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[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.
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