Meet the Young Dominican Actress Who Voices Gabi in Vivo

There's a reason everyone is talking about Lin-Manuel Miranda's new animated musical Vivo. The movie, which is set in both Havana and Miami, doesn't just consist of an entirely Latinx cast but also does a beautiful job at normalizing Latinx representation in animated films, something we'd love to see a lot more of.

While Miranda voices Vivo, the adorable kinkajou who travels from Cuba to Miami to deliver a love song, written by his former musical partner Andres, to famous Cuban singer Marta Sandoval (voiced by Gloria Estefan), the real character to appreciate in all this is badass, purple-haired Gabi, who is voiced by Ynairaly Simo, a 14-year-old Dominican American actress from the Bronx.

Simo started modeling when she was only 3 years old. Modeling eventually put her on the path to acting. "While I was modeling, there were often agents there watching and choosing kids to become actors, and they chose me," she told POPSUGAR Latina. "When I was around 5 years old, I started working with them. I always loved acting since I started because it was so fun playing these roles and being in front of the camera, where a bunch of people can see me. It really stuck with me. Every time I get an audition I'm so excited."

We got to chat with the young star about her debut role in Vivo, which was officially released on Friday, Aug. 7 — in case you missed it. Here are a few fun facts we learned about the up-and-coming actress we're hoping to see a lot more of in the near future!

She's Super Proud of Being a Dominicana From the Bronx

She loves everything about the Bronx, from the food to the people to the culture. And did we mention the food? "The food is so good! We always have the best food," she said. "Every time my mom asks me what I want to eat, I tell her the same thing. [I love] moro de guandules con bistec (rice with pigeon peas and steak). It's so good and I cannot get enough of it."

Her Parents Are Her Biggest Fans

Simo, who is an only child, has received endless support from her parents regarding her modeling and acting career. Not only did they attend the premiere of Vivo with her, but apparently they can't stop watching the movie! "They are very proud of me. They are very supportive," she said. "My parents have watched the movie around 13 times already, plus the premiere, so maybe 14 times. And at the premiere, they were dancing to the songs and crying. It was so cute!"

She Loved Working With Lin-Manuel Miranda

While the film was mostly recorded virtually, Simo did get to meet with Miranda in the tracking studio. "Working with Lin-Manuel Miranda was so memorable. He taught me so much. He taught me how to hit certain notes and read them, which I didn't know how to do," she said. "So it was my first time and I keep that with me because it made me a better singer. Working with him was a dream come true for me. I've also seen a lot of his work."

She's a Big Fan of Zoe Saldana

Zoe Saldana voices Gabi's mother, Rosa, in Vivo. While they did technically work together, Simo didn't get to meet her icon in person as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The only member of the cast she actually got to meet IRL was Miranda. In fact, it's because of Saldana that she eventually wants to work in an action film. "I would love to work on an action movie. I love action movies," she said. "That's actually where I saw Zoe Saldana. I figured out she was Dominican after seeing her in Guardians of the Galaxy. I was searching, 'Who is Gamora?' and I found her and learned she was Dominican. I was like, 'I can be in an action movie too!' I love acting and I'm Dominican. I feel like it would be a dream come true if I landed a role like that."

She Sings in Vivo!

The music in Vivo is everything! Not only does it go out of its way to honor Cuban music, but Gabi's catchy song "My Own Drum" will stay in your head for days — we promise. Simo does a mix of singing and rapping for the song and admits to really enjoying the process behind putting the song together. "Lin wrote the song and then he showed it to me, and I was so excited to sing it because I love to sing and I got to rap and do a little bit of everything," she said. "Singing the song was so fun. Every time I hear it, it just makes me want to dance."

Going to School Remotely While Recording the Film Was Challenging but Rewarding

Simo did most of the eighth grade and ninth grade remotely as a result of the pandemic. She starts her first year of high school at Celia Cruz Bronx High School of Music this coming fall. "You had the choice to decide [between virtual and in-person learning], but I chose virtual since I was also working on the movie. It was a little hard at first because I wasn't used to working with Zoom and all these things on the computer, but then I got used to it," she said. "After school, I'd set up a booth and do virtual [with the Vivo crew] on Zoom. They'd help me with my lines. But for singing, I went to the track studio. That was the only thing I went in for. But for school now, hopefully, it's in person. This will be my first year of high school. I'm a little nervous but I'll be fine."

On Why She Feels Characters Like Gabi Are So Important

"I feel like it's really important because there needs to be more Latinx movies with Latinx characters. I feel like everyone will be able to enjoy and be like, 'Oh my gosh, I'm like that too! I'm Dominican or Puerto Rican or Cuban,'" she said. "I feel like it would be great for the community if there's more of that and not just one thing."

She Actually Auditioned For a Role For In the Heights

"Yes, I love In the Heights — it was so fun! My friends and I love listening to the music. I did audition. I didn't get it, but it's OK because I got to work with Lin for Vivo!"