Movies

Your Guide to In the Heights’ Many Cameos

There’s so much more than just Lin-Manuel Miranda as the Piragua Guy.

A collage showing Lin-Manuel Miranda pushing a cart, Chris Jackson leaning out the window of an ice-cream truck, Valentina in a salon chair, a press photo of the Kid Mero, Marc Anthony lookin' scraggly, Maria Hinojosa, Lin-Manuel Miranda's parents, and King George III, standing beneath his crown
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos and screengrabs by HBO Max, Disney+, and Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for A+E.

In the Heights may be based on a beloved musical that debuted on Broadway more than a decade ago, but even if you’ve seen the show, the new film adaptation in theaters and on HBO Max still holds a few surprises for viewers. These include not just the changes that the movie makes to the stage version’s structure and story and lyrics, but also the cameos it adds. While it’s certainly no secret that Lin-Manuel Miranda, who created and starred in the original musical, makes an appearance, others are more surprising—or so quick you might miss them. We’ve rounded up some of the most exciting cameos below.

The Kid Mero

He wears gold chains, a black T-shirt, a beard, and a cap with a flat brim.
Joel Martinez (aka the Kid Mero) in 2019. VALERIE MACON/Getty Images
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The Bronx’s own the Kid Mero, the Dominican-American co-host of Desus & Mero, is the voice of the radio host at the beginning who introduces the record-breaking heat wave that pervades the movie.

Luis Miranda and Dr. Luz Towns-Miranda

Standing in front of a silver car, Luis Miranda has his arm around Dr. Luz Towns-Miranda.
Luis Miranda and Dr. Luz Towns-Miranda. Warner Bros/HBO Max
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Lin-Manuel Miranda’s parents (who are each quite accomplished in their own right) appear during “Breathe” getting out of a car, with Luis telling Nina, “Welcome home.”

Valentina

Dascha Polanco stands over Valentina, who looks up while holding a pair of sunglasses.
Dascha Polanco and Valentina. Warner Bros/HBO Max
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In the first scene at Daniela’s salon, drag performer Valentina plays the client in the sunglasses who scoffs when Daniela says it will only take 10 minutes to travel to her new shop. Valentina competed on Season 9 of RuPaul’s Drag Race and Season 4 of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars.

Lin-Manuel Miranda

Lin Manuel Miranda, wearing an NYC cap and a cloth slung over his shoulder, pushes a cart with syrups on a New York City street.
Lin-Manuel Miranda. Warner Bros/HBO Max
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The original Usnavi has ceded the musical’s main role to a younger actor, but he still makes an appearance in the movie, though, as the piragüero, whose ice-shaving business struggles to compete with the brand-name ice cream trucks.

Chris Jackson

Chris Jackson leans out the window of an ice cream truck, smirking and holding a stack of dollar bills.
Chris Jackson. Warner Bros/HBO Max
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Jackson played Benny in the Broadway production of In the Heights and here appears as the Piragua Guy’s rival, selling Mister Softee. Jackson also played George Washington in Miranda’s megahit Hamilton. Stick around after the credits for a little more of the two costars’ reunion.

Marc Anthony

A close up of Marc Anthony's face.
Marc Anthony. Warner Bros/HBO Max
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The movie takes its time revealing who’s playing Sonny’s dad, but the tattoos might be a tipoff as the camera slowly makes its way up the singer’s arm before finally landing on the face of the pop superstar. Anthony also lends his voice to the song in the closing credits of the movie, “Home All Summer,” written specially by Lin-Manuel Miranda for the film.

Maria Hinojosa

Maria Hinojosa stands in a crowd holding a microphone.
Maria Hinojosa. Warner Bros/HBO Max
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That’s Maria Hinojosa, host of NPR’s Latino USA, giving the speech at the rally for the DREAMers.

A Hamilton Easter Egg

Jimmy Smits, on hold, looking bored
Warner Bros./HBO Max
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This one isn’t quite a cameo, but when Kevin Rosario (Jimmy Smits) is on the phone with Stanford’s financial office, the hold music is a muzak version of “You’ll Be Back,” King George III’s song from Hamilton. Does this mean that Hamilton is a big hit in the world in which In the Heights takes place, or are the two movie musicals in fact part of the same cinematic universe???? The LMMCU, if you will.

Doreen Montalvo

Doreen Montalvo stands amidst a crowd of people on a sidewalk. In the foreground, Nina stands with her back turned to the camera.
Warner Bros/HBO Max
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The actress, who died last year at age 56, sings to Nina in “Breathe.” Miranda posted a tribute to Montalvo on Twitter, noting that she was the first actress to audition for the musical in its infancy in 2002.

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Though Montalvo officially played an unnamed member of the ensemble, Miranda revealed that her character was referred to as Cuca—which is also the name of Dascha Polanco’s character in the movie.

A graffiti painting on a brick wall showing a woman says “Doreen” and below that ”Para Siempre.”
HBO Max/Warner Bros.
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Finally, Montalvo is the voice on the record with the scratch that plays in Abuela Claudia’s apartment. The lyrics go, “Si te alejas de mi/ Seguirás en mis recuerdos para siempre,” meaning, “If you go away from me/ You’ll go on in my memories forever,” with the record skipping on the words “para siempre”/“forever.” In the closing credits, this sentiment is also echoed in the film’s dedication.

For more discussion of In The Heights, read all of Slate’s coverage of the film adaptation, or listen to Slate’s Spoiler Special podcast episode on the movie.

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