At this summer’s gathering of the Television Critics Association (TCA), Michael Schur responded to my question as to how two young Latina actresses – Melissa Fumero and Stephanie Beatriz – actually managed to get cast as series regulars on FOX TV’s new police precinct comedy series, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, scheduled to debut Tuesday, September 17 (8:30-9pm).
Schur shrugged and relied, “I can only speak to our process. We did it race‑blind. Our characters’ names for these two roles were very generic names in the script at first. They were like Meghan and Amy. I think we auditioned people from probably eight different ethnicities for a lot of the characters on the show and just cast who we wanted. And this is the cast we wanted.”
“It’s awesome,” responded Stephanie Beatriz, who portrays Detective Rosa Diaz, the relentlessly sarcastic precinct tough lady who also manages to exude a tantalizing sexuality. “It is incredible how this show was cast and yet, if you look around this panel, we pretty much reflect the United States. I don’t know why there are so few Latinos on primetime. Change happens in small steps. So it’s happening.”
Melissa Fumero added, “I am also really happy that my character, Detective Amy Santiago, is actually a strong professional competitor to the lead actor, Detective Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) and not a love interest. My character grew up with seven brothers. She’s the first lady cop in the family and she’s extremely competitive. I love that about her. Of course, this is a series and who knows what eventually might happen between Amy and Andy.”
Created by Schur and fellow executive producer Dan Goor of Parks and Recreation fame, Brooklyn Nine-Nine follows more the tradition of the successful police precinct ensemble sitcom Barney Miller (1974-82) than the over-the-top and less successful spoof, Police Squad (1982). Much of the action is driven by Samberg’s Peralta, a good cop who displays an irreverent disregard for following the rules. This not only causes on-going friction with Detective Santiago; but creates an immediate work-place schism with the squad’s new by-the-book, no-nonsense commanding officer, Captain Ray Holt (Andre Braugher). The regular ensemble also includes Terry Crews, Joe Lo Truglio and Chelsea Peretti.
For Fumero, who was born Melissa Gallo in Lyndhurst New Jersey of Cuban descent, being cast in this role finally places her in the position of being a true leading lady. A graduate of New York University, she first came to prominence when she joined the cast of One Life to Live in 2004. In 2007, Melissa married her co-star David Fumero and changed her name. In 2008, she made her film debut in Tiny Dancer. In 2010, she performed a recurring stint on Gossip Girl. At the conclusion of the TCA conference, she declared, “Now, it feels like I am starting a whole new life and career and I am so looking forward to going to work every day.”
Stephanie Beatriz is no stranger to comedy. She guest-starred this year on Modern Family, portraying Sofia Vergara’s sister. A native of Houston, Texas, Beatriz worked extensively in regional theater following her graduation from Stephens College in Missouri. She appeared in the title role of Octavio Solis’s Lydia, produced by Denver Theatre Company in 2009. That same year, she guest-starred on an episode of The Closer. Beatriz has subsequently appeared in the TV film, The Smart One (20012), Southland (2013), Jessie (2013) and the upcoming film, You’re Not You (2014). When asked about playing Detective Diaz, Beatriz smiled impishly and replied, “I have been dreaming of playing a detective and carrying a gun for a long time.”