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Why Benny From In The Heights Looks So Familiar

The film "In the Heights" just hit theaters a year after its initial release date. Like many other movies, the film was put on pause due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

During a recent interview with the Chicago Reader, one of the musical's stars, Corey Hawkins, who plays Benny, discussed how he felt about the movie finally being released. He explained that he believes after a year of COVID and racial strife, audiences will welcome such a hopeful movie: "This film is all about community. So what better way than a big old, huge musical that's like, hella fun and just a good time, but also reminds us about how important it is to look at each other and see each other and just feel each other, and understand those differences and the beauty in those differences."

In the musical, Hawkins' character is a particularly joyful one. Benny works tirelessly at a taxi cab company and is in love with his boss' daughter, the bright and beautiful Nina (Leslie Grace Martínez). While Hawkins sings sweetly to his onscreen love interest, audiences may be curious why he has such a familiar face. Here are a few films and television shows that Hawkins has starred in that you likely recognize him from.

Corey Hawkins killed a bunch of zombies as Heath on The Walking Dead

The actor joined the cast of the acclaimed AMC series "The Walking Dead" in 2015 during the show's sixth season. While his character Heath was beloved by fans, Hawkins exited the series during its seventh season, as he was busy with other projects to continue with the zombie series' demanding production schedule. 

As a way to explain Heath's somewhat abrupt absence, the show's writers decided to have him go missing midway through the seventh season. While speaking to Insider in 2018, the showrunner of "The Walking Dead," Angela Kang, finally revealed Heath's whereabouts. The television writer divulged that the Civic Republic Military kidnapped the character. "That was kind of the intention that we had in the back of our heads this whole time. Even back in that season where you know we had to write the wonderful Corey Hawkins out because he had huge opportunities in the feature film world ... those seeds were already set there," explained Kang.

Hawkins portrayed a rap icon

Before "In the Heights," Hawkins previously proved his musical prowess when he played N.W.A. member Dr. Dre in the 2015 movie, "Straight Outta Compton." During a behind-the-scenes interview, the actor revealed that Dr. Dre took him under his wing during the film's production, and gave him reassuring words about his portrayal (via ScreenSlam).

"I just remember [Dr. Dre] being like, 'you know, you don't have to imitate me, you don't have to mimic me, I'm not looking for you to do any of that. I'm looking for you to just represent N.W.A., you know, and what we represented, you know, what I mean, and put that first and then everything else will kind of follow,'" recalled the actor. 

During the interview, Hawkins also stated he hoped audiences would have a better understanding of N.W.A. after watching the film: "When you get to see the personal side, see their families, see, you know, what they struggled with before they became superstars, it humanizes them." Anyone who enjoyed "Straight Outta Compton" will likely agree that Hawkins' mission was accomplished.

Corey Hawkins took over a 24 legacy from Jack Bauer

One of the reasons why Hawkins stopped playing Heath on "The Walking Dead" was because he was hired to star in the "24" spin-off series, "24: Legacy." Even though the show was canceled after just 12 episodes, the actor made quite an impact playing the former army ranger, Eric Carter. 

During a 2017 interview with Today, Hawkins revealed that he was a longtime fan of "24": "It's thrilling to come back to a franchise that I love and to be kind of able to carry on the legacy so to speak." 

The actor also said that Jack Bauer himself, Kiefer Sutherland offered him advice on taking over the franchise. "Kiefer kind of said, 'make it your own, own it and let the character kind of surprise you." Hawkins noted that getting guidance from the "Melancholia" star "was surreal because [he] had been such a fan of [Sutherland] for so long." 

Hawkins visited Skull Island

Hawkins gave monster movies a go when he starred as Houston Brooks in the 2017 film "Kong: Skull Island." Collider reported that while speaking on a panel in 2017, the actor described his character as "a young geologist," who graduated from Yale University and is eager to take a "trip to this island that hasn't been discovered yet." 

He noted that "Kong: Skull Island” is "set during the Vietnam War era," when traveling was necessary to find unexplored parts of the world. "[Y]ou can't just go on Google and go 'Oh the island actually is there!' This is a time where people were still discovering certain parts of our worlds and cultures and things, so that myth and mythology is still there. And [Houston is] very much a part of that myth and mythology, and trying to put a rhyme and reason to the goings-on," explained the actor.

Corey Hawkins landed his first Spike Lee joint with BlacKkKlansman

Toward the beginning of the 2018 Academy Award-nominated movie, "BlacKkKlansman," Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), an undercover cop, attends a demonstration featuring famed civil rights organizer Kwame Ture, portrayed by Hawkins. In a 2018 Variety interview, the "In the Heights" actor talked about the film's relevance, even though the events that inspired it happened over 40 years ago. He specifically mentioned the Charlottesville car attack, which is alluded to at the end of "BlacKkKlansman."

"It is so easy to forget Charlottesville was only a year ago [in 2017]. A woman [Heather Heyer] lost her life, and people were injured. It is so easy to forget the border. It is so easy to forget women, they are fighting for their rights and equality. It is so easy to forget people are being shot in their backs like dogs in the streets by white racist cops. It is so easy to forget these things, things that are echoed in this film, literally," said the actor.

Corey Hawkins starred in 6 Underground

In the 2019 Netflix film "6 Underground," Hawkins played a skilled sniper called Seven, who is a part of a vigilante group led by One (Ryan Reynolds). During the Netflix Panel at CCXP, the actor discussed the ways in which he was able to strengthen his portrayal of Seven (via Cinemablend). At first, he sarcastically commented that he had some real-life experience with being a murderer, stating that he "killed a lot of people." He quickly clarified that before the film's production he received professional "training." 

"We had some really good men and women from the armed forces. I showed up on day one and there were all these cones lined up and I said 'Who's doing laps?' and they said 'You guys,'" the actor said. According to Hawkins, not only did the training enhance his portrayal of Seven, but it also helped him get into "the best shape of [his] life."

Hawkins has become a true A-list star, so "In the Heights" certainly won't be the last we see of him.