‘Encanto’ star Carolina Gaitán says Pepa is ‘not the stereotype that we have of Latina women’: ‘I feel so represented with her’

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Colombian actor Carolina Gaitán says she grew up watching Disney films like Alice in Wonderland and Beauty and the Beast. Now, she's forever part of one through her role as Pepa in Encanto. (Photo: Giorgio Delvecchio & Revista 15 Minutos/Disney Studios/Everett Collection)

Colombian actor Carolina Gaitán says she grew up watching Disney films like Alice in Wonderland and Beauty and the Beast. Now, she’s forever part of one through her role as Pepa in Encanto. (Photo: Giorgio Delvecchio & Revista 15 Minutos/Disney Studios/Everett Collection)

Before Carolina Gaitán was belting out the hit song “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” in Disney’s Encanto, the Colombian actress spent lots of time on the opposite side of the screen, watching animated Disney films like Beauty and the Beast and Alice in Wonderland on repeat.

“I totally understand little babies who finish movies and want to watch them again and again,” she admits. “I was exactly that girl growing up.”

Now, Gaitán is part of Disney animation history, having voiced Maribel Madrigal’s weather-controlling aunt, Pepa, in Encanto, a colorful story packed with songs written by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Gaitán says when she learned about a casting call for the film, she knew she had to go.

“I didn’t know it was a movie about Colombia but I knew it was a Disney movie and they were looking for a Latina,” she recalls. “I prepared Don’t Rain on my Parade, the Barbra Streisand song, and I just went.”

“I didn’t know it was going to be the beginning of a beautiful story,” she adds. “I just remember I sang my song and after my singing, the casting director was clapping and I thought, ‘OK, let’s see if this means something.’ The rest is history.”

Gaitán says she’s honored to represent her country as part of the film, which has continued to soar in popularity since its release in November 2021. “Colombians really deserved for our story to be told in this way,” she tells Yahoo Entertainment. “And finally someone — Disney — is telling a story about us: about our food, our dancing, our people, our super strong women and our people who are multi-race. It’s about so many important things nowadays — not only for the Latino community but also for all people to feel represented no matter the race or the color of their skin.”

In her own character, Pepa, Gaitán says she found a sense of belonging.

In Encanto, Gaitán's character Pepa can control the weather using her emotions. (Photo: Disney Studios/Everett Collection)In Encanto, Gaitán's character Pepa can control the weather using her emotions. (Photo: Disney Studios/Everett Collection)

In Encanto, Gaitán’s character Pepa can control the weather using her emotions. (Photo: Disney Studios/Everett Collection)

“I think I’m not like the stereotype of a Latina woman,” she says of her appearance. “I look kind of different and then I see Pepa and she’s red-haired and super white-skinned. I feel so represented with her, and I know that it’s not just me, it’s a lot of people.”

Gaitán, who studied at the Lee Strasberg Theater and Film Institute in New York before moving to Los Angeles, calls Encanto a “masterpiece.” And, although “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” was not nominated for an Oscar like its counterpart “Dos Oruguitas,” the 37-year-old actor says the song’s over 100 million streams on Spotify and position as the No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 is all the appreciation she needs.

Encanto has about eight beautiful and amazing songs that Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote and I think all of them deserved to be nominated — all of them,” she says. “But ‘Dos Oruguitas’ specifically? It’s such an important part of the movie. It’s the most extremely important and sensitive part of the story that we, as Colombians, needed to tell.”

“So, I’m not feeling like, ‘Oh my God why?'” she continues. “I just feel absolutely grateful to have a song in the movie that is in the first place of the Billboard top hottest songs of the world: That is, I think, the best award that I can have.”

But, while nobody — from cosplaying TikTokers to ear-bud-wearing moms — can get “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” out of their heads, does Gaitán have the same issue?

It’s not a no-no-no-no from the actor, but rather a resounding yes.

“I have to tell you,” she says, “I was doing my hair this morning and I was telling my partner, ‘It’s crazy, I cannot stop singing ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ today.’ I have some days where I cannot stop.”

“That part ‘time for dinner!'” she sings, “I cannot stop.”

Gaitán says recording the Lin-Manuel Miranda earworm was a bit of a challenge: Despite the song’s layers and layers of melodies from each character, she recorded Pepa’s parts alone.

“We weren’t, because of the confidentiality restrictions, allowed to even know who was going to do the part of any of the characters,” she shares. “It was just each of us alone in the studio — or sometimes I did it from home in my studio because of COVID. I was wondering who was going to do the other parts.”

“I wasn’t even able to tell my parents [about the role] because of the confidentiality agreements,” she adds. “I had to go a year-and-a-half or something like that without telling anybody. But I was so happy inside of me. I was kind of dancing everywhere because this was such a dream come true.”

Gaitán says she only learned of co-stars like Jessica Darrow, Mauro Castillo and John Leguizamo through gossip in the days before the film’s premiere.

“Everyone knew at the same time,” she says. “Right before. Because of the gossip that leaked.”

Gaitán says landing a role in Encanto has been life-changing. Gaitán says landing a role in Encanto has been life-changing.

Gaitán says landing a role in Encanto has been life-changing. “I was kind of dancing everywhere because this was such a dream come true,” she says of playing Pepa Madrigal. (Photo: Giorgio Delvecchio & Revista 15 Minutos)

Similarly, Gaitán did not see the entire film come together until she attended the premiere on Nov. 3, 2021 at the El Capitan Theater in Los Angeles. What she saw onscreen mesmerized her.

“The premiere was the day that I understood the movie,” she says, “not before. They gave you just scenes or sequences when you were recording or they told you just a little bit about the story at a time.”

As Encanto fandom continues to grow, Gaitán, who was also a background singer in The Greatest Showman and hosts X Factor Colombia, says she’s living a childhood dream that began in her early days of watching Disney films.

“I remember walking Hollywood Boulevard and seeing the stars [on the Hollywood Walk of Fame] and saying, ‘When? When? When?'” she recalls. “When you live in LA and you’re a Latina actress who has an accent but doesn’t look like a Latina and you’re afraid all the time to just waste your life dreaming of something that maybe never will happen — that’s difficult.”

“But then all of a sudden you go to Hollywood Boulevard and everything says Encanto and it’s about your country and you’re a part of it?” she says. “And then you go to the El Capitan Theater and this film you’ve participated in is absolutely magical and you realize you are a part of that masterpiece? That your character is fun, vulnerable, sensitive and shows the possibility of just being herself exactly the way she is? That is really meaningful and important to someone like me — and for Colombians and Latinas — really for all of us who dream.”