Selenis Leyva: Spider-Man and Diversity in Film

Selenis Leyva stars as Ms. Warren in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Photo Credit: Sony Pictures

Orange is the New Black star talks Spider-Man: Homecoming

Arturo Hilario

El Observador

Selenis Leyva can be found on Netflix’s hit show, Orange is the New Black playing the smart, mentoring cook Gloria Mendoza. In Spider-Man: Homecoming, Leyva plays the role of Ms. Warren, a teacher at Peter Parker/Spider-Man’s science and technical focused high school (In the original Marvel comics, the portrayal of Warren had always been a man).

The film stars Tom Holland, reprising his role of Spider-Man in his debut movie, Captain America: Civil War. Joining him are of course Selenis Leyva, Marisa Tomei (Aunt May), Robert Downey, Jr. (Tony Stark/Iron Man), and Michael Keaton (As the main antagonist, Vulture).

Leyva recently spoke to me about her experiences on this new version of Spider-Man, acting alongside the kid web-slinger himself, Tom Holland, and the diversity that permeates this upcoming superhero story. 

Where you a fan of Spider-Man beforehand?

Yeah definitely. I mean what kid isn’t a fan of Marvel, of Spider-Man. I also grew up in a household with brothers and they would always be running around the house pretending to be a superhero, and annoying me, but I grew up with it. I grew up with the thrill of the Marvel universe and so to be part now of this franchise is wonderful, it’s such a blessing. Especially at this point in time in my career.

What initially attracted you to this role?

I didn’t know what the film was, honestly. I got a phone call from my manager, saying that she had been called for a particular movie, but she didn’t have a tile, she didn’t have much information, there was no script, there was nothing. And all she could tell me was that I would be playing a teacher and I thought, ‘Well, that doesn’t sound too promising’, and I don’t know if had the time. And she said, ‘Okay well I’ll tell them that maybe we’re not interested,’ and she called me maybe two minutes later and she said, ‘So they can’t tell me much, but they did say that this is really big, and you should rethink it.’ And I’m really glad that I did, because this is huge. And really this is huge, it’s not big, it’s huge. So, here I am, and I didn’t really know what the role would entail or who the character was up until a couple of weeks before we started shooting and that’s when I knew the role that I was playing, and I was excited because it’s something so different than what I’ve been known for for the past 4-5 years on Orange is the New Black. I love the idea of this character, Ms. Warren, who in the comics is Mr. Warren. And here goes Marvel, with true diverse casting, and saying, ‘We’re going to make this a woman, and she’s going to be Latina.’ So it was great to join an incredible ensemble, and such a diverse cast. I think it’s probably the most diverse we’ve seen in the superhero world.

What can you comment on the diversity evident in the casting choices, and how that might reflect reality more than past iterations of the franchise?

It’s wonderful that the industry is really paying attention to the people that are showing up, that are buying tickets, that are tuning in. it’s a diverse universe, it’s a diverse world and so you are going to get more people to come into and fill those seats if they can relate to the characters that they are seeing before them. As a child I would dream about going to a movie where I would say, ‘The leading girl looks like me.’ I didn’t have that, and in this film, you do have that. Young people are going to really relate to a lot of the characters. That’s cause for a celebration because we can continuously hear diversity spoken about and thrown out there but ‘diversity’ usually means one person, either a female or an African-American, or one Latino. This [is] truly diverse cast not only in different races but in different ages.

Is there any part of Gloria Mendoza that is in this role. She being a type of mentor in Orange is the New Black. Did any of her come out in playing the teacher Ms. Warren in Spider-Man: Homecoming? Or was it totally different?

It’s totally different. The only thing these two women have in common is that they’re strong, smart, and they’re Latina. Other than that, it’s a different type of smart. You have to tune in and kind of go into different worlds when it comes to Gloria Mendoza, she’s more street smart while Ms. Warren, as a physics teacher, is a brainiac.

Interesting moments during filming that you would like to share?

There was one particular day where we were shooting a school dance scene and there was a lightning storm in Atlanta so we lost power. We had a couple hundred teen extras and we all had to go into separate rooms and wait out the electrical storm that was happening. It was interesting, we got to eat a lot of snacks, and just chat because it’s just a great set and a great cast that the couple of hours that we were stuck together we didn’t feel like we were stuck together.

Why would you say audiences go check out Spider-Man: Homecoming?

Tom Holland is brilliant in it, he’s going to go down as one of the best, if not the the best Spider-Man out there. He’s funny, he’s charming, and I love that he’s so genuine and it comes across so wonderfully, it’s a Peter Parker that’s really refreshing. Folks should definitely come out, the entire cast is so good, these young kids are coming on so strong, it’s such a diverse cast. You’ve got legends in it, and you’ve got newbies in it so it’s a really nice combination and I don’t think we’ve seen that in the world of Marvel, the two worlds coming together. Young newbies and legends of Hollywood. It’s going to be pretty extraordinary so come out July 7th and watch Spider-Man: Homecoming, you will not regret it.