Fun fact: We talked to Diego Luna only an hour after we spotted his friend and frequent collaborator Gael Garcia Bernal at another junket. Both of “Y Tu Mama Tambien”’s male stars were in town to promote very different projects: Bernal has his Amazon show “Mozart in the Jungle,” while Luna is in New York to talk about no less than “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.”
“I was walking through Times Square and he was on a big screen, directing an orchestra. I was like, ‘That’s my friend!’” Luna says. Of course, that same screen will soon be showing the new “Star Wars” film. “We’re going to replace him. We’re gonna take over the screens of Times Square and his face won’t be seen again!”
The Mexican actor, 36, gets second bill in the “Star Wars” spinoff/prequel, which tells the story of the rebels who stole the plans for the first Death Star, leading directly into the events of the first film (aka “A New Hope”). Luna plays Cassian Andor, a member of the team, which also includes Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso, tasked with the big caper. Luna talks to us about making a “Star Wars” movie that doesn’t look like the others, how it reflects our diverse age and what it’s like to finally have a Diego Luna action figure.
You can tell, even by looking at the previews, that “Rogue One” is very different from the others.
It’s very different. That was the premise. They said, “You guys are expected to do something very different.” That’s the only way I can understand why I’m here. [Laughs] Gareth [Edwards, director] really wanted a group of actors whose work is mostly on smaller films, more intimate and realistic films. He wanted to bring that texture into this “Star Wars” world. Yes, we’ll have big stuff, we’ll have the battles. But then we have a chance to be with the characters up close, in an intimate and realistic way.
Did it even feel like you were making an independent film at times?
Definitely, for moments, yes. When you have the characters in the cockpit talking, it’s like those films you shoot in an apartment. It’s just that the apartment has buttons and it flies and it goes into hyperspace. We would forget about the size of the film when we were shooting those moments. You would be in that little bubble created for us, then you would go out and find there’s 600 people around you. Gareth would have the camera on his shoulder, giving you the feeling of a documentary style. If something cool happened, he would turn the camera to look at it. He would light the area just so things could happen. He wouldn’t light it just to get a perfect shot. We were encouraged to use what was around us and interact with the elements.
For our generation, the first three “Star Wars” films are some of our first movie moments. “Return of the Jedi” is the first film I remember watching in a movie theater.
It’s the first film I remember watching because I wanted to watch it. Before it was films my parents wanted me to watch. My father needed two hours of silence at home, so he had me watch “Dumbo” or “Bambi.” With “Star Wars,” it was, “I want to see this film. Enough of cartoons. I want to see real actors. I want to be a Jedi.” I guess I’m the luckiest fan in the world, because I got to play with the real toys.
Which was your favorite toy as a kid?
Always Darth Vader. Darth Vader was impossible to get out of my head. The sound of his breathing was part of most of my nightmares. My father is a set designer and my mother was a costume designer, so I was pretty aware that there was an actor behind that mask. I could be a little cynical about it. But I really liked him. I really liked the Dark Side.
I remember having one of those micro versions of sets from “The Empire Strikes Back.” Did you have a lot of toys?
Not a lot. It was tough in Mexico to get them. You had to go to the toy store, put your name in for it, then wait months for the call. And back then they didn’t expect these films to be this big, to have this reach. Today the toys come out two months before the film. Back then it was different. First you engaged with the film, then there was a need for the toys. And they would run out of them, because they weren’t expecting this huge success.
And now you have your own action figure.
People ask me, “How does it feel?” I don’t know! [Laughs] I don’t feel anything yet. I’m still kind of shocked.
The first three films are interesting to come back to as an adult. You can see that it’s a film about people fighting a tyrannical government. That was relevant in the ’70s and now, too.
It was a parallel to what the States were going through then. It exhumes the ’70s. Ours hopefully will do that, too, in a modern way. If you go back to “Star Wars,” you can see how much time has passed, how we have changed as a society. The cast here has a diversity you’ve never seen in “Star Wars.” Everyone has different accents. They were very interested in us keeping our accents. There was no, “We have to work on your accent, clear it up a little bit.” It was like, “Your accent is what you need. Yours stands in counter to this other accent and this other accent.” That speaks to the world we live in. The role of women is different. There aren’t just princesses; it’s [Jyn Erso] running with a gun in the battlefield and taking control of her life and bringing change to people. It’s cool that “Star Wars” is allowing itself to evolve the way the world we’re living in is evolving.