Leslie Grace Talks Batgirl, Role's Importance for Afro-Latinas, and Haagen Daz Partnership (Exclusive)

Leslie Grace is more than just a singer and actress; she's got a heart of gold and uses her platform to help aspiring creatives reach their full potential. The In The Heights and Batgirl star has partnered with Häagen-Dazs for its new City Sweets collection. Described as a new, playfully indulgent collection of flavors inspired by the iconic street food desserts to grab on the go in any major city across the country, flavors are inspired by beloved treats like vendor pretzels and crispy churros to waffles and New York's classic black & white cookies, all of which create a new line that'll have even non-ice cream lovers coming back for more.

The line is an extension of the brand's #ThatsDazs campaign, which launched last year to elevate a new generation of diverse tastemakers and creators. This year, they're doing even more. The company will also continue to invest in marginalized creative communities in 2022 as part of the company's $1.5 million commitment that began last year that's donated to organizations dedicated to creatives. It's a passion project that Grace couldn't refuse.

The partnership comes on the heels of the Bronx native wrapping up her second film role as the coveted lead in Batgirl. Pop Culture spoke with Grace about how her work with the ice cream brand ties into her work as an artist. She even dishes on working on Batgirl, what getting the part meant to her as an Afro Latina, and teases new music. 

PC: How did the Häagen-Dazs partnership come about?

LG: They approached me. I have this conspiracy that I have tweeted and tagged them in too many posts at this point all my life for them not to know that I'm an eternal fan. We have engaged before this collaboration coming about, and I've gotten some treats from them the whole Häagen-Dazs team has been so awesome. They just know I'm literally a diehard fan. So when this opportunity came about for the City Sweets collection, I was just like, 'Sign me up!' I've been waiting for this moment. And what got me excited about the entire collection and the campaign is that this year they've already committed to donating $1.5 million over the next three years to marginalized communities, and to creators in those communities.

To me, it is so beautiful and so important. Anytime I'm collaborating with any brand, I really want to feel like there's some [purpose]. There's not only what we're providing in terms of a product, but that there's some purpose behind it as well. And those are my favorite collaborations. And so I'm really, really excited about this one.

Häagen-Dazs was born of immigrants and entrepreneurs out of the Bronx, and I'm from the Bronx. And so it just felt so aligned for more than the obvious reasons. And I'm just really excited about everybody tasting these new flavors. I just had a few of them this week and I'm like y'all are really trying to tempt a sister over here [laughs] just to have ice cream every day. It's really going to be hard not to.

You mentioned in the press release regarding the City Sweets partnership and this specific initiative about growing up in the Bronx with parents who encouraged you to pursue your dreams. And the biggest thing that you like about this initiative is that they are donating $1.5 million to marginalized communities and creatives within those communities. Can you speak a little bit about what that entails? What types of creatives is this initiative for? How do creatives go about benefiting these funds?

One of my favorite things is that even in the new packaging that you'll see on these new flavors for the City Sweets collection, is that there's a beautiful design on the cartons. And that's by an inner-city creative, Jade Purple Brown, who's been working and collaborating with the brand for a couple of years now and just brainstorming on some new designs for the brand. And when they told me about Jade, I was like, that's awesome because it's not only just saying, 'Hey, we're going to talk about bringing light to the community and just, give some money away,' it's them putting their money where their mouths are. They are actually inviting the community in, inviting real creatives in with talent to the brand, and collaborating truly with the brand and building real relationships.

And when brands do that, that's what I think creates sustainable growth and actually makes an impact, in a bigger way, on our communities and creatives in our communities. And so that is really, really exciting. And I'm excited to meet her too. We're going to have this event on April 19th in New York, in a bodega in Brooklyn, where we're going to have some free ice cream. Everybody's welcome to come. And a bunch of us that are working with the brand are going to be there, but the whole community is welcome. Its for the 19th and 20th. And again, the $1.5 million that they're donating over three years to organizations like The Tank, which is an organization that celebrates rising talent and is all about music and theater education.

And so all of these things feed into our community in a way that is so needed, that's needed for the youth. And just for anybody that is open to creating. In some cities, we don't always have the opportunity to have things funded in the right way. So I'm just really happy that they're shining a light on the neighborhood. 

We always see Häagen-Dazs in the neighborhood, and we see them in the malls that we go to. And it's our favorite treat. It's our celebration. If you're going to take your nephew or any family member out for a treat, it's the perfect thing. But it's beautiful to know that the brand also is putting light on the important things that are needed – real actual resources in the neighborhood as well. And that's just awesome. I'm really excited to be a part of it.

Because you're an entertainer, you're a multifaceted entertainer – and being able to be a part of this initiative with creatives, is there going to be any interaction between you and the creatives potentially within this partnership?

We're going to be meeting in New York next week. And so there's definitely going to be some collaboration happening. You'll be seeing us together. And I'm excited about that. Anytime there are creative people in the same room, you never know what's going to come of it. 

And speaking of things to be excited about, you recently shared a photo of yourself in your costume for 'Batgirl.' How did it feel putting that on? And for the first time?

Since I found out that I would be taking on this project, I was so excited and I was just mind blown, really. It was really kind of crazy to wrap my head around it. But then once I got into that final version of the suit with the cowl on, and all the makeup and hair and everything, I was like, 'Wow, I'm really Batgirl. Like, what is happening right now? Am I in another dimension? Like, what is going on?' So it was incredible. It was a beautiful experience.

We're all wrapped up now and I can't wait for everyone to see this film. I can't wait to see myself. Once our directors edit and everything [I am excited to see that]. But I mean it's jam-packed with action, with drama, with love. There's some real moral to the story. There's some real heart to this story. We go through a lot of different fundamental things that happen to all of us in the plot of the film, through all the characters. And so I'm really excited for everyone to see it.

And you're working alongside some heavy hitters too, in this project. There's Michael Keaton, J.K. Simmons, and Brendan Fraser. So what was it like working alongside them?

Oh my gosh. Such a blessing, such a school. I got to really soak up the knowledge of our veterans like Brendan Fraser, who plays our villain Firefly. Never in a million years did I think that on my second film, I would be on a set with Brendan and J.K. Simmons playing my character's dad, and Michael Keaton, the O.G Tim Burton Batman. That's the stuff you can only dream of. So anytime I was on set with any of them, I'm always soaking up. Anytime I'm on set period, even if I am the only person on camera, I'm trying to soak up from the crew from. Any amount of experience [is helpful]. And our crew is incredible as well. But those guys, they were just so generous with their knowledge. And there were so many fun conversations with Brendan and with J.K. It was incredible.

And getting to play such a major role as Batgirl, and being someone who is Afro-Latina is major. How significant is it for you to represent your culture on such a scale, especially within this role?

It's a hug, incredible opportunity. And I feel blessed. No matter what opportunities come my way, I always feel like I carry my family's name, my people's hustle and struggle, and resilience and excellence with me. And so with this opportunity, it really caught me off guard. I've been really open about this process. I audition, and I give my best every audition, but I did not [think this would come to be]. I was just like, 'I'm just happy to be in the mix.' I did not think that I would be playing Batgirl. You never are –  at least I'm not ever so presumptuous. Anytime I audition for anything, I just give my best. And I hope that the right role comes at the right moment.

So when I got the news, I didn't really soak up the magnitude of that. It wasn't until afterward that I was just like, 'Yo, we're really changing things out here. We're really marking a new wave of representation.' Which I think is so important not only visually, but as well as being in certain spaces where you can talk about the details that do matter when certain people play certain roles. And I definitely had the opportunity to do that on this run. 

And that changes the industry as a whole. And that's what I hope in all. Wherever there's someone new entering a new space, I hope that is what's happening, on a greater scale, is that we're as an industry, as a movie industry, or, film and TV all together. And I'm happy to be a part of that progression in one way or another.

And now that Batgirl has wrapped filming, what superheroes would you like for Batgirl to meet up with on-screen in the future?

Speaking of representation, we've got our first origin story for a Latino superhero, Blue Beetle. And I would absolutely love to meet up. I don't know how that will work, because, you know, Batgirl in Gotham, she doesn't leave. But I would love, at some point, to cross paths with Blue Beetle, who's literally changing the game. And I would love to meet up with Sasha, with our Supergirl, our new Supergirl. In the comics, Batgirl and Supergirl actually become really good friends. 

There are some villains I would like to meet too, like Poison Ivy. I just remember growing up and watching the old Batman movies and I'm just like, 'Wow. Some of these villains are super iconic too.' So Catwoman...there are so many characters I would love to meet.

Outside of 'Batgirl,' and your partnership with City Sweets, are you going to be releasing new music? I also know you're excited about your role in 'In The Heights.'

I am working on new music and I am back in the studio. I am so excited about that. You will hear more about it very soon. Sooner than you think, actually. There are some collaborations on the way, and that's what I'm working on for right now. 

I'm really looking forward to everybody seeing Batgirl. There's lots of love still for In The Heights. Our In The Heights family is always supporting each other on all our new endeavors. So just really happy to be back home, working on new music, and excited about meeting in New York for our City Sweets event coming up. I will be stuffed with ice cream.