Ana de Armas as Paloma in the 25th Bond movie, No Time to Die, was arguably the most drawn-out acting experience of a career that has provided many. The 33-year-old wrapped up filming for arguably the biggest cinematic release of 2021 in October 2019, yet lockdown delays as a result of the global pandemic kept the movie in the can for such a length of time that diehard fans had arguably grown tired of the anticipation.
Of course, her appearance in Daniel Craig’s 007 farewell wasn’t the first time she had stepped out as a leading lady. Bladerunner 2049, from 2017 — and to a lesser extent, War Dogs, the previous year — ultimately put the Cuban actress and model at the forefront of people’s mind; a young, versatile, charisma-driven personality that both media and fans wanted to hear more about. Sure enough, when Knives Out from 2019 again saw her go up against Daniel, the capabilities of this indomitable talent were there for all to see.
What makes her rise even more impressive is that, up until her teenaged years, de Armas had precious little appreciation or understanding of the wider world of entertainment, beyond a token offering of 20 minutes per week permitted to watch cartoons, and a solitary movie matinee that she was allowed to watch at the weekend.
Her upbringing was one based on food rationing, fuel shortages and electricity blackouts during Cuba’s so-called Special Period — a time of intense economic struggle brought about by the dissolution of the Soviet Union. “They were difficult days for my family,” de Armas begins. “It was a struggle, and our daily lives were always patterned with the uncertainty of not knowing how or even if life could improve and become easier, or healthier, or just better.
“In a sense it is my parents who I feel for most. It is they who suffered, because as children we didn’t really know any better. We didn’t even have internet access, and that was something that was totally new to me when I went to the National Theatre School in Havana, so it was only when I was there that I discovered this whole world out there, and I was desperate to be a part of it!”
De Armas moved to Madrid at 18, claiming Spanish citizenship as a way of navigating around Cuba’s then regimented rules over needing to complete three years of mandatory service to the community. “Obviously I wanted to give back to my country, but I knew as well if I could get away and build a career for myself, I would have a real chance of giving back to my family instead. I chose my family — I don’t regret that.”
Such a dogged approach to career and, indeed, life, has ultimately served the actress well. While her early work was con.ned to Spanish-speaking roles, she strove hard to learn English, eventually getting her break opposite Keanu Reeves, no less, in Knock. “Picking up a role like that meant two things to me — there was pride and optimism for the future; but mostly it was validation for the route I had taken. That meant as much, I think.”
What we see today is an actress who can mix cross-language films with cross-genre proficiency. Robert De Niro, Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling, Rosamund Pike and Jamie Lee Curtis were all quick to note the potential of this new drama luminary, with upcoming Marilyn Monroe pseudo-biopic, entitled Blonde, certain to take the star into another stratosphere entirely. The production is a fictionalized and falls onto the Netflix slate, like so many other original series.
“I am always philosophical over what I have done and where I am going,” she says. “I am very aware of the milestones that have been reached, though you can’t dwell on those because they quickly get forgotten.
“Of course, being in a Bond film is something I’d always dreamed of — it wasn’t an aim, but you always think that if you can have your name on a Bond movie credit, you’ve done well; I can now say that.
“Naturally I’m not stopping there. This isn’t the end or the point at which I sit back and start to relax — that is not me!”
“My main focus is always on the movies that are right in front of me. Obviously the last couple of years have been a little strange because some of what we are finally promoting now was filmed up to two years ago. It feels as if I have lived with some of these characters and storylines for so long as a secret, unable to say much or even contemplate their release. For a while I wondered if they would ever see the light of day.
“So for that reason it makes it difficult to move on too quickly to other projects, but Blonde [Marilyn Monroe biopic] is going to be important to me, and obviously I am very excited about that.”
As for her preparation for the role, de Armas admits she had to strip out so much of the noise and commotion that ultimately attaches itself to Norma Jean Mortenson, so that she could come at the role from an ultimately original place.
“Something like this requires such a deep point of preparation and I really had to reset back to nothing. With Marilyn, what I found is that the physical aspects of playing someone that iconic are only really half of it. I know people’s .rst thought is how you look and how you sound, but for me it was something so much deeper than that — it was a real revision and cleansing of my perception of her. That was a much bigger thing to contemplate and to challenge me.”
Adapting such a holistic, organic approach to the people she portrays puts de Armas in a bracket of actress for whom the entertainment industry is heavily reliant on if it is to arrest itself from its current slump of uncertainty.
Challenged across both the big and small screen for criticisms over the originality of several distributor projects — from the superhero genre to spates of predictable remakes — it follows that de Armas’s own role models represent every bit the creative, dynamic actresses who create real change and originality across the industry,
“Those I have studied and admired include Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet, Jennifer Lawrence and Cate Blanchett,” she says. “They have all gone about their work with such confidence and coolness, and you can’t fail to be impressed by that.
“There are so many great actresses that when you start to become obsessed with improving your own performance and trying to get new types of roles that you’ve never considered before, you start watching the best and take tips from their acting. I am honest enough to say that’s what I’ve done where those actresses are concerned, and undoubtedly that has made a big difference to me.”
Away from the media spotlight, for a long while the object of her personal affection was Ben Affleck, before the actor’s rekindling of his relationship with Jennifer Lopez. Previously, she was married to Spanish actor and model Marc Clotet. Yet while Tinder exec Paul Boukadakis .appears her newest romantic project, de Armas appears most focussed on a career that builds with every new script. “I feel I am at an age where I have worked hard enough, and I know enough, to believe I am capable of taking the next step forward.
“I have never been someone who goes out there with outrageous levels of confidence. Of course you do see those people in the industry, but that’s not me. I would rather pursue a path of quiet belief and humility.
“I think when I really got to grips with English and overcame the language barrier, and when I started feeling content alongside some of the biggest names in film, there was another level of certainty that what I am doing was right, and would work, and I think that has translated itself into my acting as well.”
While easy and somewhat lazy comparisons have been made between Ana de Armas and other Latinas such as Penelope Cruz, Eva Mendes and Salma Hayek, the actress has individuality and originality all of her own.
In a new world crying out for freedom, originality and inspiration, it certainly feels as though the route towards future greatness is almost solely in her own vision.