When Olga Merediz originated her role of Abuela Claudia on Broadway for “In the Heights,” a role for which she was nominated for a Tony, she felt audiences had never seen an “older woman with a house coat center stage singing” an aria before.
Such a standout moment for an older star is just as rare on the movie screen, and it would be tempting to preserve the integrity of her original performance for the “In the Heights” film. But Merediz in speaking with TheWrap said that she and her character have grown and changed in important ways.
“I had a responsibility to change this character. And I have changed. I have grown,” Merediz said. “We all grow as time passes. You grow as a human being, life hits you, you have realizations, so I gave it a little more Olga, a little more depth, a little more maturity. And there are a few changes from the script and the songs of the show.”
The changes to the songs are small ways in which director Jon M. Chu updated Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights” to life in 2020, but Merediz’s big song, “Paciencia y Fe” (Patience and Faith), is still as grand as ever. The filmed version of the song is a lavish, colorful and lively number set between a subway car and tunnel. Merediz described shooting the scene as very physically demanding, and she thanked god for her Broadway training and experience performing five shows a weekend to get her through it.
“The way they built this amazing number, I really felt supported. I guess the difference is that you shoot out of sequence, so you have to maintain your concentration, where you are, in the intensity of the song, the place of the song, and also you shoot, one day was a night shoot, I went in at 5:30, and the day of the subway tunnel, I went in at 5:30, I came home at 7:30 in the morning the next day. I don’t know how I had the energy all night singing,” she said. “I had all my vitamins and herbal powders for everything, and I took everything, and we did it! I don’t know how.”
Olga Merediz’s Abuela Claudia character is who she describes as the “quintessential matriarch,” the mother that you always wanted to be or always wanted to have, and someone who is “all loving” and supportive of the community. Merediz says Claudia is an amalgamation of several people in her life, including her own mother and grandmother as well as just a little dash of Olga. But she feels what makes the character really sing is how relatable she is even if you don’t have an “abuela.”
“People can relate to this woman who is the rock and heart of the family and the community. She might be old but she’s so wise and has so much to teach and has gone through so much. Sometimes in our society we overlook these people,” she said. “It makes me cry to think of this Abuela Claudia and so many immigrants like her. it doesn’t matter if you’re Latino, Italian, Polish, German. We all have Abuela Claudia’s now or in our family past.”