L’OFFICIEL – In-demand actor and Tiffany & Co. ambassador Adria Arjona considers the view from atop a major moment.
What do you do when you’re stressed? Do you call a friend, or meditate, maybe go for a walk? If you’re Adria Arjona, the 30-year-old megastar on the rise, you might instead jump out of a plane. If frequent skydiving doesn’t fit your image of an in-demand ingénue, well, that’s what we like to call a “you problem.” Arjona decided long ago that she was going to carve her own path. “When I first started, there weren’t many careers of Latin American women that I could model mine after,” the Tiffany & Co. ambassador tells L’OFFICIEL over martinis in LA in early September. She elected to use the blank slate to her advantage. “My biggest fear was always to be put in a box. I went to acting school; I went to a conservatory. I’ve danced with different sides of myself in different genres. I’m not going to let Hollywood tell me, ‘This is your genre.’”
That defiance of film industry pigeonholing is partially why Arjona’s credits for 2022 alone run the gamut: there’s a big-budget Marvel film, Morbius; a Latin-cast adaptation of the classic romantic comedy, Father of the Bride; a prestige HBO series, Irma Vep; and now Andor, the newest Disney+ addition to the Star Wars universe. (This year’s projects that haven’t been released yet include an indie film she executive-produced about the AIDS crisis in Cuba called Los Frikis; Zoë Kravitz’s hotly buzzed-about directorial debut Pussy Island; and the latest from multi-Academy-Award-nominated director Richard Linklater, Hitman.) The idea is to do as many different projects as she can. “That’s become my thing,” Arjona says: “‘Does it challenge me? Does it move me further? Does it scare me?’”
Another reason for her busy dance card is the pressure she puts on herself to clear a path for other Latin American actors to be whatever they want to be—on screen or off. “It’s a pressure that actually moves me forward,” Arjona says. “It doesn’t stop me. It doesn’t pull me back. It’s the reason why I wake up and I’m like, ‘I’m fucking tired, but I need to work.’ Because I am only trying to open doors. I’m only trying to be the Guinea pig. I’ll be like, ‘I’ll be the Guinea pig. Pick me. I’ll do the work. I promise you won’t regret it.’” No one has yet.
Below, in between Andor’s Los Angeles premiere and packing for her next film set in New Orleans, Arjona catches up with L’OFFICIEL about shooting a Star Wars project, breaking down barriers, and staying grounded even as she’s flying high.
L’OFFICIEL: You’re having the busiest year. What was it like shooting Andor?
ADRIA ARJONA: It’s crazy. There were definitely points where you’re like, “Holy shit, I’m in Star Wars. Oh, no. Oh, my God, what did I do?” I would try to forget, like, “be cool about this.” I was fine, and then you get a prop or see a creature actor and you’re like, “Oh, my God. I’m in Star Wars.”
L’O: Were you a fan before?
AA: I was. I’ve been really wanting to be a part of this world for a long time. Last time, I got really close to a movie I won’t mention. I was right there. It was going to be me or someone else and I didn’t get it, obviously. I remember being so upset that I went skydiving, and on the plane, I was like, “You’re going to leave this movie here. If Star Wars is for you, you’re going to get it.” I just left all that energy on the plane and jumped off, and a couple of years later, I got this. That’s a thing I do though.
AA: Yes. When there’s something shitty going on, I’m like, “You know what, I’m just going to leave this on the plane.” I jump off, and I’m a new person when I land. It’s kind of great. You should try it. I do it a lot.
L’O: Wow. When did you first do it?
AA: I did it with my dad [multi-platinum Guatemalan pop star Ricardo Arjona] the first time. I’m terrified of airplanes. I have a phobia of airplanes. I don’t do well on airplanes.
L’O: That makes this even more incredible.
AA: No, because you jump off a plane. I am not on the plane. I’d rather be off a plane than on a plane.
L’O: You feel better falling from a plane than being on the plane?
AA: I know I’m safe, but I don’t like being on the plane. I just don’t. The first time I went [skydiving] I remember the airplane door. You know how you go to the public bathroom, and it has those little metal latches? That’s what was holding that door together. We take off and that thing starts moving. The guy that my dad was jumping with goes like this [crosses herself] and I’m like, “Oh, my God.”
L’O: “Don’t do that!”
AA: It’s because they’re scared of the plane, though. If the plane falls within 1,000 feet, we’re all screwed. It needs to be at a level so we can open the parachute on time to land. It made my experience so much better because I was so nervous, but then the plane made me more nervous; so when I jumped, I was like, I made it off the plane! It was the best experience of my life. I’ve never felt anything like it before. I felt so free, like all my worries went away. The fear is right there before you jump. I have this little trick: one, two, three, jump. I asked the guy to jump on two, because I’m like, “If you call three, I’m going to push back.” Bungee jumping, I’ve done that a couple of times, too. If I hear one, two, three, bungee—if I hear bungee, I’m never jumping. I need to jump on two. I guess it’s my sense of control. I’m a little bit of an adrenaline junkie. But I think the older I get, the less of an adrenaline junkie I am. Also, I have to sign all these papers that tell me I can’t do anything. The more I work, the less I get to enjoy this side of myself.
L’O: All the projects you’re doing are amazing, but they’re all really different. What do you look for in a role?
AA: I always look for a little bit of a challenge. I want to do things that scare me a little. Star Wars scared the shit out of me.
L’O: Which part?
AA: It scared me that it’s got this huge fan base, and you want to please them. Then you have this amazing, complex character in this crazy universe and you want to do right by her, and by the story, and by Tony [Gilroy, Andor’s writer/director]. It scared me, so I was like, “Yes, I want to do that.”
L’O: How do you get into character?
AA: I think the script is the first thing, and I think being honest with myself. Sometimes there is a really great project, but you read it and you’re like, “Right. I can’t really do this. It’s not connecting with me.” And you have to let it go and let someone else be the conduit to that character. And then when I do read something, I’m like, “Oh, I really want to do this.” It’s unexplainable. You’re like, “Oh, I need to play her.” You just get a feeling. Then I get a visual. I go for a run. When I’m running, I always go to a place where there’s nothing, then I start envisioning this woman a little bit and that’s where I start creating. Then I think it all starts as very visual for me.
L’O: You can see yourself in a role, or you see what the character sees?
AA: I see something else. I’m like, “This is how this person’s going to dress. This is how the hair is. This is how she moves.” Then based on the story you start almost from the outside in. Even the one that I’m doing now: I’m doing a movie with Richard Linklater [Hitman]. With this character it was like, I need the shoes. I got the shoes. I went to pick them up today. I just got them all stretched out so they look worn. I just hope that the costume designer likes them. I have a thing with shoes and characters. In Star Wars, I was so nervous. I tried on this pair of boots in the costume fitting, and I was like, “These are it. These are the boots.” The costume designer kept trying, the whole show, like, “Maybe you should change boots.” I was like, “No, I’m wearing the same boots all show.” I think I wore a different pair of shoes in one scene, and it was because I was sitting down. I said, “Okay, I could do it if I’m sitting down.” Any shoe makes you walk differently.
L’O: Oh, tell us about Pussy Island! Another very exciting addition to your very busy career at the moment.
AA: Zoë [Kravitz] is so cool. She’s so incredibly sweet. She’s an amazing director. I read the script, and I loved it. That was another great experience where it was a big assembled cast and we all got along so well. We have this group chat that won’t stop, and it’s called Pussy Island. Every time my phone comes out, it’s like: Pussy Island. I was in a meeting yesterday—a serious meeting—and my phone was on the table just blowing up: Pussy Island, Pussy Island, Pussy Island, Pussy Island. I was like, “…So I’m in this movie Pussy Island.”
L’O: You’re like, “This will make total sense in six months. Don’t think about it right now.” Can you say anything about what it’s about?
AA: It was an amazing experience. I think the movie is really cool. It’s really smart. It’s through the eyes of Zoë. I learned so much from her and from Alia [Shawkat], and from Naomi [Ackie]. I got to be surrounded by really cool women. Liz Caribel [Sierra], who is a Dominican actress, is incredible. I think we all got together and had a really great female experience creating this, but it’s pretty fucking dark. You can tell that my brain’s going: “What can I say?”
L’O: Is there any role that you’re dying to do? You’re like, “God, I really want them to ask me to play a skydiver.”
AA: A skydiver. Yes. I want an athlete. The mentality of an athlete fascinates me. I’m into something that might be a little bit more physical. I also think that we’re missing a good ‘90s thriller-style film like Body Heat, or Basic Instinct. A film about Lolita Lebrón is the one that I really want to make. I have it in development right now. She was a Puerto Rican revolutionary fucking badass. She’s a real-life character. She was politically active in the early ‘50s, and she was a woman that did not understand the word no.
L’O: Do you feel a lot of pressure representation-wise as a Latin American actress in Hollywood? Is that a lot to deal with?
AA: I think I’ve solely added that pressure to myself. I don’t think that pressure exists. I think it exists in my mind, because I need to do a good job so that I can prove to the world and to many executives that we are capable—that we are smart enough. We are more than just what they think of us. That to me is inspiring. Hollywood has this whole stigma that there’s only space for so many Latin actors, and that’s not true. It only creates competition and negativity within that community. I’m like, Oh, I see what you’re doing: You’re trying to break us while we’re going up. That’s not cool. I’m not buying that. I’m buying that there is space for everyone, and we’re here to stay. Now I get more and more upset when people ask me, “How does it feel to be a Latin American actor in Star Wars?” I’m like, “The problem is your question.” The problem is that it shouldn’t be any different. Are you asking an English actor or a Scottish actor how it is to be in Star Wars?
L’O: The fact is that every year this country is becoming increasingly diverse; you’d think increasingly diverse casts of actors playing increasingly diverse characters would also make great business sense.
AA: Art recreates life. That’s what makes it so beautiful. That’s what makes us want to watch it. That’s what makes us empathize with it. The only way to really be creating art truthfully right now is by mirroring what we’re seeing in our world. We have a lot more color and flavor in our real life than we do in Hollywood. Yes, we have to applaud progress, because we have a long way to go, but I also invite other people to start getting used to it. I just started seeing videos of The Little Mermaid [an upcoming live-action remake of the animated Disney film, starring Black actress and musician Halle Bailey] and how little girls are watching. I started crying out of happiness because that is what representation does. I feel like it puts a face to what I know Guatemalan girls or little Puerto Rican girls are doing when they get to watch Star Wars.
L’O: You’re going to inspire so many Halloween costumes.
AA: Oh my God. I would die.
L’O: Did you always want to be an actress?
AA: No. I don’t think anyone does. That’s all bullshit. I guess there are people that know earlier than others, but for me it was more like, I wanted to do everything. They were like, “This kid either has a problem or she’s an actor.”
L’O: Because acting allows you to do a little of everything, right?
AA: Yes. I watched Ice Princess, and I was like, “I want to be an ice skater!” I’m very lucky that I grew up with a father that was like, “Okay, I will get you an ice-skating class.” I took ice skating classes for two weeks before I was like, “I’m bored. I want to be a teacher.” They also thought I was deaf as a little kid for the longest time. My teachers were like, “I think she has a hearing problem. I think she’s deaf.” We went to the doctor. My dad’s a musician, and his hearing was pretty bad from years of performing at concerts. My brother’s was good, average, normal. My mom’s was good, average, normal. Mine was perfect. The doctor was like, “I got to break it to you, but she’s ignoring all of you. She can hear you. She’s just in her own imagination.” I still do that. I’m home and my brother will be like, “Adria. Adria. Adria.” I am somewhere else. I’m very dreamy. I lived in my own little world when I was a little girl. I guess through that I started acting, and feeling like, this is why this thing—my imagination—exists. From then on I always wanted to [act], but my dad was like, “No, you need to study.”
L’O: That’s good, though. That’s good parenting.
AA: My dad is a musician; he’s an artist, so he understands. “This life, you don’t want it.” He’s like, “It’s crazy out there. You really need to think about this. You want to live your life. You want a normal childhood.” I did that. I had a wonderful, normal childhood. And then I dropped out of college, and I went to New York when I was 18. I made the best of friends. I went to a conservatory program for acting. I just loved it. I knew that this is what I’m meant to be doing.
L’O: Have you ever gotten really good advice from someone?
AA: My funniest advice is from Gloria Estefan. We were at dinner while shooting Father of the Bride, and she makes the meanest cosmopolitan of all time. There’s no one that does a better cosmo than her. She’s taking a sip of her drink and I’m like, “Gloria, I’ve got to ask you.” There’s me and Isabela [Merced], another actress, and we’re right next to each other. “What is advice that you would give the both of us?” She looks at both of us, and she goes, “Keep that ass up girl.” She meant like, keep up the hard work, keep fucking going, you got this. But in the moment it felt very literally that she’s telling us to squat more. [Laughs.]
L’O: That is amazing.
AA: My grandfather has a saying that I constantly repeat because I think it’s so beautiful. It’s: No estoy aquí para ver si puedo; porque puedo, estoy aquí, which means I’m not here to see if I can, I’m here because I can. It’s a really good reminder any time you have a little bit of self-doubt, whether it’s the fact that you have school the next day, or you have a big exam coming, or you have a big meeting at work. There’s a reason why you’re put in that situation and because of that reason you are able to get through it. It’s a good reminder every time I have a red carpet or anything that makes me a little nervous: I’m here because I can. I’ve worked hard, and I deserve this. I’m going to have fun doing it. And when I get a little bit sucked into this world of social media and comparison—where we’re all constantly being compared or we’re constantly comparing ourselves—my mom always tells me to look at my feet. She’s like, “You’re here. Look at your feet. You’re here. Tap your feet. You’re here.” Whenever I’m like, “I’m stressing out. I’m doing it again.” She says, “Look at your feet.” I’m like, “Okay, I’m here. I’m alive. All right. Good. Just checking.”
MARIE CLAIRE UK – Starring in the highly anticipated Star Wars prequel, Andor, Adria Arjona is being touted as the new talent to watch. Here, she speaks to Lotte Jeffs about swerving the cult of celebrity and finding solace in nature
As a teenager, Adria Arjona sold merchandise at gigs. Her brother had a job helping to build the stage. No one attending those concerts – which were usually held in giant stadiums, full of tens of thousands of fans – would have known that the Guatemalan pop star they had come to see was, in fact, these children’s father. Indeed, while Ricardo Arjona is one of the most successful Latin American artists of all time, with more than 80 million records under his belt, growing up in the shadow of his fame has steeled Arjona for her own success as an actor. Now starring in the much-hyped Star Wars prequel series, Andor (streaming on Disney+ from September 21st), his insistence that she work hard and avoid the usual pitfalls of celebrity culture has gifted her a wisdom and self-awareness many take an entire career to develop.
“My dad did such a good job of hiding the fact that he was famous for so many years,” she says. “I never really understood how big of an impact he had on society. It wasn’t until later that I figured, ‘Wait, we’re not poor!’, because we lived a very humble, very easy life, and then all of a sudden I realised, ‘Holy shit, he’s famous. He can buy me a cell phone!’”
Arjona grew up in Mexico City, but was born in Puerto Rico, where her mother, Leslie Torres, is from. Living on a tour bus during her early years, Arjona describes her upbringing as “very carefree, wild, because everything was about the arts… then my dad started becoming more and more famous and life became about sheltering ourselves and protecting ourselves from a world that felt like everyone wanted a piece of my father.”
By the time she was 12, the family had moved to Miami, where Arjona attended a private school and had to quickly adjust to a very different lifestyle. “I think I was so afraid of who I could have become, but my dad would tell me to keep doing the art, the photography, the acting – those classes were my salvation throughout my high school years,” she says.
Today, we’re talking over Zoom from her home in LA and it strikes me that Arjona is incredibly easy to talk to: open, engaging and, despite being out-of-this-world gorgeous, far from intimidating. She’s wearing a white vest and chunky silver jewellery. There’s not a hint of makeup on her face and her naturally wavy hair tumbles just past her shoulders. Her voice is soft; her South American accent still proudly present. Even via a laptop screen she oozes charisma.
As a child, Arjona tells me she had sporadic passions. “I’d watch Ice Princess and then all I’d want to do for a month was ice skate. I would dream about it; I would practise it; I would beg my parents for a class; I would do anything that I could to get on the ice. And then I would realise that I sucked and go, ‘I don’t want to do this’.” For a brief time she wanted to be a teacher and locked herself in a closet where she’d pretend the boots were her students. Next, she wanted to be a police officer, then a doctor. “I think at one point it occurred to me that I might be an actress, because I was so fascinated by learning certain abilities, but the second that I got a handle on them, I was ready to move on.” It perfectly sums up what she does now: “I get to play a doctor and I research and learn and I memorise it in my body, but I can’t actually do surgery – nor do I want to! I guess I’m incredibly curious.”
Following her intuition, Arjona studied performing arts in New York and initially only wanted to do theatre, until she realised that would mean “I was going to be broke forever”. Her first role was on a police drama and it was just as she was offered a recurring part on the second season that she manifested her big break: “I had watched season one of True Detective and I remember just believing deeply that I was going to be on it.” She turned down the job she’d been offered and wiggled her way into getting an audition for season two of True Detective instead. She got the part. It was a life-changing moment that set a stellar trajectory in motion and saw her relocate to LA. Her career has since included roles in everything from a sleek remake of Father of the Bride and Marvel mega-hit Morbius, to indie drama Pussy Island and fantasy comedy series Good Omens.
The diversity is a conscious decision. “[As a Latina woman], I was very conscious of what people wanted to label me as… I knew what I didn’t have to be, so I started picking roles that were really quirky and weird and interesting, and shows that were different,” she says. “That was my way of saying I have control; if [non-white actresses] feed into [the stereotypes] even just a little bit, we’re screwed.”
Over time, the actor learned how to speak up for herself on set, too. “Men get to do it all the time,” she says. “I was always so shy of doing it because I didn’t want to be called difficult or a diva… but I also have ideas and my ideas are worth listening to. Whether they’re used [or not] doesn’t matter – they’re still worth listening to.”
It’s one of the reasons Arjona loves science fiction, a genre that allows her to explore different characters and worlds she wouldn’t necessarily be able to access due to industry stereotypes. “I’ve been lucky that I’ve been able to play different kinds of women and I really enjoy the whole fantasy element of it; the imagination work that you have to get into,” she says. “I actually enjoy not understanding exactly what I’m doing at all times because it keeps me on my toes. And it’s nerve wracking. It’s exciting!”
In Andor, she plays Bix Caleen, the protagonist’s oldest friend and a risk-taking rebel with a big heart. “When you meet the [characters], you get the feeling that there’s so much history [between them]. You can sense that there was trust that’s been broken and rebuilt. And they have this insane chemistry and dynamic, which was so fun to play with [co-star] Diego Luna because he’s just so available as an actor. He’s so present”.
The scale of the project was vast compared to other sets she’s been on, with an entire city built to enable 360-degree filming. “You can run wherever you want; you can cut any single corner,” Arjona laughs. “I got to explore where [Bix is] from.” It’s a big role in an iconic franchise – a sentiment that wasn’t lost on Arjona, who tells me she initially tried to pretend it was just a regular role on a regular TV show to alleviate the pressure. “Cut to the first day on set when I just walked in and Star Wars was everywhere,” she laughs.
Filming also happened during the height of the pandemic, so cast members were kept apart and socialising was non-existent. Thankfully, that didn’t stop the atmosphere on set from being electric. “Everyone was so excited to be a part of this show that the second a director called cut, it became like a 12-year-old’s birthday party,” Arjona recalls. “Everyone’s going crazy about whether there’s a creature actor or some amazing prop – there was this incredible childlike energy.”
I wonder if she’s prepared for the level of obsession the Star Wars franchise generates? “I’m dying to meet the fans to be like, ‘It was good, right?’ But by the time it comes out, I’m going to be on another set, so I won’t really feel the impact of it as much. That’s been my trick – every time something big comes out, I go straight back to work. Then you’re not hearing about the hype [because] you’re so focused on another character. You’re so focused on another movie that you leave it behind.”
She’s not fazed by the inevitable increase in attention she’ll receive after the series airs, either, citing the example set by her father. “Fame is almost like the ocean,” she says thoughtfully. “You want to treat it with respect, you don’t want to fear it, but you also don’t want to feel too comfortable in it.” She mentions the stars of old Hollywood, like Elizabeth Taylor, who commanded a sense of glamorous mystery in an age before social media. “I’m not saying I want to create that magic – we’re living in very different times and you have to adapt – but I think privacy is so important. Having my own little world in my own little bubble [is important]. I keep my friends, partner and family really close to me, and then have this other persona for work.”
Today, she’s carved out a somewhat ‘normal’ life for herself in LA with her lawyer husband Edgardo Canales. And, thanks to what she calls her “secret weapon: my wild crazy hair”, she’s rarely recognised while out and about. She even recalls sitting next to someone recently on a plane who was watching Morbius and had no idea they were sat with one of its stars. “I was like, Jesus, that is so embarrassing! I was trying to cover my face so they didn’t realise,” she laughs.
Indeed, despite her high-profile career, Arjona says she’s an introvert. “I can do the extrovert thing, but I have a time limit. My partner can be at an event for five hours; I could be there for an hour and have to go. I love being by myself and I’m so sensitive. I give energy out like it’s candy and then I’m left depleted,” she adds. “I need time alone, especially when finishing a movie. I need to sit in bed and not talk.”
It’s a trait that’s carried into her personal life at times, too. “The majority of my friends have the biggest personalities. I guess it’s just coincidence, but my best girlfriends, even from childhood, have these huge personalities,” she says. “We sit down at dinner and I barely say a word and it’s the most amazing thing in the world.”
Indeed, the longer we talk more generally about anxiety and the need for personal space, the more Arjona opens up. “Sometimes you’re like, ‘I’m ready to be social’ and then you go out and you’re like, ‘Fuck, I’m not ready at all! I really don’t wanna.’ I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I’m being weird’. It becomes this whole battle and it’s awful, especially when meeting new people. I definitely feel more comfortable around people I already know.”
I tell her it’s reassuring to hear that even a woman as beautiful, confident and accomplished as Arjona still suffers from the same social anxieties as many women. “Are you kidding me! I’m always getting in my head and worrying that I’m being awkward, or not following conversations because I zoned out for a second,” she says.
It sounds like her husband is her wingman; the outgoing yang to her sensitive yin. They met through a mutual friend, then married in 2019 at an intimate ceremony in Antigua Guatemala. “He’s really a brilliant mind, which kind of pisses me off because I can never tell him something new. He already knows literally everything.”
Arjona’s idea of a perfect night is staying in with friends, eating home-cooked food, drinking good tequila and playing board games. “Clubs are a no-go for me – I’ve been there, done that. A lot of the time everything ends up being at my house. I just invite everybody over and we have a little party and that’s kind of my favorite vibe. I’m never normally at home, so being in feels cosy and I get to wear sweatpants and do something cute with my make-up.”
I ask what brings her the greatest joy and, without missing a beat, she says it’s her family. “I would be nothing without them. No one makes me laugh more than my mom. I think she’s the funniest human in the world. The quirkiest, weirdest woman I’ve ever met. And she’s my mom – I’m so lucky to have her. I also have a 12-year-old brother and a 26-year-old brother and I can 100 percent be my silly, goofy self in front of them and they love it.”
Indeed, for all of her otherworldly roles, Arjona is happiest with her feet firmly on the ground – and won’t be transporting herself into the metaverse any time soon. “I think we need contact, we need human connection,” she states. She feels the same about cryptocurrency and NFTs (non-fungible token) – curious and open-minded about the way the world is evolving, but content that her passions remain decidedly more tangible for now. She’s similarly practical when discussing the future of the planet, and the role we all play in tackling the climate crisis. “So much is out of our control, but I think taking things into your own hands is important,” she says. “These things may seem minor, but being aware of the water that you’re wasting every day or the plastic that you’re consuming or the products that you’re buying – there are so many little things and tiny decisions that we can make on a daily basis that will create a larger impact.”
As for the future, she’s cautiously optimistic. “I think hope is the only thing that you can have. But in terms of the environment, I’m incredibly scared of the reaction of people around me, and their lack of awareness or lack of information or lack of care. We all share this planet. This is our home. We’re all roommates. And, essentially, we’re just being assholes to one another. I’ve even been questioning if I want to have my own kids over the past couple of years, and I’m not so sure.”
We start talking more about eco-anxiety and how she deals with fear generally. “I was in a weird plane situation once, and my mom has always taught me to look at my feet when I’m anxious and see where I am in that moment – it grounds you and brings you back into the present,” she says. “They had lost the autopilot and we had nowhere to land. It was the scariest situation; the flight attendant was crying. And I just remember looking at my feet and going, ‘I’m here, I’m still alive. This plane crashing hasn’t happened yet.’ It allowed me to be a better partner to the people around me, as they were also freaking out. When we landed, I was like, ‘Oh my god, I could have spent an hour giving my poor body a heart attack.’” Instead, she stayed calm and present – and survived.
Arjona certainly strikes me as someone you would gravitate towards in a crisis. She has a grounded, solid energy; a kind of anchor within herself that can keep those around her safe whatever storms may come. “I have an interesting relationship with fear,” she reflects. “You have to become friends with fear. You have to say, ‘You’re not real. I’m making you up. You’re in the future and I’m not in the future. I’m nowhere near that. I’m here.’”
With her career now set for interstellar take off, I have a feeling that however high Adria Arjona soars, she will always remain rooted to the place she calls home.
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER – The actor was welcomed to the ‘Star Wars’ galaxy just 10 minutes into a chemistry read with series lead Diego Luna.
[This story contains spoilers for Andor’s first three episodes.]
At the height of the pandemic, Andor star Adria Arjona flew all the way to London to audition alongside Diego Luna (who plays the titular Rebel Alliance officer Cassian Andor), and within a span of 10 minutes, series creator Tony Gilroy welcomed her to Star Wars. Arjona plays Bix Caleen, who’s a mechanic and one of Cassian’s oldest friends on the planet Ferrix. In their first scene together at Bix’s small business, it’s suggested that the two characters have untapped feelings for one another, resulting in Bix’s current love interest, Timm (James McArdle), to jealously betray her by reporting Cassian to Imperial Security.
According to Arjona, the backstory for Bix and Cassian’s relationship is still up in the air.
“They’re childhood friends, and there’s this mystery of, ‘Were they ever really in love?’” Arjona tells The Hollywood Reporter. “So it really is kind of unknown, but through their long friendship, trust has been built and then broken and then built back up and then broken again. But she always ends up picking him over everything, and it kind of sucks.”
Andor’s first three episodes have now premiered on Disney+, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive since the series is a welcomed departure from the previous Star Wars shows. Arjona credits one individual for this new direction.
“The decisions that are made throughout the show — with the writing, the sets, the costumes and the worlds — are very much Tony [Gilroy], going, ‘I think it’s that, I think it’s that, and I think it’s that.’ And that’s why [Andor] works: because we had a vicious leader,” says Arjona.
In a recent spoiler conversation with THR, Arjona also recalls the story of how her mother gave her the positive reinforcement she needed to fly to London and audition during a precarious stretch of the pandemic.
Well, we can finally say the name Bix Caleen.
Thank God! I’ve been wanting to get a tattoo of Bix.
I know you put it off because of spoiler fears, but are you still planning to get it?
Yeah, I’m going to do it. I’m going to get some sort of Star Wars tattoo, but I’m not sure what.
When we spoke in April, you described Bix as a practical woman. Were you referring to the fact that she’s a mechanic of sorts?
Yeah, it’s hard to talk about her at such an early stage. I mean, she is incredibly practical and fearless and bold and loyal, even sometimes to her own detriment. She cares so deeply about the people around her, and it really takes her on a journey. So I’m in love with her in a way. I just think she’s the coolest.
What can you tell me about her history with Cassian? What makes her so protective of him?
I know they’ve had a long friendship. They’re childhood friends, and there’s this mystery of, “Were they ever really in love? Were they ever together? Is there jealousy between Cassian and Timm? Is this a love triangle?” So it really is kind of unknown, but through their long friendship, trust has been built and then broken and then built back up and then broken again. But Bix still cares deeply for Cassian. He’s incredibly complex and complicated, and he always seems to get himself in trouble or do things a different way. And like I said, Bix is so practical. She has her own business, and she is finally running it the way she wants to run it. She’s at the top of her game. She finally has stability, but every time Cassian comes in, he just disrupts it a little bit. So she almost wishes better for Cassian, and she’s incredibly protective over him. But she always ends up picking him over everything, and it kind of sucks.
Yeah, Cassian is unreliable in a lot of ways, but Timm (James McArdle) is a guy who will jump through hoops for Bix, to a fault.
So did she settle for Timm because she was tired of Cassian’s unpredictability?
I personally think so. Timm is safe. Timm is responsible. They function well together. They run a business together. Maybe she had hopes and dreams that it could’ve been Cassian, but who knows? It’s just impossible with him, hence that line that Cassian gives Bix, and Bix responds, “I don’t ask you about your personal life.” So you could really feel the tension in that moment of, “Oh, he doesn’t like that Timm is in my life.” (Laughs.) But he comes and goes a lot. That’s his way of protecting the people that he loves.
For anyone who may have missed our last interview, would you mind retelling the story of how you landed the role in the room?
Oh my God, I did tell you that. I didn’t tell that story to too many people. So I sent a tape in, and then I got called to go to London in the middle of the pandemic. So I called my mom, and I was like, “Mom, they want me to go to London, but there’s this thing called COVID. What should I do?” I was just so scared. I’m a true hypochondriac at heart. I was like, “What is going on with the world?” And she basically said, “Adria, you’re a swan. You could swim in a lake of shit and not get stained. Let the Force be with you, my daughter.” And then she hung up the phone on me.
So I ended up going to London, and I met Tony [Gilroy] and Diego [Luna] in person. We did one scene together, and Tony just stood up and was like, “Diego, meet your co-star. Adria, meet your co-star.” And I was like, “I’m sorry, what?” And Tony was like, “Welcome to Star Wars.” And then my heart just dropped. That whole testing period only lasted 10 minutes, and I did the scene once, plus another quick little scene. And all of a sudden, I was in Star Wars. It was the wildest thing, and it doesn’t speak to my acting abilities at all. I think it speaks more to Tony’s ability to see something and go, “That’s right.” The decisions that are made throughout the show — with the writing, the sets, the costumes and the worlds — are very much Tony, going, “I think it’s that, I think it’s that, and I think it’s that.” And that’s why it works: because we had a vicious leader.
Bix helps Cassian meet Stellan Skarsgard’s character, Luthen Rael, and he’s likely going to be the one to put Cassian on the trajectory towards becoming the Rebel hero who steals the Death Star plans in Rogue One. And that effort ultimately led Luke Skywalker to destroy the first Death Star and save the galaxy. So, technically, Bix had a hand in saving the galaxy, too. Have you thought about Bix’s role in the grand scheme of Star Wars?
I have. I really have. When Bix sent that message [to Rael], I thought about what that meant and what it meant for her future, Cassian’s future and the future of the galaxy itself. But it really lies more on Cassian than Bix, specifically. Bix is a little bit unaware of what she is actually getting herself into, but she’ll find out sooner or later. So I don’t think she’s exactly aware of what is happening or the connection to what is about to happen, but she realizes it pretty quick, though.
Episode three ends in tragedy as Timm gets stitches and dies in front of Bix. Cassian also flees Ferrix with Luthen. It’s safe to say you’ll be back at some point, right?
I can’t tell you that. It would be wild of me to do that.
What’s your favorite episode number?
Episode one. (Laughs.)
Wow, you’re good at this.
(Laughs.) You’ve gotta watch it.
Andor’s three-episode premiere is now available on Disney+. This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Happy Andor Day! Below are press interviews to hold you over until episode screen captures and more episode stills are added into the photo gallery!
SLASH FILM – Adria Arjona is very much a star on the rise right now. The actress got her major break in HBO’s “True Detective” back in 2015, but in recent years, she’s been working with some of the biggest directors and in the biggest franchises around. Arjona starred in Michael Bay’s “6 Underground,” joined the fight against the Kaiju in “Pacific Rim Uprising,” and recently dipped her toe into the Marvel universe in “Morbius.” But now, she’s stepping into one of the biggest franchises the world has ever known; Arjona is starring in “Andor,” the latest live-action “Star Wars” show making its way to Disney+ in September.
Arjona will be starring as Bix Caleen, a character who has close ties to Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor, the Rebel spy audiences first met in 2016’s “Rogue One.” While we won’t get into spoilers here, let’s just say she’s an ally of Cassian’s and doesn’t have much love for the Empire. I recently had the good fortune of speaking with Arjona during a press conference for the series to learn a bit more about Bix and the show itself. We discussed how she fits in the universe, the massive scale of filming a “Star Wars” show like this, and how it compared to working on a big Marvel movie.
‘Bix isn’t afraid of getting her hands dirty’
“Star Wars” has been a part of my life for about as long as I have memories. So anytime I get to speak to someone who was actually involved with it, it means a lot to me.
Oh, that’s amazing. I’m so excited to talk to you.
So on that topic, everyone finds “Star Wars” in their own unique way. What was your relationship to it before becoming a part of it?
I was a fan, I loved the movies. I had never watched them chronologically, so I was a little bit lost with the known timelines. I didn’t quite understand a lot of what was going on, but I certainly loved the world and all I wanted to do was be a part of it. Then finally, I got this role and I just decided to do my homework and I watched it all chronologically. It felt important to me to sort of know where I lived in the time and in the space. But then the more I read the scripts, the more I realized you don’t really have to watch any of the movies to sort of understand and appreciate the show. I mean, it’s amazing if you do, but if you don’t, it still stands on its own. That was pretty cool to me, too. That sort of gave me a lot of relief. I was like, “Okay.”
I think that’s important, too, especially now because so much stuff, like with the Marvel stuff, it feels like you have to do so much homework to watch something. I know Tony [Gilroy] has talked a lot about how they want “Andor” to be able to stand alone and be able to be an entry point for “Star Wars” fans.
Yeah. I really do believe it is, and it hopefully will be. I think you can watch and you can sort of fall in love with “Star Wars” and maybe it brings in even people that have never watched “Star Wars” before, because they don’t want to do the homework. I think that’s pretty cool.
Getting a little bit more specific, you played Bix. How would you describe her? Since you kind of did your homework before this, are there any other “Star Wars” characters that we might know that you could maybe compare her to?
I’m not big on comparison. I think there’s so many strong female characters in “Star Wars” that really stand on their own. That’s what I love about this whole world so much. I think just Bix is almost like an add-on to that. I think Bix isn’t afraid of getting her hands dirty, and she’s very practical and technical, and she’s a boss, and she’s fearless. Yet she’s incredibly caring and protective of the people around her, and a lot of the time that’s to her own detriment, right?
So what I really like about Bix is that she’s sort of this stable character, right? She has her sell yard and she owns this business and is trading and lives in this sort of trading world market city called Fariks. Then Cassian comes along and comes in, and like he always does, shifts things around every single time he comes in. He’s like, “I need you to lie. I need you to do something. I did this.” And you’re like, “Good God, here we go again.” I think Bix maybe has been saying for two years or a year, “I’m going to say no next time, I’m saying no next time, I’m saying no next time. No, no, no.” And he comes and she can’t help it.
‘I think Morbius was a very different experience’
A bit more broadly, I know you filmed it a while ago, but you did “Morbius” as well. But how does making “Andor” and playing in the “Star Wars” sandbox compare to working in another gigantic sandbox like Marvel while making “Morbius?”
I think they’re very different yet alike, because I filmed in the same city. So it almost feels like I was there forever. But I think “Morbius” was a very different experience. It was on a set, we did have some tangible and practical sets, but very little. I think “Morbius” within itself is really a three-hander piece. When this piece, it feels so much bigger than yourself. You feel it the second you step onto a set. This is not specific to Marvel — it’s very specific to the movie that I did in Marvel.
I think with “Andor,” I walked onto set and they had built an entire city. It was like four city blocks and I could get lost in it and I could open any drawer and there’s stuff inside of it.
I could sort of imagine where Bix would have breakfast and where she would go have dinner and where she would go have a drink. The bar was very much there and I would sort of hang out there sometimes in between takes. I could do the walk that she would do in the morning to get to her yard. So it was very much more immersive and I felt a lot bigger. But it was just very specific to the two projects that I was a part of. You’re working with so many different actors and so many different storylines within a single show. So that way of working, I think, was very different from my experience in Marvel.
The bit of the show that I have seen, I would say that it’s very gritty and grounded, but “gritty” is the word that I would use. Did you guys still manage to kind of keep things fun while filming, even though it was a very serious show?
Yeah, we did, we did. I mean, I think there’s a preparation and there’s this thing that you feel when you’re on a “Star Wars” set. You’re like, “I want to honor this, I want to do it for the fans, I want to do it for the storyline, I want to do it for Tony [Gilroy]. I want to do it for Bix.” So there is a sense that it is quite serious, but that only happens between action and cut. Then everything else, it’s a bunch of kids going, “We’re in Star Wars, we’re in Star Wars. Oh my God. Oh my God.”
Even the director geeks out. I don’t know how many takes I messed up because I saw something and I was like, “What?” I remember the first Stormtrooper that I saw or creature actor and I was running and I saw someone, and I was like, “Oh my God.” And the director’s like, “Do you want to not react? You’re part of this world, you’re supposed to be used to this.” I just found it to be the coolest thing. I think everyone turns into little kids the second that cameras are not rolling.
“Andor” arrives on Disney+ on September 21, 2022.