On the hit sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Stephanie Beatriz plays Rosa Diaz, a tough-talking, even-tougher-walking detective. But while she shares a lot in common with her character—including a surreptitious love of ballet—the Argentinian-born, Texas-raised actress couldn’t be any less scary in real life. Her actual voice is at least two octaves higher than the husky rumble she deploys on Nine-Nine, and she was more than willing to take part in a mid-interview sing-along. It’s further proof of the strength and versatility that have helped make the 34-year-old a standout fan favourite amongst the show’s star-studded cast. We talked to Beatriz about her deadpan brilliance, Andy Samberg in the workplace and which of her castmates breaks character the most.
Where am I catching you today?
I just got out of a ballet class. It ran a little late.
You are like your character! Besides the secret ballet classes, what else do you and Rosa have in common?
[Laughs.] We have many similarities! All actors pull from their own selves and souls for their characters. I like to say that it’s like listening to classical music and only turning up the volume of one instrument. That’s what building a character is like: you amplify a single aspect of yourself.
What initially attracted you to the role?
First of all, I was obsessed with Parks & Rec. I had told my agents that I would love to work on something like that. When my agent came back with a script for an untitled show by [Parks & Rec creators] Mike Schur & Dan Goor, I got so excited. I couldn’t believe I was going in for an audition. I read for the character—she was named Megan then—and I loved her. It’s so few words but so much personality. You know who she is by what she says and how she says it. She’s a presence.
In real life, who from the Nine-Nine would be the best or worst coworker?
I think one of the best would be Jake, because he’s so good at his job. But, at the same time, Jake would also be one of the worst because he’s such a bumbling doofus. He would get under your skin—he never shows up on time and his life is a mess but he solves all the cases.
Who do you think would win in a battle of seriousness: Rosa or Captain Holt?
Oh, that’s a battle to the death. You’d leave the room after 45 minutes and could come back 20 years later and they’d still be there. Those two would never succumb to the other.
I love how Rosa is so tough and scary, but it’s the sweetest guys like Marcus and Charles who are in love with her.
Isn’t it funny? I’ve had many a marriage proposal on Twitter from guys who think that I’m actually Rosa. Maybe they think that they can soften her because they see a sweetness in her that they can pull out.
Do you have any experience with crushes or unrequited love?
Oh my god, all of them! I was not a cute kid. I was really awkward and very into books. There was a particular kid in second grade, Charlie Smythe, who I’ll never forget. He was so cute but he didn’t know I existed. I would follow him around. I finally dated someone I had a crush on in high school, Travis Townsend. We’re still friends. I used to stalk him in the halls. That was the one that ended in happiness because I asked him out. All my good dating stories start with me being the one to ask someone out.
Would you say you have the same level of intensity that she does?
Yeah, I can be pretty scary! It’s really helpful having done Shakespeare to get to scary lows and highs. I can tap into my Shakespearean background to help me with Rosa.
How are you able to stay so deadpan with everyone around you being so hilarious?
I think of it like theatre. In theatre, you can’t break because the whole audience sees it and the show is essentially ruined. My theatre training has definitely helped a lot. When Chelsea Peretti comes up with something funny on the fly or Joe pulls one of his faces, I always try hard not to break. You don’t want to ruin the effect.
Who breaks the most on set?
Melissa Fumero, for sure. She’s so funny when she breaks. But she’s great at resetting herself. She resets immediately. She does this thing where she coughs and swallows and resets. She definitely breaks the most.
What’s been your favourite storyline?
On a personal level, I love the Pontiac Bandit story. Craig Robinson is so funny and fun to be around. Seeing Jake deal with this criminal that he also loves and respects is great.
I like how much he loves Rosa. I love it when he sings to her: Rooooooooosa.
Rooooooooosaaaaaa. [Laughs.] I like screwing with him. The last time he was on the show, his line was something like, Let’s make out and I improv’d, Not yet. And his face was great. It was fantastic. He’s a generous actor and human.
Who has been your favourite guest star?
I have a soft spot for Kyra Sedgwick because the first thing I ever shot when I first came to L.A. was a guest spot on her show The Closer. I reminded her of it when she guested on our show, and she was so sweet and got emotional saying she was so happy for me. It was just a few years ago, and she had made me feel so special and welcomed. I hope that I make the guest stars on our show feel the same way.