Lin Manuel Miranda as Raul (left) and Jaime Camil as Juan (right) in "200 Cartas." (Courtesy Vanguardia Films)

Lin Manuel Miranda as Raul (left) and Jaime Camil as Juan (right) in “200 Cartas.” (Courtesy Vanguardia Films)

[VIDEO] “200 Cartas,” a bilingual romantic comedy about love and identity

Puerto Rican-born actor and director Bruno Irrizary says it was something rather unexpected that landed Lin-Manuel Miranda the leading role in his latest film, “200 Cartas.”

“I told him your Spanish is so bad, I want you to be my lead actor,” laughs Irrizary, adding that he’s also a brilliant actor and performer.

The semi-autobiographical romantic comedy is Irrizary’s only second feature film, but it is already breaking boundaries — as it is fully bilingual. It tells the story of a Nuyorican comic book artist who falls in love with a Puerto Rican girl, Maria Sanchez, who was visiting New York City. Miranda travels to Puerto Rico with his best friend to look for her, and in their search self-discovery happens. The film will be screening in New York City, for two weeks, starting Friday, June 14.

“It’s a film that will make many people happy, hopefully,” says the director, who considers both Puerto Rico and New York his home. He travels back and forth between the two places to this day. This part of his identity, he says, is what was his inspiration to make the film. “I wanted to embrace my reality.”

He first came to NYC 17 years ago, when he was 17, to pursue opera singing.

“I had a scholarship to go to the Manhattan School of Music, and that’s where I met my Maria Sanchez,” says Irrizary. “I was head over heels over her. I had gone back to Puerto Rico and returned to New York to look for her. For three years, I looked for her. In the back of my mind, I always thought, ‘Where is she?’”

That incident, he says, played a role in his self-discovery.  He also went back to his island when he was homesick, and rediscovered his earliest childhood memories.

Yolanda, the other leading lady, played by former beauty queen, Dayanara Torres, was also very important to the film.

“She represents the Puerto Rican women in my life — strong and independent,” he says. “She’s also an independent artist going through a journey. To make ends meet she works in construction with no makeup and boots. I wanted to create a character that was out of her comfort zone.”

Irrizary says it took him seven months to write the script (he naturally writes in English and Spanish), and two years to complete the film, which also includes a great deal of animation.

“I wanted to address things that still need to be worked on in Puerto Rico, but we can talk about our problems with a smile on our face,” says Irrizary adding that bringing the film to New York was made possible by the support of the Puerto Rico Film Commission.

For now, he says, he will continue to break ground by writing bilingual films.

“I think about Latinos all over the world, and I want to make sure to tell stories that are going to be engaging and going to reach them,” says Irrizary.

He also loves to reach people through comedy.

“I remember my mother being sad one day when I was six, so I started to play some music and doing pantomime, and she started laughing and laughing,” he says. “I realized at a young age that laughter could change your state. If I could make you laugh and make you forget what is troubling you, to me that’s wonderful.”

The fact that actors Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jaime Camil are just funny guys with great chemistry just made it simpler, he adds.

Irrizary just finished writing the script for a psychological thriller called, “La Puerta” (“The Door”) — another fully bilingual film and love story about a man who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and falls in love with a woman from a different reality.  He is also returning to Puerto Rico next month to direct a modern-take on opera — his other passion.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, he did find his Maria Sanchez years later.

“I was walking on the streets of New York City, and I bumped into ‘Maria Sanchez’ on the street,” he says excitedly. “We just hugged and cried. We are still friends to this day.”

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