Why Ana De Armas Was Hesitant To Take A Role In 'Knives Out'
NOEL KING, HOST:
A detective is called to an opulent estate to solve a mystery. A revered crime novelist has turned up dead on his 85th birthday, and his eccentric extended family wants answers. Was it suicide or murder? In the new mystery comedy thriller called "Knives Out," everyone is a suspect.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "KNIVES OUT")
MICHAEL SHANNON: (As Walt Thrombey) You think one of us, one of his family, killed him?
JAMIE LEE CURTIS: (As Linda Drysdale) Mr. Blanc, I just buried my father who committed suicide. Why are you here?
DANIEL CRAIG: (As Benoit Blanc) I suspect foul play.
KING: Those are the voices of Daniel Craig and Jamie Lee Curtis. The movie also stars Chris Evans and Oscar-winning actor Christopher Plummer. Now, that kind of cast equals a lot of pressure for a relative newcomer to Hollywood.
Were you intimidated at all?
ANA DE ARMAS: Oh, yes (laughter). I was terrified.
KING: Meet Ana de Armas. She plays Marta Cabrera, the honest and loyal caretaker at the center of the investigation. And she says one of her veteran cast mates, Jamie Lee Curtis, at one point took her aside.
DE ARMAS: And Jamie Lee, in one of the in-between takes, came to me, and she hold my shoulders very tight, and she looked at me, into my eyes, and she said, you have the most expressive eyes I've ever seen, and you're going to be OK. It's OK (laughter).
KING: It's true. She has nothing to worry about. Ana de Armas starred alongside Ryan Gosling in "Blade Runner 2049," and you'll see her in the new James Bond movie with Daniel Craig next year. She told me she was hesitant to take the role of Marta in "Knives Out" but not because of the nerves.
DE ARMAS: Well, at first, I just got a - you know, a single page with a very small description and just one scene so I couldn't really see what it was about. And the description - I didn't like it because it was something like caretaker, Latina, pretty. And to me, those three words didn't mean anything because it usually - we are represented as that, the help or the criminal or someone like that. And so I insisted a lot - there was a little back-and-forth with the producers and asking for the script.
And finally, when they did send it, I realized that, well, that description didn't fit at all, didn't make justice to Marta. And she's very complex, and she's probably the smarter one in the whole film, and she's the heart of the film. And I had so many colors and layers and things to play with that, you know, I feel very lucky.
KING: You know, there's this thread running through the movie. It's very, very funny. There are points where it's just overtly ridiculous. It's a real - it's, like, a pleasure to watch.
DE ARMAS: Yeah.
KING: But it's also addressing, as you point out, some very real things.
DE ARMAS: Yeah.
KING: The family does this thing with Marta where they make very subtly racist comments. Like, one of the running jokes is that no one knows where she's from.
DE ARMAS: (Laughter) Yeah.
KING: They think she's from Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil at one point. I mean, here's the thing...
DE ARMAS: (Laughter) Yeah.
KING: ...It feels like a movie that's very much of 2019.
DE ARMAS: Oh, it's absolutely 2019. This is a very dysfunctional family that's dealing with current problems. There's politics, immigration, Internet. Yes. And I have been Cuban and an immigrant. I have been through that situation myself. So many people don't know where I'm from, and they just guess. They just don't get the accent, or they just feel like anything is all the same in the map. So in the movie, that's what's sad, that this family's completely oblivious and disconnected from this person who's actually part of the family, maybe even more than they are.
KING: So you grew up in Cuba?
DE ARMAS: Yes.
KING: What was it like when you were a kid growing up? Did you have access to Hollywood movies, to U.S. TV?
DE ARMAS: Yeah, we actually had a lot of American movies on TV. I grew up watching Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts and Richard Gere (laughter) and, you know, Keanu and "Matrix" - I mean, all the movies. We had all of that. But funny enough, I think, to me, those were just movies. I could really not relate to that because that was not my reality. The actors I think I grew up admiring and wanted to be like them was actually the Cuban actors because those were the stories I could relate to, and those were the actors I would see on the street. So those were my idols.
KING: So when you were a little kid or, you know, a teenage girl growing up and you're watching Hollywood movies, is there some part of your brain that's like, I'm going to Hollywood someday? Or were you thinking, I'm going to be a Cuban actress in Cuba?
DE ARMAS: No - I mean, the talent that we have in Cuba - there's so many artists in all the fields you can imagine that I wish - you know, I didn't leave because of a lack of inspiration; I just left out of curiosity and hunger for more projects and other directors that I wanted to work with. But I wish and I hope that one day all these Cuban artists can execute all the ideas and beautiful work that they're capable of doing because the world is going to be blown away.
KING: I have read that you moved to the United States not really knowing much English. Is that right?
DE ARMAS: Yeah, that's (laughter) right.
KING: Because you're in very big Hollywood movies speaking in a second language that you only relatively recently learned.
DE ARMAS: Yeah.
KING: How did you learn so quickly?
DE ARMAS: You know, I have - whatever I have in my mind, I just have to do it. And what I wanted to do was go straight away into auditions. So even though I was still at school and learning, half of the time I got sides for an audition and I didn't understand what I was saying.
KING: No kidding.
DE ARMAS: I still wanted to go and get in the room with the director because I've always supported my family; it's not the other way around. I left home when I was 18, and I've supported myself and my family since then.
DE ARMAS: So to me, working it's a necessity. I have to work - also, because it's my passion. Thank, God. Those two things are, you know, they meet. But I have to work. So I think that it's what made my brain, I guess, just absorb the whole thing and just do it.
KING: Yeah. And I'm just trying to imagine you being in auditions and trying to speak phonetically (laughter), even though you didn't know what the words meant. It's really something to think about.
DE ARMAS: Oh, yeah. I bet those tapes are somewhere, and I hope they stay wherever they are.
DE ARMAS: I don't know if I can watch that again, no.
KING: Ana de Armas, thank you so much for being with us, and This was delightful.
DE ARMAS: It was my pleasure. Thank you.
KING: The new movie is called "Knives Out."
(SOUNDBITE OF JO BLANKENBURG'S "PLAY THE PONIES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.