Diego Luna makes video calls from his home in Mexico. “I’m sneaking out of the family breakfast to talk to you,” the 42-year-old actor says, holding up his phone so I can see his two children and various other figures in the dining room behind him as he walks in the garden. Noticing that the WiFi is unstable, he turns off the camera. “But first I wanted to show you my face,” he laughs, “so you can make sure it’s really me.”
He’s fine with it. He may be wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap, but the boyish grin is unmistakable and hasn’t changed since the 2001 road movie that made him a star, Alfonso Cuarón’s Y Tu Mamá También, starring Luna and his best pal Gael García Bernal as Priapic young Blades on a life changing journey with an elderly woman.
The actors were friends for many years and grew up as child stars of Mexican television. (Luna’s British mother, Fiona, died in a road accident when he was two years old; he was raised by his father, Alejandro, a stage and film set designer.) Although Luna landed a small role in Julian Schnabel’s Oscar-nominated Before Night Falls, it was his performance in Cuarón’s film that showed the breadth of his talent, from gritty comedy to plaintively emotional honesty. The climax, where the friends’ threesome with their traveling companion, who has already bedd them both separately, morphs into an expression of gay desire one after the other, was a moment of real daring and openness.
This film launched a career in which Luna transitioned effortlessly between Hollywood extravaganzas and smaller, homegrown Spanish-language projects, many of which were socially or politically conscious. But mention the film that started it all for him, and it’s clear that the years haven’t dulled his affection for it. “We had the energy of our characters,” he recalls. “We wore each other up non-stop from morning to night and fought back in everything; When there were five-minute breaks on set, we’d grab rocks and see who could throw them the farthest or who could hit that target. There wasn’t a moment when we didn’t tease this or that person and get caught up in all these little dramas. I think in a way we got a little bit addicted to everything: the intimacy and the feeling of being part of the family.”
There have been rumors of a sequel that could appeal to the characters in their 40s. Luna even told the New York Times last year that he didn’t believe the film’s narrator’s claim that the two friends never saw each other again. Today, however, he turns his nose up at the idea. “Going back would be…” He thinks for a moment. “It could be a disaster!” he finally says. “I don’t think it’s worth it. It was special and unique, but it was part of its time. Films like this are like footprints on the ground – they remind you of something that happened and is gone. We can’t just say, ‘Let’s do it again.’”
However, prequels are a different matter. In Andor, the new TV spin-off in the never-ending Star Wars franchise, Luna Cassian stars as Andor, the intergalactic rebel he spawned in the 2016 blockbuster Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Set immediately before the events of the 1977 film that started it all, Rogue One featured an ailing cast of heroes who paved the way for the likes of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo. It ended with Cassian and his fellow fighters dying in a blaze of glory. Now Andor rewinds many years to show the character’s humble beginnings: it’s a prequel to a prequel.
The grin doesn’t go down very well in Andor. It may be set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, but the first few episodes (the fourth episode airs this week) speak less to George Lucas glitz and more to Blade Runner-style neon and drizzle darkness, punctuated by occasional forest skirmishes.
As the first standalone Star Wars installment, Rogue One brought a distinction not accorded to the nine pivotal films in the franchise, and Luna sees Andor as a continuation of the film’s boldness. “We don’t have to prove anything,” he says. “The characters exist in the gray areas. It’s about the journey of real people – the most real you can get in Star Wars. Your hopes are broken. All are oppressed. There’s that feeling of “something has to happen”. We know Cassian will be a hero, but we can challenge the notion that there’s only one way. Luckily we are working with an author who lives in this complexity.”
It refers to Tony Gilroy, who created Andor and was previously best known for writing the Bourne action series. Gilroy was also the man who saved Rogue One. “Well, um, I’d say that’s not the right way to put it,” Luna replies with a nervous giggle. I’m surprised to hear that because that’s exactly how Gilroy describes it. He was hired by Disney as an emergency script doctor before overseeing new shoots that corrected or added to what director Gareth Edwards had already done. “They were in such a quagmire,” Gilroy said in 2018. “They were in such horrible, horrible trouble that you could only improve their position.”
When I tell Luna this, he laughs again, more heartily this time, like he’s eight years old and I’ve just said a dirty word. “I would agree that Tony brought complexity to my character,” he says. Why the reluctance to admit filming on Rogue One ran aground? “It is important to emphasize that there is no single way to get to a specific destination. To me, Rogue One is a film that took so many risks.” Now the problem becomes clear: He thinks I’m disparaging the film when nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, in my opinion it’s the second best Star Wars episode of the entire series, characterized by unusual daring and finesse, trumped only by The Empire Strikes Back. “I love you for saying that,” he says. “I didn’t say it. But if you had gotten me drunk, I would have said the exact same words.”
He must have noticed how messy things got before Gilroy fixed them? “Oh, of course,” he says, finally relaxing on the subject. “Making Rogue One was difficult, challenging and confusing at times. But movies end when they’re done. I’ve been on so many projects where you thought things would go exactly as they should and then turned out to be unsuccessful. The struggle of figuring out what each film needs and how to do it is unique. Every decision made in Rogue One was right because I’m proud of the result.”
Luna’s first encounter with Star Wars was on video in the 1980s. “All my older cousins were already fans. I was the youngest and wanted to catch up. My experience was like streaming today: it was uncontrolled. I could press play as many times as I wanted.”
Now, isn’t there just too much Star Wars content? With The Mandalorian, The Book of Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi already streaming and Andor, Ahsoka, Skeleton Crew, The Acolyte and Lando crowding the horizon like a meteor shower, it’s no wonder James Waugh, the senior vice president of Lucasfilm , has admitted to being “mindful” of satiety. After all, the disappointing response to 2018’s Solo: A Star Wars Story, a prequel widely perceived as a case of flogging a dead Wookiee, led Disney to reduce its film roster in the franchise. Luna shrugs off such concerns. “I don’t agree with you. Not everything has to be for everyone. And these are so varied and complex, come on! My dad likes them, I like them, so do my kids.” Polling outside of his immediate family might yield different results or neither.
A filmmaker himself, Luna’s behind-the-camera credits include political drama Cesar Chavez and Everything Will Be Fine, a lively, funny and outspoken Netflix drama series about divorce, both produced under the aegis of his own production company, The he self-produced together with Bernal founded. The pair will soon be reuniting on screen for the Hulu series La Máquina, with Luna as the manager of an aging boxer, played by Bernal, and his other acting choices have always been delightfully eclectic. He may have worked with Steven Spielberg (The Terminal) and Woody Allen (A Rainy Day in New York), but he’s also appeared in gay rights drama Milk, the artful James Baldwin adaptation If Beale Street Could Talk, and the bizarre Mister Lonely He played a Michael Jackson impersonator who lived in a Scottish castle with other celebrity impersonators.
Given such offbeat projects, it must be worrying that Star Wars and Marvel blockbusters leave little room for independent voices on the market. “I agree,” he says. “But I’m optimistic about how the space is divided, the different venues and platforms that we have now.” He’s also realistic about the impact of the Star Wars universe or his role as a cartel boss in Narcos: Mexico on his own Power beyond these series. “In the beginning I was naive. I thought, ‘Of course I can do whatever I want after Rogue One and release it.’ no You can make another Rogue One or something of that magnitude, but that doesn’t mean you can go back and make a tiny movie and release it the same way or get the same boost.
Nonetheless, he retains an amazement at cinema that can be traced directly back to his youth. Although he began his acting career as a child in Mexican telenovelas, he was no stranger to art-house filmmaking: he frequented the sets his father worked on, most memorable being Alejandro Jodorowsky’s surreal and gruesome circus fantasy Santa Sangre. “Parts of the elephant from that film were kept at home,” he recalls. “So I didn’t freak out when it started spurting blood out of its trunk because I knew how it all worked. Do you remember the tattooed woman? I sat in the trailer for hours watching her get painted!”
Most notably, he remembers how the models his father made on the table at home were turned into colossal constructions weeks or months later. “He had these miniature sets with tiny characters, and he backlit them and frontlit them and moved the characters around to analyze the effect. Then everything would be set up on a stage and it would be huge!” With that he makes an exploding sound – presumably the sound of his young mind being blown off. Maybe another kid somewhere out there will have the same experience with Andor.
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