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.
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.
VOGUE MEXICO – The protagonist of Father of the Bride tells us about respecting traditions, her rise to the top and what she has sacrificed to build each of her dreams.
Looking at Adria Arjona from a distance could be thought of as a Latina who defies stereotypes in Hollywood, but when you get closer, you discover that she is much more than that: ‘who knows me says that I am dedicated to my work. I like the simple things in life, like spending time with my friends, my family and always being near the water, I think I was a mermaid in another life,’ she confesses.
The eyes move away and contemplate his career, one that he has made with a lot of effort, aware of what he wants to achieve with everything he does, something that ranges from being one of the faces of Tiffany & Co. when it comes to dazzling in a red carpet, being the face of My Way by Armani Beauty, or advocating for causes that matter to you. A role that the world is currently talking about is Sophie, the protagonist in Father of the Bride , the Latin American version of that film that Elizabeth Taylor starred for the first time, and that she now has together with a Hollywood representation seal.
Adria Arjona talks about Father of the Bride and her career in Hollywood
‘ Discipline has helped me a lot in my career , but I have also sacrificed a lot: you sacrifice time with the people you love most, having a certain routine, but it’s for doing something I love: I’m disciplined, but I also like to live life, Those who know me know that I like to live in the moment and be present: I don’t like having such a structured routine, I like to let go and enjoy. In the case of Sophie , for me it is interesting because she is someone who is part of her environment, but when she leaves her house, the same thing happens to her as to many: she begins to discover herself and when she returns to her Father, you know you’ve changed. It is very similar to the experience of a migrant who leaves and makes his life far from what he always knew and who suddenly returns to his country: something changes,’ he says the actress Adria Arjona.
In her case, she goes back to her roots by wanting to help others, a bit like her father did, but she wants to contribute something, she doesn’t go the easy way. She reconnects with Latin American culture ; It was something that we talked about a lot, about who Sophie would be, how she would do it and the traditions that she would break, because she is a woman of the 21st century, her concerns are other’.
For her, the dilemmas that Sophie faces are part of daily life, but they are forgotten when we remember that we are equal, and if it is something that is shared as a couple, it becomes a kind of complicity, something vital to achieve a balance: ‘ I can’t divide myself in two, that’s my reality and that of many women, that’s why we wanted to reflect that on screen’, says the actress.
That need that she reflects as part of that character has also led her to star in stories like Morbius with Jared Leto, a production of Star Wars with Diego Luna and now she will be the producer and actress of Los Frikis , a film that will be released soon; Although she may not seem like it, there is something that unites each of these narratives: the purpose that she puts into them.
‘Every time I decide to be part of a project I think about what it means for my career, because I try not to pigeonhole myself or stay in one place . I try to think about what this project will do for me, my profession and what doors it will open to those who follow behind me. I think that for a long time, Hollywood wrote stories for Latinos and created certain stereotypes, but now it’s my turn to say ‘I don’t dress like that, I’m not like that’: I can speak like someone from Guatemala because my dad is from there, also as a Mexican because I lived in Mexico for a long time, or even as a girl from Miami because I live here.
Adria Arjona, an actress who seeks to forget about Hollywood stereotypes
‘I think it’s hard for people to understand something when they can’t pigeonhole it, but we must understand that now it’s time to write our own stories, that each of the differences of the countries that make up Latin America can be brought to life, but that we can also connect to the rest of the world through stories that touch everyone’s heart, no matter where you are. I am aware that my generation has to show that versatility that exists when we take over our narratives: we want to tell them, explore our roots and what we want to build: there is space for everyone.
In the case of Adria Arjona , her versatility is similar to her favorite element: the sea , she seeks to expand as much as she can and leave her legacy in the world of cinema as someone multifaceted and impossible to pigeonhole: ‘it is what I love most, my engine It is to show that Latin women are capable of many things, I want to do it for myself and those who come after…’
Adria made her late night television debut on The Late Late Show with James Cordon last night, sitting down on the couch with Rainn Wilson, to talk about Father of the Bride!
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER – The busy actor looks to where her character, Dr. Martine Bancroft, might go and teases her upcoming work in the ‘Star Wars’ galaxy.
[The following interview contains spoilers for Morbius.]
Adria Arjona was cast in Morbius all the way back in 2018, and since she was still relatively new to the business at the time, she never could’ve imagined that a major movie star would go to bat for her. When Arjona originally met with Morbius director Daniel Espinosa to discuss the role of Dr. Martine Bancroft, a close friend and colleague of Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto), she was immediately shot down by the Swedish filmmaker. However, she persisted anyway and landed the lead role. What she didn’t know was that her co-star in the then-unreleased 6 Underground had offered her his endorsement.
“I went for a coffee with [director] Daniel Espinosa, and he flat out told me I was too young for the role. So I really had to persuade him to give me a shot,” Arjona tells The Hollywood Reporter. “But I auditioned and he gave me the role two days later. Then I found out that he called [my 6 Underground co-star and his Life and Safe House star] Ryan Reynolds and asked him, ‘Is she nice? Is she good to work with?’ And Ryan sent a lovely message. So I have Ryan to thank, in a way, for this role and for putting the good word out there for me.”
If you’ve yet to see Morbius, it’s time to tread lightly as Arjona is opening up about her character’s fateful conclusion.
“They wouldn’t send me the script at the beginning, but I did my research. And I just remember calling my agent to be like, ‘Oh my god, I think she might turn [into a vampire] in this one or in the second one,’” Arjona shares. “And then I got the script, and when I got to that moment, I was so excited because it changes everything for her. It adds a bunch of question marks to her future, so I’m excited to see where Martine will go. Now that she has turned, I want to know if she goes more towards good or bad. Or does she have trouble finding the middle ground? I’m as curious as the fans will be.“
Since wrapping Morbius, Arjona has added a few more feathers in her cap including the titular bride role in HBO Max’s Father of the Bride reboot. She also landed a lead role alongside Diego Luna in Andor, Tony Gilroy’s upcoming Rogue One prequel series for Disney+. Even though Arjona has auditioned for several past Star Wars projects, the nerves never cease.
“Right before walking in [to the audition], I looked at Diego [Luna] and I was shaking,” Arjona recalls. “I was like, ‘I am so nervous.’ And he just put a hand on my shoulder and said, ‘You got this.’ And I was like, ‘Oh god, I hope so.’ And then Tony gave me the role in the room. I only did the scene once and he said, ‘You got the job, my friend. Welcome to Star Wars.’”
In a recent conversation with THR, Arjona also looks forward to Father of the Bride and its Latin American take on the material. Then she explains how she “wiggled” her way into a True Detective audition, kick-starting her career.
So was there anything unusual about the casting process for Dr. Martine Bancroft?
Thank you for calling me doctor. I appreciate it. (Laughs.) Yes, [casting] was actually a little [unusual]. I’ll tell you the whole story. I went for a coffee with [director] Daniel Espinosa, and he flat out told me I was too young for the role. So I really had to persuade him to give me a shot, and he was like, “Okay, fine. I’ll read you. Of course.” And then he read me. There’s a maturity to Martine and an intelligence in the way that she carries herself. It’s very different than the way that I carry myself. Right now, I’m sitting down. My foot is on my stool, and I tend to slouch a little bit more. So I think that’s what he originally saw and was like, “This isn’t her.” But I auditioned and he gave me the role two days later. Then I found out that he called [my 6 Underground co-star and his Life and Safe House star] Ryan Reynolds and asked him, “Is she nice? Is she good to work with?” And Ryan sent a lovely message. So I have Ryan to thank, in a way, for this role and for putting the good word out there for me. And then I went to meet Jared [Leto] at his compound, and he almost made me read again. And I was like, “I’m not reading again. I already earned this role.” But it turned out to be just a silly joke. And then that was sort of the last time I saw Jared. I then met Dr. Morbius on set, and I didn’t meet Jared again until months after wrapping the movie.
Since you just mentioned it, what was it like to work with Jared’s brand of method acting?
Well, I studied method. I went to Lee Strasberg [Institute] in New York, so I’m very familiar with it and I feel very comfortable with it. Part of what I do and what actors do is adapt to other people’s methods. So it was easier for me because I studied it for so long and I just respect the method. I respected the commitment that Jared had during filming, and I just went with the flow. It almost felt like I went back to theater school in a way, and it reminded me of a lot of stuff that I was taught. So it was a nice experience, seeing someone commit physically, emotionally and spiritually through a role. It has an impact. Not only did it impact me, but it also impacted the tone of the set as well. Everyone understood that this guy is putting his body on the line. Every time he would walk with the crutches, I could see his back aching. And I think everyone wanted to do a better job so it went by faster and Jared could come back out and not break his back while doing it. So it was an interesting process for me.
In the comics, Martine was Michael’s secretary, so turning her into a fellow doctor seemed more interesting. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with being a secretary, do you think you would’ve been less interested in the role if there wasn’t a level playing field between the two of them?
The whole point of Martine and who she is as a character is that she really is the right-hand woman to Dr. Morbius. It could’ve been the same with her as a secretary, but I do think giving Martine equal intelligence elevated it. There was an eye to eye, and they both respect each other as doctors. And she could be the one to help him go through this experimental process and actually be the one who injects him. So all of that made it a lot more intimate, and there’s a level of trust that comes with Martine being a doctor that I found incredibly interesting. So it was fun to play. Either you join Morbius or you’re against him, and Martine really does take a huge risk. She risks everything to help him in hopes that he’ll heal himself and she’ll get more time with him. So the stakes were higher just because she was a doctor, and I really enjoyed that. But I also don’t think there’d be anything wrong with Martine being a secretary. I just prefer the version that we chose.
When you first got the role, what were the initial steps that you took towards creating your take on the character?
The way she stands and walks … I always gravitate towards shoes. Shoes are a big one for me. I’ve done it with almost all of my roles. Picking shoes is always tricky because you’re walking in a character’s footsteps. And then I spoke a lot with my aunt, who is a doctor, and I just asked her a bunch of questions. My aunt is probably one of the kindest women in the world. She saves lives and sees medicine as very hopeful, so I wanted to bring that to Martine. She’s not a jaded doctor. She really believes that there’s a cure [for Morbius’ blood disease], and she loves her patients deeply, even though you don’t see it so much on screen. And visually, Sade was a big inspiration for me. The hair pulled back, the braid and the whole jean look was very inspired by Sade. And then, I [referenced] AOC [Alexandria Ocasio Cortez], the way that she speaks, not necessarily politically, because I didn’t go that route. I just enjoyed the way that she spoke to people that have been in that spot for way longer than she has. As a Latin American woman, she speaks to a room full of white men with so much conviction, power and without fear. So I wanted to bring that level of conviction to Martine any time she spoke to Dr. Morbius. He’s a very intelligent man, but sometimes, she has to put her foot down. So I had inspiration from everywhere, and Daniel Espinosa was also really helpful during our many conversations about it.
We have to talk about Martine’s ending, which is really cool.
[The following question/answer contains spoilers for Morbius.]
Since these big superhero movies are often in a state of flux until the last minute, did you know that she would turn into a vampire from day one?
Yes, I did. I mean, I read the comics, so I imagined there would be something. They wouldn’t send me the script at the beginning, but I did my research. I was like, “Oh, she turns. Martine Bancroft turns.” And I just remember calling my agent to be like, “Oh my god, I think she might turn in this one or in the second one,” which is even more exciting. And then I got the script, and when I got to that moment, I was so excited because it changes everything for her. It adds a bunch of question marks to her future, so I’m excited to see where Martine will go. Now that she has turned, I want to know if she goes more towards good or bad. Or does she have trouble finding the middle ground? What happens to her? I’m just curious. I’m as curious as the fans will be.
So you’ve got several exciting projects coming up, including a film franchise that was near and dear to my heart as a kid. Of course, I’m talking about Father of the Bride!
What can you tell me about HBO Max’s updated take on it? [Writer’s Note: Andy Garcia is the titular father, and Arjona is the bride.]
You’re going to love it. I watched it last week, and I was so scared before it. I always get scared right before I watch a movie that I’m in, especially since I’m in so much of this movie. (Laughs.) I can’t quite close my eyes every time I’m on screen because I would have them closed the whole movie. (Laughs.) It’s so heartwarming, and I really do think this might be Andy Garcia’s best performance. He’s so incredible in the film. He has so much heart. And it really is a father-daughter story with two cultures coming together. There’s Mexican culture and Cuban culture that come together and clash, so I think it’ll be interesting for the world to see two Latin American cultures in a film. Maybe I’m wrong, but I haven’t seen that done, really. I feel we’re always pigeonholed to be one thing, and it’ll be interesting for the world to see that we are so incredibly different. I’m half Guatemalan and half Puerto Rican, and I was raised in Mexico. And the three of them — Mexico, Guatemala and Puerto Rico — are so incredibly different. Different accents, different cultures, different food. Everything is different. So that’s an element of the movie that I’m really excited about, and I just think people really need this movie. We’re living in crazy times, and I think people are really going to love it. It’s definitely a movie that you watch more than once, and when I realized that after watching it, it really warmed my heart.
Did you enjoy reuniting with your Sweet Girl daughter Isabela Merced?
Yes, I did! It was really nice. It was interesting to go from playing her mother to playing her sister, and I think we’re so much better as sisters. Obviously, they had to age me up and stuff for Sweet Girl, but I love her. She’s so talented and so sweet, and she does an incredible job in the movie. And she really has become like my sister. She was over at my house the other day; I gave her a TV. She’s my little sister, and I love her dearly.
And then you shot this little chamber piece at Pinewood Studios. I believe it’s called Andor.
(Laughs.) Oh, you’re talking about the super tiny, low-budget thing I did in London?
Sounds about right.
Yeah, the Star Wars thing. (Laughs.) That was incredible. I wish I could tell you more, but I can’t. All I can tell you is that as an actor, it was really moving to be on a Star Wars set. And during preparation, I kept telling myself, “I’m just not going to think that this is Star Wars because the more I think it’s Star Wars, the more nervous I get.” And when I showed up on set, I was like, “There’s no way I can get away with not thinking about the fact that this is Star Wars.” Every gadget, every prop, everywhere you’d look, you’re like, “Oh my god, I’m in Star Wars.” (Laughs.) So I had to embrace it and be like, “Okay, I’m in Star Wars.” (Laughs.) They’d build an entire city, and everything was sort of 360. The camera can sort of shoot everywhere, and it was really mind blowing. And I also love my character. I wish I could tell you more about her, but I don’t even think I can give you her name. I was actually going to tattoo her name on my arm. And then I was like, “What if I take a picture or something and people are like, ‘Wait, What is that thing?’” So I was like, “Ah shit, I have to wait for it to come out.” (Laughs.)
Can you spare an adjective regarding your character?
I’ll go with practical. She’s a very practical woman.
You’ve auditioned for Star Wars projects several times in the past. Were you more nonchalant during this go-round, which ultimately changed your luck?
Unfortunately, no. I wish, but no. I was terrified. I was very scared. I did an audition, and it was at the beginning of Covid. And I was so scared to go in the room for this just because it’s Star Wars and I knew that Tony Gilroy was going to be there and direct the audition. So I was freaking out, and I called my mom, who is a very hard woman to hang up on. I think most mothers are. You’re like, “OK Mom, I’ve got to go. I love you, bye,” and they’re like, “Oh, by the way.” They just keep talking. So my mom is one of those, and I just told her, “I’m so nervous. I don’t know if I should go. There’s Covid. There’s this.” And she just told me, “Let the force be with you, my daughter,” and for the first time in my life, she hung up the phone on me.
Yeah, that gave me the strength to get on a train and to forget about it. But right before walking in, I looked at Diego [Luna] and I was shaking. I was like, “I am so nervous.” And he just put a hand on my shoulder and said, “You got this.” And I was like, “Oh god, I hope so.” And then Tony gave me the role in the room. I only did the scene once and he said, “You got the job, my friend. Welcome to Star Wars.”
I often hear stories about actors seldom getting the roles they really want, but when they’re less concerned with the outcome, that’s when it tends to go their way.
That is true, sometimes! That does happen. But for my whole Star Wars trajectory, I wish I wouldn’t have been so nervous. But that definitely does happen when you’re not thinking about it too much and you just do your job and you don’t really want it too bad. Sometimes, wanting it too bad gets entangled in the work, and it shouldn’t. You should only play the character, so there’s an energy that maybe gets in our way.
I thought you made a strong impression on True Detective season two. Do you consider that job a turning point in your career? Did you feel momentum after that?
I think you might be right. True Detective really pushed me forward and also gave me the confidence that I needed. True Detective also opened a lot of doors for me, and it’s been a crazy ride. But imposter syndrome still gets a hold of me. Every time I wrap a movie, I look around and say to myself, “Shit, do you think you’ll ever be on a set again?” (Laughs.) And crazy enough, I was on I don’t even know how many sets last year. I think I might’ve spent three weeks at my house the whole entire year, and I forgot where everything was in my house. I was like, “Wait, where are my t-shirts? Where are the plates? Where are the mugs?” I was lost in my home. (Laughs.) But it’s been a really interesting ride for me, and I’m just really grateful that I’ve been able to play different characters. As a Latin American woman, I haven’t quite been pigeonholed, and I think it’s because I’ve jumped from genre to genre so much. I don’t know if I want to attribute it to that or just my wonderful team, but it’s been fun to be able to bounce around. And True Detective was probably my second job ever, so it was a big one. [True Detective creator] Nic Pizzolatto told me I should move to L.A., and I did, so I think that made a shift.
Narcos was before that, right?
Yeah, Narcos was before. I told everyone on Narcos, “I’m going to do season two of True Detective.” And everyone was like, “Have you auditioned?” I was like, “No, I haven’t, but I’m going to get it.” And I pretended to be my own manager. (Laughs.) Shit, the casting office is going to know now once they read this. (Laughs.)
You called your own shot.
I called my own shot, yeah. My manager back then, we both sort of wiggled our way in there, and they were auditioning really famous girls. I was no one at the time. I had no credits on IMDb. I was like, “If I have no credits, Nic Pizzolatto would take me more seriously than if I had two bad credits.” So I said no to a lot of jobs because I knew I wanted to be on True Detective. (Laughs.) I was young and wild! I think I’m smarter now, but it worked.
Is there anything else you’re excited about coming up?
Los Frikis is a very special movie, and I produced that as well. It’s with the guys from The Peanut Butter Falcon, Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz.
I didn’t realize they were off and running on another project. I loved Peanut Butter Falcon.
It was incredible, yeah, and I think this one is full of magic, too. I’m really excited for the world to see it. It’s our baby, and we had so much fun doing it.
Morbius is now in theaters.