Movies

Stephanie Beatriz On ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ And Getting Excited For Pee-Wee Herman’s New Movie

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.

The show brings in a lot of great comedians and comic actors for guest spots here and there, like the current arc with Jason Mantzoukas. What’s that been like?

When they introduced his character, Adrian Pimento, at the table read, I immediately thought he was a weird male… Not a male version of Rosa, but they’re cut from the same cloth. Both of them are very intense people in their own ways. Speaking of Shakespeare, I thought of them in a sort of Beatrice and Benedick kind of way. It’s such an antagonistic relationship between these two characters from Much Ado About Nothing that they’re immediately at each other’s throats. But underneath it all, there’s this really bizarre attraction. Rosa is an alpha, and if another alpha walks into the room, she wants to go over there and smell his butt. Just to say, “This is my territory and what are you doing here? What’s up?” Sometimes dogs smell each other’s butts and think, “Cool, you’re alright. You can stay.” It will be really exciting to see what happens between Rosa and Adrian.

You’ve done more comedy since Brooklyn Nine-Nine began.

I think what happens, or at least what happened to me, is that as soon as I got Brooklyn and it became successful, people started saying, “Stephanie can do comedy.” So the auditions that started coming my way were more often that type of stuff, which is great. I’m having so much fun. The new Pee-wee Herman movie is coming out in less than a month…

How surreal was that experience?

It was really dope, though it never felt surreal. This is a really weird thing to say, but I watched the show so much growing up. It was such a part of my childhood, adolescence and young adulthood, that it felt like I was coming back to meet an old friend, and we just picked up where we left off. Even meeting Paul Reubens in the first auditions was like, “Oh yeah! There you are!” It was never weird or nervous or anything like that. I don’t know quite how to describe it other than that way. And he was so welcoming and funny and cool, everything that you’d wish he would be. They say you should never meet your heroes, but I would say the opposite is true for Paul Reubens. He’s one of the funniest, most gentle and coolest people I’ve ever met.

I cannot even begin to count the number of people I know who are excited for Pee-wee’s Big Holiday.

It’s so nice that, to so many of us, he was something different. We’d never seen anything like him before. That feeling that maybe you weren’t seeing yourself on television — your weird idiosyncratic nerdiness anywhere — and then there comes this guy who was just out-of-control weird and enjoying every minute of it. Just being himself and living through his little world.

I watched a preview of Big Holiday the other day with Alia Shawkat and Jessica Pohly the other day, and watching it in the theater was so fun. My face hurt so much after, from laughing so hard. There’s so many great things in it, especially for those of us who grew up with Pee-wee. The director, John Lee, and the writers, Reubens and Paul Rust, made it for us. It feels like it’s for all of us, all the weird kids who watched the show and then watched the movie over and over again. Shout out to all the people who have a cool Pee-wee tattoo. You know there’s like a million of us.

The next episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, “Cheddar,” airs on Tuesday, March 1 at 9 p.m. ET on FOX. Until then, here’s a preview…

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