The highly anticipated movie adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway musical “In the Heights,” directed by Jon M. Chu, is continuing to reach new heights as fans are still buzzing about the film’s success.
One of the core ensemble dancers, Leo Moctezuma, exclusively chats with The Knockturnal about how he landed the audition and what his experience was like being in the spectacular film.
The Knockturnal: ‘In the Heights’ was absolutely incredible! What was the audition process like for you?
Leo Moctezuma: That is actually interesting for me because I was doing a job out of town when the first audition of the movie happened and I was so worried that I wasn’t going to be able to audition for it because, for me, it’s been a long time in the making. I’ve been a fan of this musical from the beginning, and I just knew in my heart that [if] there would be a movie of this show. I need to be in it…
My agent did its thing and…got me a timed appointment to go into the audition, so that was a blessing in itself…And this was amazing. It was amazing. It was the carneval song, so it was Latin partnering, and I just knew the musical so well that I knew exactly what I needed to do to get this job done…
There’s a part where they had us freestyle and I had a Puerto Rican flag in my back pocket and as soon as they let us freestyle, I [held] that flag out and started twirling it around, dancing and the whole audition team got up off their feet…started yelling, screaming and shouting…the pride of the Latino community in this movie is so strong, and I knew that that’s what they needed to see.
The Knockturnal: That’s amazing! I’m glad you kept going for it after you said you missed the first audition! Were you able to directly work with Lin-Manuel? How was your experience overall?
Leo Moctezuma: We were in one scene that Lin Manuel was in which was the Carneval scene, where everybody throws up their flags…He was amazing. He came in and out of rehearsals, dance rehearsals. He looked like a proud dad…just an undeniable, happy heart, smiling face…This is obviously his work, his writing, but to see it come to life…His energy was fantastic…He was absolutely so gracious…his energy came from a place of gratitude…it was great to have him in the room because it just inspired us even more.
The Knockturnal: You’re a nationwide choreographer, who’s danced on world tours for celebrities like Britney Spears and Spice Girls! How did that happen?!
Leo Moctezuma: I kind of got started as a tour dancer at a young age. My first tour that I did was Ricky Martin’s Livin’ la Vida Loca World Tour. I was 18-years-old. That was in 1999-2000s and from there…I did two tours with Britney [Spears], I did two tours with Christina Aguilera, the Spice Girls. I danced and choreographed Pink’s Funhouse world tour…I’ve been very blessed [and] very grateful…
The Knockturnal: How did the pandemic impact you personally as a choreographer and being in the dance industry?
Leo Moctezuma: The pandemic was definitely difficult. I’m grateful that 2019 was a great year of work for me, which was when we shot ‘In the Heights’ movie, and I was nominated for an Emmy as a choreographer and I won a World Choreography award…Financially I was in a good place. No one, I don’t think, was ready for a pandemic like this.
The Knockturnal: Are you currently working on any new projects?
Leo Moctezuma: Yes, I am, actually! I just finished choreographing a number in Usher’s Las Vegas show, that opens up in July…that was a blessing…then me and my choreography partner, who’s one of the directors for Magic Mike Live and the Magic Mike series, we actually, just a month ago, we choreographed the scene in a movie that Channing Tatum and Sandra Bullock are doing. I’m super excited about those two [projects].