'Knives Out' Star Ana de Armas on Declining to Audition and 'Bond' Chemistry with Daniel Craig
[This interview contains mild spoilers for Knives Out.]
Ana de Armas wants to prove you wrong, and as recent history shows, she’s already doing it. Just five years ago, the Cuban actor performed her lines phonetically in Eli Roth’s Knock Knock, her first American film. In 2017, she delivered a breakout performance in Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049, and ironically enough, many considered her holographic character, Joi, to be the heart and soul of the film. Now, five years after her English-speaking debut, she’s stealing scenes from Daniel Craig and Chris Evans in Rian Johnson’s Knives Out.
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Johnson’s acclaimed murder mystery revolves around de Armas’ character, Marta, an Ecuadorian nurse who took care of the recently deceased Harlan Thrombley (Christopher Plummer). And yet, de Armas originally passed on the audition due to an underwritten character description that labeled Marta as a “pretty Latina caretaker.”
“Getting an email that described the character like that — without any more information or a script attached because it was high-profile and secret — just really didn’t speak to me,” de Armas tells The Hollywood Reporter. “So, because of the character description, my imagination immediately went to a portrayal that was not necessarily very positive or exciting in relation to Latin culture. So, when I finally read the script, I realized that the description didn’t fit at all because Marta is so much more than that.”
In April 2019, de Armas was cast in Cary Fukunaga’s No Time to Die, which serves as Daniel Craig’s final turn as James Bond. Since she had just finished Knives Out with Craig a month before getting cast, de Armas was grateful for his seal of approval after Fukunaga pitched him the idea. De Armas and Craig’s existing chemistry also proved to be advantageous on the set of No Time to Die.
“When [Fukunaga] brought up the idea to Barbara [Broccoli] and Daniel, Daniel was completely on board and supportive of it, which made me very happy,” de Armas recalls. “Having met Daniel before and getting along so well on the set of Knives Out, there was nothing awkward when I got to the Bond set. There was no ice to be broken. It was just easy and smooth.”
In a recent conversation with THR, de Armas discusses her role in No Time to Die, her experience with Denis Villeneuve on Blade Runner 2049 and the on-set fun she had with her Knives Out co-stars.
I was surprised to learn that Knives Out was your first Skype audition. Despite the separation between you and Rian, were you feeling confident once it was over?
It was fun! It was just my first audition on Skype. I always felt so comfortable with Rian, whether it was talking on the phone or normal Skype without an audition involved. When the time came to audition, it felt good. He was so supportive, and I could tell that he wanted to make it work.
You said you originally passed on the audition because Marta was described as a “pretty Latina caretaker.” Who convinced you to reconsider?
Oh, the script did. Getting an email that described the character like that — without any more information or a script attached because it was high-profile and secret — just really didn’t speak to me. Latinas rarely exist at the center of a film, especially not in the context that we have in this movie. So, because of the character description, my imagination immediately went to a portrayal that was not necessarily very positive or exciting in relation to Latin culture. So, when I finally read the script, I realized that the description didn’t fit at all because Marta is so much more than that.
Are you asked to audition for stereotypical roles somewhat often?
Honestly, it’s not something that I’m trying to avoid. I’m very proud to be Cuban and a Latina, and always will be. It’s just that we have more to offer than only playing maids or prostitutes. I don’t want to play into that game because I want to represent my culture in a more positive way. We have a lot more to offer. Maybe at the beginning of my career, I was getting more auditions or opportunities for those roles, but it hasn’t been like that lately. It’s been pretty awesome lately. All this time and effort, holding my ground and staying true to this belief that I have about finding more positive roles is paying off. Now, I’m actually finding roles that I want to play — not necessarily Latinas either. I’m an actor, and I will play a Latina forever, but I also want to play anybody because that’s my job. So, I don’t want anybody conditioning me or telling me that there’s a limit because I’m not from here or from there. So, I like to prove them wrong. (Laughs.)
What was your first reaction to finding out that you were playing the protagonist in such a star-studded ensemble cast?
It was amazing. I just couldn’t believe that she was at the center of the film; I also couldn’t believe that she was the moral heart of the story. It was scary, too, because I wasn’t really sure of what to expect from all these incredible actors like Christopher Plummer, Daniel Craig or Jamie Lee Curtis. I was terrified; I was really nervous. I was also coming straight from another movie, and I only had a week to prepare with very little rehearsal. I really didn’t feel like I was ready for it, and I didn’t know how Marta was gonna be. I didn’t have the whole idea of what the character would be yet. I felt a little bit like Marta; I was being thrown into a situation, and I just had to figure out how to survive. (Laughs.) I guess it’s kind of what she felt, too. She had to figure out how to navigate a situation and get out of it. It was terrifying, but it was awesome because they all turned out to be the best human beings you can imagine. I felt very supported and welcomed. They championed me the whole way through. Rian cast the best actors possible — and the best human beings. Everyone got along incredibly well, and we had a lot of fun.
Lately, I’ve talked to a number of actors who also seemed to thrive despite very little time to prep. So, maybe it was beneficial — versus having too much time to prep and potentially overthinking everything.
Who knows, but I think it worked out well. I was swimming with sharks, and I had to learn to swim very quickly just to stay alive. Also, the script was pretty tricky. Obviously, it’s misleading the audience all the time and playing with twists. We also had to shoot the same scenes from different perspectives and points of view. That was confusing for us during the shoot because we’d wonder, “Is this the reality? Is that my memory? Is that what we’re making the audience believe had happened?” Basically, I just had to be present every day and in every scene. I had to play it as if it was the truth of the story. So, maybe not having the time, going with the flow and just trusting Rian was all I needed.
Marta has a rather strange affliction, as lying causes her to vomit. While I hope you didn't go method for this, how did you prepare for those scenes? Did you ever feel uncomfortable doing that on camera?
(Laughs.) No, not at all. It was really fun; I loved it. It was only one scene where I actually had something in my mouth to vomit. The other ones were just making the noises and stuff like that. Some people get very weird with vomit, but I don’t care. The scene where I do vomit — it was some sort of baby food. I had to vomit on Chris’ (Evans) face, and I remember we all went outside to the garden — Rian, Chris, Daniel, etc. Everyone put this baby food in their mouth, and we all started projecting the vomit into the air just to see which one would go farther and look better. It was so fun, and I loved that little detail that Rian put in there.
I’ve always heard that Rian is an actor’s director, but I really believed it once I saw b-roll of him comforting an actor during an emotional scene on Breaking Bad. Is that consistent with your experience?
Absolutely. Rian was pretty aware of the short time that I had to prepare, and that I was nervous, but I felt like he took me by the hand and was all in with me throughout the whole film. I bet he did with everybody, even though there were experienced actors and big movie stars on set. He was with us every step throughout the whole shoot. He’s also one of the smartest people I’ve ever met — like scary smart. There’s nothing that he’s not prepared for and no question he can’t answer. During rehearsals, Chris, Daniel and I were trying to find some kind of mistake that Rian overlooked in the script, and there was nothing that we could call him on. There wasn’t a missing link. Everything was prepared and ready.
Most of the film takes place at the Thrombley family home, and it sounds like the cast had a great time at this location. Apparently, Chris Evans and Frank Oz even played beer pong together. How fun was this set compared to most?
Top three, for sure. We spent two months straight together in that house. It was freezing cold outside, and we were in the basement of the house a lot. We spent days and days together doing these scenes, and it took a long time to get every character covered. We came up with games, told stories and shared really nice moments, from personal experiences and books to dinners, movies and parties. We just got along incredibly well. There was never a dull moment, and a lot happened in just two months.
Since you worked with Daniel quite a bit on this film, did you have immediate chemistry in your No Time to Die scenes several months later?
Yeah, a movie like James Bond is a different kind of production. It’s a different mindset, physicality and preparation. It was terrifying to be asked to portray a “Bond Girl” who’s actually in a moment of change. Having met Daniel before and getting along so well on the set of Knives Out, there was nothing awkward when I got to the Bond set. There was no ice to be broken. It was just easy and smooth. Daniel is the most relentless, hard-working and professional actor you can imagine. He can be in pain from a broken bone, exhausted and still show up. He’s so serious about it, and the way he does it is just incredible and so respectable. It was so nice and helpful that we got along and got to know each other before Bond.
I know you had met Bond producer Barbara Broccoli five years earlier, but do you know if Daniel recommended you to her and director Cary Fukunaga after you worked so well together on Knives Out?
I think it was Cary’s idea. Some of the film takes place in Cuba, and Cary called me to say that this character doesn’t exist yet in the script but he kept thinking about me and would write it for me. When he brought up the idea to Barbara and Daniel, Daniel was completely on board and supportive of it, which made me very happy. We had literally wrapped Knives Out a month before that. When we were shooting Knives Out, he was already training and preparing for Bond, which wasn’t a part of my life yet. So, it happened to be a very happy coincidence.
Did Rian give you the coffee cup that's prominently featured in the movie?
(Laughs.) No! I should have stolen it! It’s the best. It’s the best last shot. It’s the best ending for any movie ever. (Laughs.)
What about a knife from that big display in the living room?
I didn’t really get anything from the movie. Maybe some Christmas socks. I don’t know if you noticed that Marta wore all sorts of amazing Christmas socks.
That makes sense since Rian’s taste in socks fascinated Mark Hamill.
(Laughs.) Well, I might have taken a couple of them. But, I really didn’t get anything from set. I should have. I regret it.
How did you and Katherine Langford shoot the phone call scene? Were you out of frame during her part, and was she out of frame during yours?
Yes. We both did that for each other. Katherine came to set on the day we were at the restaurant, and she did it for me. And then, I did it for her when she was on the phone at the house. That scene is intense and is a big turning point for Marta, the decisions she starts making and the plan moving forward. It was a tough scene for both of us, and we needed to be there for each other.
Even though she was a hologram, Joi was the heart and soul of Blade Runner 2049, a film that’s already showing up on many best-of-the-decade lists. What immediately comes to mind when you reflect on that experience?
Working with Denis was a gift. It was beyond a dream. I was so lucky that I got to experience that — not only because of what Blade Runner means to the history of cinema — but also because of working with Denis. He made me feel what it’s like to work with a great director who’s also a great person. He’s just brilliant. I adored the whole experience of how things went. It was just so beautiful.
MRC is the studio behind Knives Out, and shares a parent company, Valence Media, with The Hollywood Reporter.
by Lesley Goldberg