Melissa Fumero and Stephanie Beatriz hope to make your life 'More Better' with their new podcast

When Stephanie Beatriz joined the Zoom call, she was met by a flurry of praise from her former “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” co-star, Melissa Fumero.

“Oh my god, you look so pretty! Your hair is cute, I like it.”

Beatriz gushed out a thanks and flashed a cheery smile, an act mirrored by Fumero.

Though it’s been nearly three years since the final episode of the workplace comedy series aired, Beatriz and Fumero’s friendship remains stronger than ever. Now, the duo is pairing up once again as co-hosts of “More Better,” a podcast aimed at tackling their most challenging assignment yet: life.

“Podcasts feel like a phone conversation with a good friend,” Beatriz, 43, said.

“More Better” is part of iHeart Media’s My Cultura Podcast Network, a Wilmer Valderrama venture that aims to elevate Latino voices in media. The podcast’s name signifies their desire to make the life of their listeners “more better.” The first episode aired in late May, and new installments come out every Thursday.

“Investing in projects like ‘More Better’ is investing in stories that help shape the narrative within our own spaces and beyond,” Valderrama said via email. “Now, listeners can experience the genuine humor and authenticity that Melissa and Stephanie have brought to my life for years.”

In the podcast, Fumero and Beatriz take their audience on a wild ride, offering cheeky commentary on life’s most arduous topics like recognizing one’s inner voice, indulging in guilty pleasures and preserving adult friendships.

“Life is really hard and there needs to be more space for joy and laughter,” Beatriz said.

Fumero, 41, chimes in with a laundry list of responsibilities that occupy her mind: motherhood, acting, personal care, the “blah, blah, blah” of being alive.

“Is anyone else having a hard time doing this?” said Fumero with a chuckle, referring to adulthood. “When you have part of your life in the public arena, people think you have it all together. I really don’t though.”

“More Better,” Beatriz says, is a chance for listeners to get to know the duo beyond their on-camera work.

“There’s not a lot of space to be yourself as an actor,” Beatriz said. “We are looking forward to sharing our actual personalities [on the pod].”

The actors also admitted that the podcast gives them an excuse for the two to catch up like they would in their old “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” dressing rooms.

“I feel like I’m in a safe space to talk about stuff that’s really hard,” Beatriz said.

And though the podcast is backed by Valderrama’s Latino initiative, the two podsters make it clear what “More Better” isn’t about.

“Our Latinidad [is not] at the center of the pod,” Beatriz said. “Our podcast happens to be two Latinas and we talk about our experiences as human beings.”

The two have come a long way from once believing that Fox, the network that first aired “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” before it was picked up by NBC, would fire one of them during the first season of filming because there couldn’t possibly be two Latinas in the same show. This fear led them to wear distinct hairstyles despite both having naturally curly hair.

Instead of one of them being fired, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” creators Mike Schur and Dan Goor embraced the duo for their individual personalities. The sitcom even explored the complexities of being a queer Latine, an identity both Beatriz and her character Rosa Diaz share.

“[Schur and Gore] didn’t worry about writing to our culture or ethnicity,” said Fumero. “They wrote to the honesty of our characters.”

Having both actors on the same show was a revolutionary move at the time — in 2013, only 6.5% of lead actors in broadcast television were people of color, according to the UCLA Hollywood Diversity report.

Both actresses originally auditioned for the role of Amy Santiago, the only character written as Latina and eventual love interest to Andy Samberg’s kooky, laissez-faire Jake Peralta. When Beatriz got word that Fumero was cast as Amy, she thought her dreams of starring in the show were over.

“There’s no way that a network is going to cast two Latinas. It doesn’t happen,” Beatriz revealed in a 2017 interview.

Two days later, Beatriz learned that she had landed the role of Megan, a character that would be rewritten as ever mysterious and somewhat dangerous Rosa Diaz.

“When we first started, everybody was freaking out about two Latinas being on a network show,” Fumero said.

Instead of being fired, both actors saw their careers flourish. In 2019, Beatriz and Fumero made their directorial TV debut — an impressive feat given that only 5% of TV episodes from 2017-2018 were directed by Latinos, according to the Directors Guild of America.

After “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” Fumero starred opposite Randall Park in the 2021 Netflix sitcom “Blockbuster,” voiced the characters of Melissa Tarleton in the animated Marvel series “M.O.D.O.K” and Belle in the second season of “Digman, a Comedy Central animated sitcom co-created by Samberg. She also directed two episodes of “Primo,” the semi-autobiographical coming-of-age sitcom created by Shea Serrano. Primo was unceremoniously canceled last month after only one season. The Jersey-born Cuban actress is now prepping for her role in season two of “Based on a True Story,” starring Kaley Cuoco.

Beatriz has stayed equally as busy since the series ended in 2021. She starred as Carla in the film adaptation of “In the Heights,” and voiced Mirabel in Disney’s Oscar-winning “Encanto.” Now the Argentine-born, Colombian Bolivian actress is on her way to filming season two of “Twisted Metal,” a Peacock series inspired by the video game of the same name, acting opposite Anthony Mackie. That’s on top of wrapping up filming the upcoming Netflix series “A Classic Spy,” starring Ted Danson.

While Fumero believes Latinos have made strides in the world of television and film, she admits the process has been a “slow crawl.” She says that she often wonders if writers and producers feel conflicted about casting Latino characters because they think it means they have to service the entire culture in their writing.

“Is that why we’re not included in some of these cast breakdowns or story ideas?” Fumero said rhetorically.

Beatriz quickly jumped in with some suggestions for Hollywood.

“If you need help [writing Latino characters], we will help you,” she said. “You can cast us as your romantic lead. You can cast us as your badass whatever! We’ll bring our Latinidad — we can’t leave it at home.”

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