Encanto’s Stars Reveal What It Was Like Performing Songs By Lin-Manuel Miranda

Few creatives have made as meteoric a rise as Lin-Manuel Miranda has since the start of the 21st century. After breaking out with his Broadway hit In The Heights in 2007, he became a one-man phenomenon thanks to the spectacular success of Hamilton, and since then his career has made incredible strides as he’s proven to be a true renascence entertainer. This past month, for example, has been massive for him, as he has not only released his directorial debut, Tick, Tick…Boom!, on Netflix, but he also had a key role in the creation of Encanto, the latest film from Walt Disney Animation Studios.

He’s built an incredible level of clout in the entertainment industry, and while it’s clear that filmmakers and performers love working with him, it can also be a creatively intimidating experience, as I recently learned talking with the stars behind the lead characters in Encanto.

The new animated film is a project that Lin-Manuel Miranda had a direct hand in creating from very early stages (creating a distinction between it and his work on Moana), and that work included writing a full soundtrack of songs. These tracks are in a variety of genres and demand extreme range from the performers, and that, as you might imagine, put the actors back on their heels a bit in the recording process.

Stephanie Beatriz, who plays protagonist Mirabel Madrigal in Encanto, made a clear distinction between her time recording dialogue versus recording music, and emphasized the enhanced degree of difficulty in the latter. Beatriz has experience working with Lin-Manuel Miranda, as earlier this year she was featured in Jon Chu’s big screen adaptation of In The Heights, but even still she acknowledged the advanced degree of difficulty that came with the job:

It's more stressful for me to be singing. It's hard! It's really hard, and you're like trying to hit these notes and some of Lin's... almost all of Lin's songs are deeply complex pieces of music and some of the notes were [singing] high, so it was hard. And I was also pretty pregnant for a lot of the recording of the songs.

Anxiety inducing as it may have been, Stephanie Beatriz explained that she had a secret weapon against it in the making of Encanto: preparation. Being honest about her dedication to her craft, she explained that taking on a project means making sure that she is in the best position to do the best job that she can, and working that hard took the edge off of a hard gig. She continued,

That was stressful to me, but it wasn't as stressful as you would think, because I treat our profession – I think you do too – to me, I train for my stuff. You know? If I'm in a play, I'm training for the play, the run of the play. I'm gearing the front of my day so that the back end of my day is the most important because that's when show time is. So for me, I had vocal coach, his name's Eric Vetro who's an incredible coach. We worked and worked and work the songs. I was ready. He's a great coach.

Diane Guerrero, Jessica Darrow, and Wilmer Valderrama – who respectively play Isabela, Luisa, and Agustin Madrigal in Encanto – were grouped together for our interview, together they all echoed many of the same sentiments of Stephanie Beatriz when I asked about the pressure inherent in collaborating with Lin-Manuel Miranda and recording music that he has written. They particularly highlighted the challenge that comes with Miranda’s tendency to blend styles together, making each song a different kind of effort. Said Guerrero,

The notes are all like, 'Now do this. Now you have to rap. Now you have to be cool. Now you have to be lyrical Disney-like.'

Continuing Diane Guerroro’s thought, Jessica Darrow added that recording the soundtrack for Encanto meant accessing skills she didn’t know she actually had prior to the making of the film, saying,

Three different types of songs in one. I feel like at one point I was doing a monologue and then I was hitting these high notes, and then I was rapping. I did not know I could rap this well.

As for Wilmer Valderrama, he plays a character who doesn’t have his own song in Encanto, which is something true for both Diane Guerrero and Jessica Darrow, but he had his own intimidating experience recording the music, acknowledging not only the complexity of the songs, but also performing them right in front of Lin-Manuel Miranda. Said the actor,

I didn't have to do the songs that these ladies had to do, because the difficulty level was like at 11. But I had to do some harmonies. I had to do a couple little punch in and outs in the songs – and I thought I could sing until I had to do Lin-Manuel songs. I thought I could sing, but I was terribly wrong once I started doing harmonies for Lin-Manuel.

Bruno Madrigal, the black sheep of the family at the heart of Encanto, is another character that isn’t made to be a prominent voice on the soundtrack, but that didn’t totally excuse John Leguizamo from the music half of the assignment in the creation of the Walt Disney Animation Studios film. The beloved character actor has a fantastic rap in the movie, and he egoless-ly explained that the recording session for that part took far longer than one might expect:

They gave me a rap, I got a little rap section, and Lin was there and I said, 'Lin, you gotta help me out, bro. You gotta help me out. I'm not a singer.' I can deal with the acting and the quirkiness, but the singing was rough. But he was there, patient, listening to it over and over. I only had a paragraph, but we did it like a million times. I think it took two days to get it done.

Also starring María Cecilia Botero, Mauro Castillo, Angie Cepeda, and Carolina Gaitán, Encanto is now playing in theaters everywhere, and you can discover everything else heading to the big screen and streaming in what remains of this year by checking out our 2021 Movie Release Calendar.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.