Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘s Stephanie Beatriz, who plays the precinct’s stone-faced Detective Rosa Diaz, got her start performing Shakespeare. Professional actors and actresses often do, of course, but with Beatriz’s comedic success on shows like Brooklyn and Modern Family, you can’t fault anyone for being surprised. As the 35-year-old native of Argentina told Uproxx, she surely doesn’t. Her diverse experiences on stage and on screen also includes indie dramas like Short Term 12 and the upcoming Netflix original, Pee-wee’s Big Holiday.
Interviewers often react with surprise when you discuss your Shakespearean background, as if working in theatrical dramas is the furthest thing from television comedy. But it’s not.
It’s all the same thing. You’re playing pretend based on scripts that someone else writes. Whether it’s 400 years old or five hours old, essentially it’s all the same art form. There are some human beings in a room. Let’s split them up. You guys are the audience, we’re the storytellers and we’re going to stand on this fire and make stuff up to entertain you. All of it is from the same root, though the tree has a million branches on it now. All the basics are there.
Do you ever get tired of discussing this, or are you used to it?
I never get impatient when anyone asks me about it, because they’re just trying to understand more about what it is that I do. I would liken it to something like, let’s say you know about cars. You know how to fix up cars. Me, not knowing anything about them other than how to change my tire every once in a while… I wouldn’t even know where to start with the question. I wouldn’t know where to begin. People that aren’t necessarily in the industry — they’re not actors, writers or producers — look at it from the outside with awe but little understanding, so they don’t really know what to ask. Just like I wouldn’t know what to say to you about cars.
However, I do think it’s funny when people are like, “You did Shakespeare. How did you transition to comedy?” I’m like, “You guys have read Shakespeare, right? He wrote a lot of comedies, and I would highly recommend them.” I’ve had some really fun conversations with Andre Braugher about this. He’s a fantastic, wonderful actor and has done quite a bit of Shakespeare in his time. Obviously, it’s technically more difficult to perform Shakespeare because you’re thinking about the meter, how the words will sound and the plan the playwright had for the sounds and patterns of these words. You can’t just throw in pauses wherever you want. There was a rhythmic design to what he was doing, and it’s just as much a part of the story as what’s happening on stage. When you watch good Shakespeare, it doesn’t feel like it’s 400 years old.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine isn’t Shakespeare, of course, but this emphasis on sound still applies today — especially when the jokes depend upon how the lines are read. Like your “I can be dynamic” line from “Adrian Pimento.”
Right, and rhythmically that line is set up so that there’s a small pause between “I can be dynamic” and “exclamation point.” If the pause is too long, it’s going to be weird. If the pause is too short, it’s not going to have that much of an effect. You work with rhythms and vocal patterns a lot in comedy. Like whenever you watch stand-up and the joke doesn’t really land, it’s often because there’s something off with the rhythm. It was funny, but it didn’t quite land the way the comic wanted it to, so it isn’t as effective.
Melissa Fumero talked to us about how much her performance as Amy Santiago relies on using her face. For you, Rosa is much more stoic. Her face never really changes, so you have to emphasize these rhythms more often than not.
She doesn’t have a tell. Rosa would be a great person to take to a poker table at Las Vegas, because she doesn’t have a tell.