Straits Times.
Another of its directors, Howard, speaks in the same interview about how Encanto follows in the tradition of other Disney fantasies with magic in the plot, such as Tangled (2010) and Frozen (2013).
But the creative team decided early on that it would be wrong to transplant those styles to the Colombian world of Encanto. Magic, like food, clothing or music, should reflect one's background.
"Frozen and Tangled are great, but they use a sort of European magic, which did not feel at home in Latin America. We wanted to have magic that comes organically from the family's experiences," says Howard.
Encanto opens in cinemas on Nov 25.
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