IN CONVERSATION WITH ADRIA ARJONA
Adria Arjona is one of Hollywood’s most promising talents working today. She was recently seen in Disney+’s hit series ‘Andor’, which just concluded its first season. Earlier this year, Adria also starred in ‘Father of the Bride’, HBO Max’s biggest movie premiere to date for a title exclusively made for the streaming service.
Adria, you’re one of the main stars in Disney+’s ‘Andor’, a series that is a prequel to Star Wars’ film ‘Rogue One’. The series has already been renewed for a second season. How was it for you to become a part of the ‘Star Wars’ family?
I’ve been wanting to be a part of the ‘Star Wars’ family for quite some time now. I won’t say what I auditioned for, but I have auditioned for Star Wars before in the past. And so this time around, I knew what I was getting myself into when I auditioned. I was so nervous about it because it is Tony Gilroy and this is the ‘Star Wars’ that I wanna be a part of. I know that this one’s gonna be so smart and it’s gonna be one of the ‘Star Wars’ that everyone’s like “We have to watch that one”. I did the audition on self tape and then like a month or so goes by and they end up asking me to do a call back. I was in Paris at the time and this was right at the beginning of the pandemic. So I went to London and I auditioned. I remember I did the first scene and then the second scene, and the room kind of went silent. And that’s never a good thing in an audition room when people go silent, at least not in my experience. I thought I really screwed this one up. And then he just looked at me and said welcome to ‘Star Wars’. So I think he changed my life within a span of five seconds. And that was me getting into the show.
In the series you play Bix, Cassian Andor’s fearless longtime friend. What was your favorite thing about Bix and her storyline in the first season?
What I love about Bix in the first season is her loyalty. I think when you meet Bix for the first time, you can see that she’s a tough cookie. You know, this woman has sort of done everything in her power to be in power, to have her business running. And she’s smart and she’s good with her hands. And all of a sudden Cassian comes in and she knows that she has to help him, even though it’s at her own detriment. And so she does it, she selflessly helps him. And by doing so, everything just spirals for the both of them. And that’s where her journey begins, but it really begins at the core of loyalty and friendship. I really love that and I admire that.
Do you have any wishes for her story in the second season?
I do. But I don’t know if I’m gonna share it. This is gonna be so cheesy, but it’s the truth. When you’re working with such great writers, like I get to do on this show, I really have to take a step back and understand that Tony’s vision for Bix in season two is way greater than what I can have for her.
Earlier this year, you starred in HBO Max’s ‘Father of the Bride’ alongside Andy Garcia and Gloria Estefan. This is a third version of the film based on the 1949 novel. Why do you personally believe this remake is so unique and different from the others?
There was the Elizabeth Taylor, followed by ‘Father of the Bride’ one and two. So this one is technically the fourth. I think what the big question for me when doing this is like “Who’s the father of the bride in 2022 or 2023?” And I think there should be more. The beauty about the movie is that it talks about this big generational gap that I think we always feel with our parents. We’re living, we’re young and we think differently. And the world is kind of changing and they just really wish that it was the same. And they’re always complaining and it doesn’t change. I’m gonna be like that when I’m that age. I’m gonna be the good old times.
And that’s kind of Andy’s character. And his character is so stuck on the paths and stuck on the way that he does things. And I really enjoyed that aspect of our movie. I think it was a really smart tactic. Also, you have the Latin American flavor that’s undeniable in the film, but what kind of bothered me about the movie is that a lot of people started calling it a Latinx remake of ‘Father of the Bride’. And just because there were Latin American actors in it, I don’t see it that way. It really was a different way of telling the father of the bride story. There are cultural aspects, but I think more than anything it really is about a generational gap and what does that mean and what are those conversations and those fights. The biggest fight of all is that she proposes.
With this being a romantic comedy, how do you feel about filming comedies versus other genres? Does any genre stand out to you as the most exciting, most fulfilling or your favorite?
Honestly, that’s so hard to tell. I don’t know if I look at genres as much. It’s a question that I’m asked often and I look more at the story and the character. I’ve been really lucky in my career. I’ve been able to jump around and I’ve been able to play in a lot of genres. For example, science fiction and the fantasy world was where I was first able to play other women and women that I wasn’t really allowed to play in dramas because I’m Latin American. And with ‘Emerald City’ and ‘Good Omens’, they allowed me to be quirkier. They allowed me to be a different character, not just a Latin American. So I have a big appreciation towards sci-fi and fantasy.
But I don’t know, it depends. Like if I do two dramas, I’m gonna want to do a comedy after. Or if I do a comedy right after ‘Father the Bride’, all I wanted to do was something a little denser. And I went off and I did ‘Irma Vep’ and then I did ‘Los Frikis’, which is a completely different world.
You’ve worked alongside many A-listers from the industry already. Who would you say surprised you the most and from whom have you learned the most on set?
I’ve learned so much from everyone. Everyone works differently. I’ve learned so much from Vincent Vincent D’Onofrio. He really taught me and made sure that I was an actor’s actor. And he taught me that you do your best work off camera, you are always there for your other actor. And that was a big lesson that I learned on my first big job. And I hold myself really prideful of that. It is something that I take really seriously. It’s to be there for my other actor. And I obviously would’ve known and I would’ve learned that, but maybe I wouldn’t have been there for other actors if I wouldn’t have learned that so early on, so think Vincent taught me a huge lesson.
I mean, I’ve been so lucky. Melissa has taught me really how to be a woman on the road, filming all these stuff, but yet maintaining a well balanced personal life as well. I saw that with Ryan, I saw that sometimes it’s not just about the work, it’s how do you do it, how do you balance both and how do you stay sane. And also Andy has taught me a lot.
Being able to portray different characters and experience such diverse stories through your work, you always learn something new. What’s your view on being able to experience this? Which story or character has left the biggest mark on you, until now?
As an actor, you really get to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and live their lives. And I think it’s always such a big learning experience, to be honest. Like, I’m definitely not a doctor, but I’ve played doctors before and that takes research and that takes time. And through that character, I’m able to learn a new profession, vaguely of course, because doctors take years and years to study. But I vaguely get to sort of nibble into all sorts of different careers and different paths. And it’s fascinating to me, it is kind of like going back to school. And through the research, I’ve learned so much and so much about myself.
I’ve learned I like certain things that I didn’t know I did, because of a character or because of my character’s profession. So that’s been really interesting for me personally. And I think in every story that you tell and every character that you portray, there’s always you involved. It always starts with you. At least that’s the way that I work. So I’ve been able to heal a lot of wounds through my characters and through telling stories, and I’ve been able to open some up and that has been shitty. But I think acting is pretty therapeutic to be honest. And I get to do it behind a mask, I get to hide behind someone else’s words and someone else’s name. And I get to explore who I am character after character, and that’s the artistry behind it.
They always stick with me for a couple months, just the story and the energy on set and you miss the people that you were working with. They kind of linger with me. But the one that really stuck with me, and it still kind of does, is ‘Los Frikis’, this movie that I produced and I act in it. It’s Michael Schwartz and Tyler Nilson directing and it’s a story about the AIDS epidemic in Cuba. And we got all Cuban actors, we flew them to the Dominican Republic. It was the first time ever in their lives that they had left Cuba. And I really got to experience the world through their eyes. They saw supermarket like Disney World, they had never seen a full supermarket in their lives. And I got to see that and I got to experience that through their eyes and just realized how much we take for granted and how much I’ve always had right in front of me and yet I haven’t really been paying attention to. It really messed me up and it still kind of does, it still lingers with me because we lived like that for two months. I didn’t wear shoes and I was constantly dirty and it was a different lifestyle, but I wish I still kind of lived it. I was in front of the beach every day and at lunchtime I would just take a swim, dry my hair and go back to work. It was just the hippiest experience. And I realized I don’t need anything.
And then I’d come back to real life and I’m like “I need my phone, I need my phone charger, I need my AirPods and then this and I need that”. Then you’re like, wait, no I don’t need it. So that’s kind of what messed me up for a little bit.
Adria, you were born in Puerto Rico. How would you say your heritage impacts and defines your personality?
That’s a hard one for me because I grew up all over the place. I was born in Puerto Rico and then I moved to Mexico really young. And my dad’s Guatemalan and I go there often. So, I feel very Puerto Rican when I’m in the island. I feel very Guatemalan when I’m in Guatemala. I feel Mexican when I’m in Mexico. I don’t know where I identify from, that’s really hard for me. And even when I speak Spanish, no one can really catch my accent. I’m proud to be Puerto Rican, I am proud to be Guatemalan, I am proud to have been raised in Mexico, but I’m also proud that I don’t feel like I belong anywhere. And that’s helped me through my acting. I don’t have tied roots anywhere.
Don’t get me wrong, if you play salsa, I’m full Puerto Rican. But I’ve traveled so much at such a young age and I’ve lived in so many different places that I don’t really know where a hundred percent I’m from. But I feel like being so prideful to where you are from can be so dangerous at times. It doesn’t let you see the rest of the world in my opinion. I think you should always have an open mind and understand that you are from that place, but that doesn’t mean that place is better than every single other place. And everyone’s beautiful, every culture is beautiful, no one is better than the other one. But what I do feel proud is that as a Latin American, I keep trying to see where a Latin American has not been yet, where a Latin American has not been invited yet, what character has a Latin American not played yet. That’s where I wanna go. That’s my goal.
Besides acting, what are you most passionate about in life?
Telling stories. I love the world of producing and I wanna be able to do it more and more. I’m also passionate about travel. I love traveling more than anything. I love meeting other cultures and meeting other people and tasting different foods. And just digging deeper and exploring the world. That’s probably one of my biggest passions. And I love boxing. It’s kind of the way that I take everything out of my head.
And I really enjoy helping people. I have a couple things that I do that I don’t really publicly talk about. No one needs to congratulate me. I’m Santa Claus in Guatemala. And that brings me so much joy. The fact that I work 11 months out of a year and I’m able to afford toys for a bunch of kids that now I know, but I didn’t know before.
As we already mentioned, soon we’ll be able to see you in ‘Los Frikis’, a film that follows a true story about teenagers who inject themselves with HIV in order to escape opression in Cuba. This is a film, which you’re also executive producing. How was it being in the role of an executive producer?
I feel just so honored to watch these fabulous amazing actors perform on days that I didn’t. If I wasn’t scheduled to work that day, I was still there, cause as a producer I have to be there. And I just got to witness such great work from every actor. It was really special. But because it is my first time producing, I almost didn’t wanna disturb Michael and Tyler’s process. I respect it so much. So I would kind of sit in my corner and watch and if I heard something that was said incorrectly in Spanish or something in translation, I would jump in. But the beautiful thing is that Michael and Tyler, as two directors, started inviting me into the creative process more and more. It is such an amazing story, it’s such a powerful story and to be able to be in it as an actress is an honor. And then let alone as a producer, I just feel really lucky and proud that I got the opportunity and that Michael and Tyler were down with it.
You also recently wrapped production on Zoë Kravitz’s directorial debut film ‘Pussy Island’, as well as Richard Linklater’s action-comedy ‘Hitman’, which is based on real events. What can you share with us about your upcoming projects at this time?
I think ‘Pussy Island’ was such an amazing experience. We all really lived together for about a month and a half acually and everyone got really close. It’s a insane movie and I can’t imagine anybody else directing it. Zoe, she is a powerhouse. She’s so smart, she’s funny. She’s a really good director, she’s visual, she gives really specific notes that me as an actress can understand. Sometimes you get notes and you’re like, what does that mean? And Zoe, because she’s an actress, she got it in once and really knows how to talk to actors. I’m so excited for people to see it.
And ‘Hitman’, I just finished it, so it’s so fresh. I just really fell in love with those two guys. My heart is all in on that movie. Richard and Glen are just so sweet and they’re true collaborators. I just had the best time making that movie with them, we laughed so much. I don’t remember a day on set where my cheeks wouldn’t hurt because I would be laughing so hard. Richard has done it all as a director. I think he’s a genius and I’m so excited for people to see it.
interview by JANA LETONJA
styling ALMUDENA GUERRA
styling assistant INES ITSASO
hair LACY RED
make-up HUNG VANNGO @ The Wall Group
production DIRTY PRETTY PRODUCTIONS
editor TIMI LETONJA