Cuban Actress Ana de Armas on the Challenge of Crossing Over From Spanish to English Films

When Ana de Armas was cast in the highly anticipated sequel from director Denis Villeneuve, Blade Runner 2049, headlines were made asking who was this new face set to star opposite Oscar-nominated actors Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford? But the Cuban actress is no stranger to the big screen. To American audiences, she’s a new face in Hollywood, but the actress began her career at the age of 14 and has been a working actress for over 10 years in Cuba and Spain. In 2015, she made her US debut in Eli Roth’s Knock Knock, starring opposite Keanu Reeves, quickly followed up by Hands of Stone with Robert DeNiro, and War Dogs with Miles Teller. Now, de Armas is taking on the future with Gosling and Ford in what is being called one of director Villeneuve’s masterpieces. We got a chance to talk with de Armas about her experiences “crossing over,” the making of Blade Runner 2049, and more.

HipLatina: There’s so many headlines that are calling this role your big break, but you’ve been working for probably 9-10 years now, primarily in Latin American films. Can you talk about the experience of working in US films versus in Latin American films, or your crossover experience?

Ana: It’s very different. When I left Cuba, then again when I left Spain, it was always because I wanted more. I was ambitious, and I wanted to just be in a place where I was kind of exposed, I guess, to the best projects, and I was kind of chasing, maybe unconsciously, the filmmakers that I wanted to work with. When I started working on films in Cuba, those were the films that challenged me at the time. But then I wanted more, and I moved to Spain, and I felt like I grew a lot when I was there. I did all the interesting things that I found there, but at some point, I wanted more again. So, I decided to move to the States. I didn’t speak English, so that was another challenge added to the equation, and I had to learn the language.

I’ve always been trying to grow, and to evolve, and to learn new things. I think at the end of the day, the experiences are all about the people you work with. More money or less money, big budget movies or indie movies – we have [those] everywhere, in every country. The language doesn’t matter, either. It’s all about how creative you can get on set, the people you work with, and what is the human side of the experience that you take with you. I’m here in LA now, doing films here, because that’s what happened, but I cannot wait to go back to Spain and do another movie there, and the same with Cuba. I want to go back to Cuba, and do a film with my people there, you know? So, I take it as something temporary, like I’m here now, but I might not be here next month.

Cuban Actress Ana de Armas on the Challenge of Crossing Over to US Films HipLatina

HL: Your role as Joi is a bit complicated, and without giving away spoilers, I think she is so essential to K’s (Ryan Gosling) survival in the Blade Runner 2049 world. Can you talk about crafting your character with that kind of vagueness attached to it?

Ana: It was hard! I was very intrigued by everything about her, and who she was. It was a character that we had very little to research or pull from, because it’s something that’s never been seen on screen before, so Denis [Villeneuve – the director] and I had to spend a lot of hours, going through all the scenes, and just creating her from zero, and coming up with our own rules. We had to make decisions about how she would feel, react, and process information. Because she has a beautiful arc in the movie, we see her learning throughout the whole film, and transforming. So it was a little complicated to work on it, but it was so exciting. It was a big learning process for me, in a lot of ways, technically, and artistic, but it was very inspiring, too. I knew that I was in Denis’ hands, and I knew something good was going to come out of there. Joi is very inspiring; I think she represents the future.

HL: Well, speaking a little bit about working with Denis. Denis is considered one of the most creative and fascinating directors to work with today. What was your experience working with him?

Ana: Mind-blowing. I think Denis is so, so special, and so intelligent, and he’s very sensitive, and also, he does very artisanal work. He’s very collaborative, and he loves talking, and sharing ideas. You know, sometimes you have those moments on set, that you have an idea, or you want to say something, and you feel like, ‘Just shut up. You’re here with Ryan Gosling, Denis, and Harrison, or whoever. Who are you to say anything?’ You feel kind of intimidated sometimes, but that never happened with them. I realized it was all in my head, and they were always [open], because Ryan was too, and everyone on set was always very open, and welcoming, to listen, and to discuss anything that you might be thinking.

Cuban Actress Ana de Armas on the Challenge of Crossing Over to US Films HipLatina

HL: Also, I have to say, the landscape and the sets were absolutely beautiful. Can you talk about what it was like to work in that environment?

Ana: It is that beautiful, because they were real, and I think you can feel that on the screen. You can feel it was organic, and the size of those sets. It was a great thing to work with, because we didn’t have to look at a tennis ball, or imagine a world in a green screen. We would walk on those sets, you could feel it in your skin, the humidity, the rain, the cold. You know? Everything. It was really real, and we were just there. You just had to be present, and look at your partner’s eyes, and just say your lines. It was incredible. It was a luxury to have those sets. Then you understand, also, in the future anything is possible. So you might not all be on the same page, but once those sets are there, and you and the whole crew walk in, we all understand what we’re talking about. We all speak the same language. We understand the universe. We’re all living in it.

Interview was edited for brevity and clarity.

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