Olga Merediz is one busy woman. The 57-year-old cubana, known for her role as Abuela Claudia in the Tony-winning musical In The Heights, stars in a dramatic indie film set in the same upper Manhattan neighborhood, Washington Heights. Written and directed by Jonathan Ullman, Trouble in the Heights follows a young boy named Javy (budding actor Antonio Ortiz) who unknowingly buries a trash bag stuffed with drug money. Chaos ensues as his older brother Diego (Rayniel Rufino) fights to protect his brother from a merciless drug kingpin.
The film, out now on VOD, DVD, has garnered tremendous buzz already in the Latino film community and Merediz, who plays Gloria (the struggling mother of Diego’s girlfriend) in the film, is an absolute gem. But, this is no surprise. Merediz has been in the game for a bit, and is even starring in the upcoming The Place Beyond The Pines alongside Eva Mendes and Ryan Gosling.
We chatted with the humble Merediz about her Trouble in the Heights role, her greatest influences, and what it was like to work with fellow cubana Eva Mendes. Oh, and a little somethin’ somethin’ about cutie Gosling.
Read our full interview with Merediz below:
The way in which you portrayed Gloria in Trouble in the Heights, I felt like I was watching my mom, or the other Dominican women in my family. Who did you draw from when portraying her?
I’m Cuban, but I feel like Dominicans and Cubans are so similar. We’re like family. I have so many Dominican friends. When I looked at my character Gloria... can you imagine? She came to this country, she struggled, she probably had three jobs, and was raising her family. How hard is it to do that, and then her daughter comes to her with her problem and Gloria loses it. She just loses it. It’s like, “Wait a minute… I’m struggling so hard to raise you. I’m holding on by a thread as it is, and you come to me with that.”
Did your mom influence your character at all?
My mom is 88 years old and is still the strongest person I know. She’s much stronger than my father. I drew from her... I think about her leaving Cuba and all that she’s done. Though she’s 88 now, I’m still like ‘Okay mami!’ [Laughs] I cower under her sometimes.
What has been the greatest lesson that your mom has taught you?
When you fall, just pick yourself up and dust yourself off. That’s very much my mom, no matter what happens. Her finger could be bleeding and she’d still be cooking. She’s taught me to keep fighting, keep struggling.
In the film, your mannerisms say it all. Are those your real mannerisms in real life, or are they from the women in your family?
Those are mine, I think [Laughs].
I can imagine that filming any film – especially an independent one – can be difficult. What was the greatest challenge for you during filming?
We shot is very fast, and it very low budget, so time was at a premium. We would do a couple takes and ya. It takes forever to get the lighting right, to do it right. I was extremely exhausted because I was doing In the Heights during the same time. I was beyond exhausted. The greatest challenge is that you’re exhausted because you’re working very long hours. In a Hollywood film, they take their time. You have the time...there’s so much more to support you. Indie films are different.
The Trouble in the Heights director, Jonathan Ullman, is not Latino. Do you think its difficult to capture the essence of a heavily Latino neighborhood such as Washington Heights?
Absolutely. Who would say that that wasn’t a Latino director who directed that film? He got into the core of the Latino experience – specifically the Dominican experience in Washington Heights; what they are all about. He captured that. I’m very proud of him and I would work with him again. He just fell in love with the huge warmth and the generosity of Dominicans – they’re like sweet candy. They’re loving people. He did that community such justice. You can almost smell the food in the film. When my character is cooking in the kitchen and when he pans to the groceries... you feel like Jonathan really captures the spirit.
You also star in The Place Beyond the Pines.
Yes, we have two Latinas – myself and Eva [Mendes]. Eva does a magnificent job. I think it’s the best she’s ever done in her career. And can you imagine doing a scene with Ryan Gosling?
Did you work closely with Eva?
Eva and I clicked immediately. Eva was the one that really cast me. Eva was in the room and I don’t know what it was... we just clicked immediately. There was a connection between us. Thank God she was there. I feel in my heart that she cast me. On the set, we were like bosom buddies. We played mother and daughter so we had to be connected in the story. There was something there. She told me a lot of stories about her life and we had a lot of similarities besides the cubana thing. She’s another strong one. It felt like we were almost sisters.
What about Ryan Gosling?
Ryan is un amor. Not only is he so sexy, but he’s so charming... charming! He oozes charm, but not in a gross way. He is so down-to-earth and humble. That boy has a twinkle in his eye. It was hard to work with him because he is captivating. Can you imagine? I was melting.
Sounds like someone has a crush...
Who… me? [Laughs]
Anything else you want to add?
I think it’s an epic film.
I know you had a recent reunion with your fellow In the Heights co-stars. How did that feel?
I can’t quiet describe it. It was thrilling to relive the music. The cast members are like family. My heart is full from that reunion concert and the love of the fans. All these people that flew in from I don’t know how many places. We celebrated Washington Heights in Washington Heights. It was a love fest, and I tried to take it all in. This musical and hopefully this Jonathan Ullman film, it brings us [Latinos] up a little bit. We’ve been at the bottom for so long that these kinds of projects lift us a couple steps up. It puts us a little further up.