Leslie Grace Talks Immigration Doc ‘Translators’ and Working With ‘Jokester’ Peter Dinklage in ‘The Thicket’

Leslie Grace has a very personal reason for deciding to become what she calls an “ambassador” for “Translators,” a new documentary short about bilingual Latino children in the U.S. who become translators for their Spanish-speaking parents.

“I’m first generation Dominican American,” the “In the Heights” star tells me. “My grandmother relied on her kids — my mom and her siblings — and then her grandkids. It’s a very common thing when I see my grandmother that my sister or I or my cousins, we take turns sharing the mail and translating for her.”

The doc, directed by Emmy winner Rudy Valdez, highlights several families in which the children help navigate their parents’ lives, from explaining bills that need to be paid to the tremendous worry of having to translate proper medical care for their siblings. “I’m really excited for people that haven’t had this experience to be able to witness it through the doc,” Grace says. “Also there may be some assumptions and misconceptions that you might have about someone who doesn’t speak a language or even speaks English with an accent.”

“Translators” premieres at Tribeca Festival on June 13 at the Roxy Hotel in New York City. Grace will be on hand to introduce the film. It was also be available to view for free starting June 14 at translatorsfilm.com.

Was there a moment when you realized your grandmother didn’t speak English and you’d have to translate for her?

There’s not a specific memory, but just an awareness. My first language was technically Spanish in my household until I went to school and started learning everything in English. Thankfully my parents really wanted me to retain Spanish so if I would come back speaking English, they would ignore me until I said everything in Spanish so that I would preserve the language. But I just understood also that you speak to grandma in Spanish. I’m the youngest of my siblings so I saw all my siblings do it, that this is a thing we do for grandmother to help her out.

There is one high school student in the film who wants to go to college for art, and I found it so moving that she wanted to still live at home while in school because she felt her parents still needed her. That’s a lot of weight to take on at such a young age.

They have such an understanding that their actions impact the family. It’s like, “I’m going to do good on their sacrifices and their hard work.” She is fully aware that, “Without me, my parents will get treated differently because I won’t be there to communicate.” I hope the film inspires some folks that have some power to give some more resources that could help alleviate this issue. Creating a documentary like “Translators” is so important because it allows organizations like U.S. Bank to generate awareness of the shared experience of these 11 million translators across the nation with tools like Asistente Inteligente. Additionally, it opens the door for other companies and organizations to develop tools and resources that will help alleviate the burden of these younger folks.

Now I have to ask you about working with Juliette Lewis and Peter Dinklage in the upcoming “The Thicket.”

Juliette is the queen. I was fan-girling out every day. She’s the queen of diving deep. The character she plays in this movie is no exception. But I can’t say much because our producer and lead Peter would kill me. They’re keeping everything super under wraps.

Were you a “Game of Thrones” fan? Were you intimidated by Peter?

Who is not? I was definitely nervous, but I was nervous across the board. I remember the table read that we did, when we all basically met for the first time. Hearing everyone’s voices read the script for the first time, the characters are so different from whom they really are — people transformed. From then on it was a beautiful experience to witness and learn and to be a part of a crazy story with these folks.

What was it like working with Peter?

He’s a jokester! He’s a big comedian. He’s so witty, and his character in this is funny as well. We shot in very, very cold weather and he was always making sure everyone was good. He was like, “Are your toes freezing? Do you need more warmers? Are you going to fall off your horse? Do you need a different saddle?” Making sure everyone was good was his top priority.

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