diego luna interview

Everyone at the Rogue One: A Star Wars Story junket is tired, exhausted from days of press and hours of interviews. Except for Diego Luna. He’s alert and energetic and improbably cheerful for a man who has been answering questions from reporters and bloggers all day.

The actor I sit down with couldn’t feel more different from his character, Captain Cassian Andor, a Rebel intelligence officer who was seen making some very tough decisions in the Rogue One footage we saw the night before. Cassian is a pragmatic soldier not above living in shades of gray to get the job done. Diego Luna is positive, charming, and had to go camping with former Marines so he could learn the ins and outs of soldering. Our conversation was far too brief.

There was this video that was released online recently that focused on you during the filming of Rogue One and I was struck by just how happy you looked to be on this set.

I was very happy throughout the whole process. I’m not going to lie to you. It was very demanding and very intense sometimes. There were days that were not perfect. Then one day I understood. I got it. This is probably the only project where time is not a problem. If we didn’t get it, we’ll come back and we’ll get it again and we’ll try it again. That feeling that I always have on the set, that I leave with a few questions, never completely satisfied…I always leave feeling like I could have done something else, something different. This one, I didn’t have that feeling. We shot seven months, you know? So we would be able to revisit scenes. If we found something, we could go back to do something else to make that work. There was a feeling of the rules that I normally work with don’t apply. I’m going to have to start from scratch. That was great! But there were demanding moments. There were moments where I physically couldn’t do more, even though I really wanted, mentally, to keep going. It was intense and unique because the connection I have with this material, I don’t have with anything else. It connects me with the six-year-old I was. You know? That’s very strong.

One of the things that was evident in the footage we watched last night was that Cassian is a pretty serious guy doing pretty serious work. How do you keep your performance grounded when you’re surrounded by aliens and robots?

To find the reference! The parallel that connects with your world, you know? That was very important. The references we had had to be very close, very personal. I did all of the military training, all of the stories I heard, I used that information. You just change the names, you know? The essence is the same. Gareth [Edwards, director] from the beginning, he said “I want a very realistic approach to this world. I want to be very intimate with these characters. I want the camera to have a proximity that is almost uncomfortable.” That’s why we’re cast in this film. You see the films we are…and when I say we, I am talking about most of the cast…the films we’ve done in our lives are very small, intimate, character-driven. He wanted to have that flavor, you know? And to contrast that flavor with gigantic epic moments every Star Wars film has.

Rogue One A Star Wars Story - Diego Luna as Cassian Andor

From the footage we saw, Cassian feels far more like a resistance soldier than a traditional hero. He’s never going to get a medal. He fights in the shadows.

He’s definitely the guy who would never take the recognition. He’s an intelligence officer. He’s a captain of the Rebellion and for a quite a long time he’s been doing the dirty jobs. And this stuff, it probably… Well, I mean, his best friend is a droid and you go “Oh, this must be a very lonely person.” Right? I mean, he’s around so many people and he chooses not to connect because he is protecting them and he is protecting himself. So the only relation he can build is with a droid he reprogramed! And a droid who, before he was his friend, was a tool, a very important one for a spy. It allows you to get information from the inside of your enemy. And then that relation turns into a friendship. It says a lot about him, yeah?

It is funny that Cassian, one of the more serious characters in the film, is paired with K-2SO, who supplies much of the film’s humor. Alan Tudyk was telling me that you guys had a lot of fun working together. 

On set, when the camera was rolling, I felt like Cassian, you know? And then there was this guy who was allowed to improvise and was allowed to mess up because he would be CGI later, so it didn’t matter if he looked at the camera or fell and stood again or if he said the line wrong. Whatever happens, his process doesn’t end there. Mine is the exact opposite. Whatever you do in camera is what stays there! [Laughs] So there was me, and Felicity [Jones] too, trying to hold it together and play serious while this guy was making one joke after another and he’s very good at that. He has this very specific humor, very sarcastic, very ironic, very sharp. He was the best ally on this journey. When tension was rising, he would come and remind us that we should be loose and laugh and just enjoy the journey.

I want to double back to your military training. What kind of specific lessons from that did you bring to the character?

Yeah, he was an ex-military. He was… how do you call them?

Marines?

I talked to ex-military, ex-Navy, Marines. It was simple stuff about how to patrol, how to move as a team, what are the rules of getting into an enemy’s territory. I camped one day with them, so we went into the woods, found the perfect place for camping. What things are you looking for in order to be safe, you know? And how you should already know what the [enemy] is doing. How to be sure what the others are doing and how to move without having to be connecting visually or by comms. As a team, there are some rules you can never break. I needed to know those rules. And also, hearing their experiences, you know? Hearing how it feels to be away, how it feels to be in a conflict, how if feels to have an enemy. That idea. To me, war is so far from something I understand. I needed to get it. I needed to understand what keeps you sane, what keeps you fighting. What things would you do to the enemy when you capture one and what things they would do to you, because Cassian has been captured more than once. All of this knowledge, I needed to have. I wrote pages of what these guys gave me, to have as material for my character.

Growing up with Star Wars, you get used to seeing Luke Skywalker and Han Solo just acting as these effective heroes. The universe revolves around them. Cassian exists over the left, in the margins. People like him die by the hundreds in the background while the main characters do their hero thing.

They [the cast of Rogue One] don’t become heroes until they start working together. That to me is a lovely message, you know? But then, they are the heroes, and the heroes of this film are just like you and I. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things. That’s who they are. It’s a beautiful message to send today. If we put our differences aside, we can do great things.

That sounds like common sense, but it’s practically a political statement in today’s atmosphere.

Totally.

Rogue One has this diverse group standing up against an oppressive system. 

A New Hope or Star Wars or whatever you want to call the genesis of all this was a reaction to the ’70s. There are so many messages there that George Lucas was sending to the universe, you know? This film was shot in 2015, so this film talks about the world you and I live in. That message is needed. We should be talking about celebrating our differences, understanding that those differences make us richer and stronger. You know?

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is in theaters December 16.

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