Jasmine, the young woman played by Heather Velazquez in Pipeline, has a sharp tongue – her words enliven the play. Where does the character’s wit come from? “In part,” Velazquez told me the other day, “it comes from her need to protect herself. She doesn’t like that she has to go to a private school that’s far away from her friends.”

Velazquez, who grew up in a Cuban-American family in Miami and has a BFA in theater from that city’s New World School of the Arts, said that Jasmine’s verbal toughness is also part of “a wall that she puts up. You’re not going to bring her down. They’ve already brought her down by having her come to a private school.”

Velazquez connects Jasmine’s verbal rapidity to music. “Lyrically smart rap songs have a rhythm that Jasmine can connect to. I would say she definitely listens to Kendrick Lamar and Eminem. Maybe Jasmine also wants to be a Rihanna with the way she dresses. She’s not a beauty queen. She’s more practical.”

Velazquez said she also associates her own velocity of speech to that of Heather. “In Spanish, people tend to talk a little faster than in English. That helped add something to my interpretation of Jasmine’s spitfire.”

If Jasmine were in trouble with her school and her parents the way that Omari, her boyfriend, is in trouble with his, how would Jasmine respond? “It would be a different outcome, I suspect,” Velazquez said. “Maybe Jasmine’s parents would send her back to Puerto Rico. Growing up, I had a lot of friends who, when they didn’t do well in school, were sent back to their grandparents.”

Velazquez pointed out other cultural differences between the situations of Jasmine and Omari. “Latinos as immigrants really want to be American. It’s a different history from black people. Latinos try to so hard not to instill their culture in their kids, and that really affects them. That’s part of what makes Jasmine angry – not knowing who she really is.”

Velazquez enjoys playing characters with complexity: she aspires to be cast on an edgy HBO or Showtime series like “Insecure” or “Shameless.” She said she isn’t afraid of not portraying the attractive young woman. “As a kid,” she explained, “I was overweight. So in college I was always playing the mothers and the grandmothers. That helped me out when I moved to New York. It was easier for me to play someone who wasn’t so pretty or smart or advantaged.”

As for her colleagues in Pipeline, Velazquez said, “At the first table-read, I was nervous. There were so many talented people in the room. I thought: I’m the youngest one here, and this is my big debut. It’s easy to be scared and think that everybody wants to come out and get you. But they’ve all been so welcoming.”

 

Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com.