Kelly Marie Tran – Star Wars: The Last Jedi
By: Arlene Allen
Q) What’s that experience of just walking out there at Celebration [in April 2017] and the fans adored you because you were a part of Star Wars universe?
A) Really overwhelming! I remember hearing the cheers when all of the other actors came out because I think I was one of the later ones to be announced and it really felt so loud. There’s nothing like walking onto that stage and seeing three thousand faces just staring at you. But if I can say anything, it will be that I felt this overwhelming support and that says a lot about people who love Star Wars. They haven’t even seen me do anything yet, but there’s this overwhelming love just because I’m associated with something they love already. It means a lot.
Q) Would you do more conventions?
A) Yeah, I would! I thought we were going to do more as part of the press run but we didn’t. Interesting. It’s horrible! I’m just kidding! I don’t actually know!
Q) Do you have any advice for the young girls who are going to see this movie and see Rose as a role model the way some of us older people saw Leia back in the 70s?
A) Good question. I think that for me I don’t want to put any ideas into people’s heads as to how to see this character because, obviously, I want people to organically meet her. But for me, Rose really does represent that if you really, really believe in something, just to fight for it. And even though she’s not someone who was born into privilege or has any sort of magical powers or she’s not a hot shot pilot, she’s in the background of everything. I love the idea that someone who fixes ships can rise up when a challenge is introduced to her. No matter who you are you can face adversity with strength.
Q) What do you take away from this role?
A) I think I have a messy relationship with this character because so much, so much of who I am informed how I created her. But I think she informs me every once in awhile. I think coming off of this film I can say I learned so much about filmmaking just being able to walk around all those sets. Rian [Johnson] gave me permission to be a weird fly on the wall in every department. I learned a lot from this character. I think that in ways she is really, really brave – perhaps braver than I am in real life. It’s something I try to be more like her.
Q) How was your first day on the set?
A) I remember it like it was yesterday because it was strange because it was like…it was like…Here was this thing something told me I was going to do, but I still wasn’t believing that I was doing it even though I was. So, I walked on and I walked on… (speechless for a moment) …Looking around like my senses were so heightened and I was aware of every little noise and everything that was happening and I wanted to be really present because so many people want to be this thing. So many people want to be on that set and I just owed it to all of those people, if that makes any sense.
Q) Who did you build the best relationship on set with out of everybody in the cast?
A) Probably John Boyega because I worked with him the most. He’s so charismatic and funny and we just really hit it off when we first met because he was there through my audition process. I met him before I met everyone else. I think that has something to do with it, too. He’s so great.
Q) How was it working with (director) Rian Johnson overall?
A) The best human. Not only did he write an amazing script, he was so concise with what he wanted to do with the film visually as well and then again when he was on set he was like a big kid. He loves Star Wars and he loves making movies and you could see just how much fun he was having. I never felt like I was in trouble, like I was making this historic film. There was no pressure; it was like we were just friends having fun making a movie for our parents.
Q) You talked about in another article that you had never seen any of the Star Wars films prior to getting the part and that helped you. Have you gone back and seen all of the films?
A) Yeah, I’ve seen them all now. But I think it’s true that I had this ability to sort of just not be influenced by what I thought this character should be or thought I should make her more like this character in the universe. I sort of was free from all of that. It was a gift I didn’t know I gave myself.
Q) With your background being Vietnamese and going back to Billy D. Williams in The Empire Strikes Back and Samuel L. Jackson and Jimmy Smits in the prequels and now John Boyega and you, how do you feel about the films becoming more diverse and how this is becoming more of the norm now and not the exception?
A) Thank God, it’s about time! You know, I think I wish we wouldn’t have to have this conversation. Like I wish there was so many different kinds of people directing, producing, acting, writing in movies and in TV and books that we wouldn’t even have to talk about representation in media, but we do. The fact is that we’re not there yet. There’s still a lot of people in the world who don’t see themselves reflected in media and I think it’s really important because I know I as a kid I didn’t see many representations of me as a kid because of that. You fall in love with the characters you read about and see in movies or on TV and you can’t help but want to be like that and when you don’t see anyone who looks like you, you can’t help but wonder what’s wrong with me? So, of course, I think representation is important. I think about it all the time. I’m happy to be a part of that change and I can’t wait for everyone else to catch up.
Q) Are you bilingual?
A) I speak street Vietnamese, which means I basically say bad things in Vietnamese. But yeah, I can understand it completely and I can speak it okay.
Q) Will you teach your kids?
A) Absolutely. If I decide to have kids. I’m a little nervous about that situation.
Q) Going back to representation and women in the media will Rose eventually be a part of Disney’s Forces of Destiny’s animation line? How would you feel about voicing a 2D animation version of her?
A) I would be so excited about that and I can’t answer that. I know the answer, but I can’t answer that. I’d be so excited, how fun would that be?
Q) What was your favorite film to watch growing up?
A) E.T. E.T. is my favorite movie still. I think that it’s an incredible movie. I love any type of movie that deals with science fiction or like magical realism. And I also love that the principle of that movie is this little kid loves this thing that he doesn’t quite understand and how powerful that is – to love something without having to understand it. Like all of the adults, once they find out he’s there they want to dissect it and find out scientifically what it means and solve him like some sort of math problem, but here’s this kid who just loves him without having to question it and I think that is such an important principle that we need to do more of that.
Q) I heard that you like Harry Potter a lot.
A) I LOVE Harry Potter!
Q) If you could bring one character from Harry Potter into Star Wars who would it be and how would it work?
A) That is the best question! My favorite Harry Potter character is Luna Lovegood. I love her. I love that she’s so wise without trying to be. And everyone thinks that she’s just spacey and weird, but she’s just adorable. I would put her in the movie and I would have her be best friends with Rose.
Q) How was your relationship with Carrie Fisher?
A) I can’t say if I had scenes with her, but I can say that I met with her and spent some time with her. I think that we all wish that we had more time with Carrie. I feel very fortunate that I got to meet her at all and that I got to spend some time on set watching her work. I have thought that even before I was involved with this that Leia as well as Carrie were going to be immortal no matter what. Leia is such a groundbreaking character, especially if you think about when that first film came out and how there weren’t female characters like that. I think what you see her do in this next movie is amazing and …I’m going to cry thinking about it…
Q) Are we going to need tissues?
A) Oh absolutely. And just Carrie herself…I think I always looked up to her ability to be just open and frank and honest with everything about herself, even if it was messy and complicated. Even if she knew that when you’re on a public platform when there are a lot of people are watching you and listening to everything you have to say it’s easier said than done to be yourself. I’m just realizing now because I newly have this weird public platform that I’ve never experienced before and it’s a scary thing. To have her as an example as someone who wasn’t afraid to be herself, I think that’s one of the hardest things to do. It’s really hard, I think a lot of us just hide ourselves. We’re hiding ourselves behind makeup and dresses and cars and whatever that you hide yourself behind, but she wasn’t like that and she was special. She is special and she’ll always be special.
Q) Did she tell you some advice on performance, acting better?
A) A lot of people gave me advice about that. She did give me specific pieces of advice, but I want to save those for myself.
Q) How did you prepare for your part in the movie?
A) I did a lot of different things. What Rian already gave me when he gave me that script was that character and how he wrote her, full and rich. Outside of that I definitely drew on outside resources because I’m not an engineer. [laughs] I read books on what it’s like to be an engineer. I researched podcasts and listened to them to find out how that mind works. I think Rose really has that logical, mathematical mind. Her mind is almost like nuts and bolts. A problem that may seem unsolvable to anyone else to her she can just break down logically and she can say here are steps we can take logically and if this doesn’t work we can do this. She’s so practical and logical and rational. That’s something I really wanted to look into. I mentioned before that my parents are both refugees from Vietnam and have a very specific relationship with war and so does Rose. So, I dug into that relationship really deeply. I looked up a lot of stories and books about the Vietnam War, photos and really dug into that history within my own family and added that to her character.
Q) Just talking about family, with the Star Wars movie coming out during holiday season and it being a very generation thing, how do you feel about that influence with everyone coming together at this time?
A) It’s such a beautiful thing, really, there’s nothing that gets me more emotional (choking up) …can you tell…I’m getting emotional right now…than community that brings people together. A few days ago, the cast watched the whole movie together and we kind of had that same experience. Not only were we seeing this thing that everyone holds close to their hearts, we also have all of the memories of filming the movie and what it was like to be there and we’re all friends. Being a part of something so many people love, it’s a juggernaut in pop culture, part of something so many people reference. It’s a big deal. It feels like a big responsibility and an honor at the same time and I want to do it right.
Q) You had to keep this role secret for a long time from your family and your friends. You finally got to tell them, “Hey guys, I’m going to be in this movie!” How did that happen?
A) The first people I told were my parents and my sisters. I got them all on this Skype call. I was in London already and they were in California. So, I told them first. And a lot of my best friends, who I couldn’t tell until the day before the press release came out, I called them on the phone and told them and people were just crying and excited and shocked and some of them were like, “Okay, sure…” Because it’s such a shocking insane thing, you know? I don’t think I would have believed it. I don’t think I still believe it. I’m still trying to come to terms with the reality of it.
Q) What were the most fun aspects of shooting and what were the most challenging?
A) The most fun parts were really just working with the other actors. It felt like we were just collaborating and being creative together. I never felt like I was out of place and that says a lot more about that cast than it does about me. Because here I was this new person, my first big movie. The only other movie that I worked on was Xoxo on Netflix and I had one line. Look it up, one! So, this was a big deal for me. It was nerve-wracking. So, the fact that they made me feel comfortable says a lot more about them than it does about me. I think the hardest thing about working on that film was finding a way to concentrate, to be able to put your mind in a place where you do honest, authentic work, but then be like…oh my gosh, C3PO! To be able to concentrate, yet give yourself moments of “This is crazy!” Finding a balance there was kind of challenging but part of the fun of it.
Q) What is next for you?
A) I’m actually going to ride out the Star Wars train for awhile. So, I’m going to wait until the first movie comes out then probably put my head under a rock for the first week. And then we’ll see what happens. I’ll let you know.
Q) How does it feel to see your face on all of these dolls and action figures?
A) SO WEIRD. It’s so weird because I look at this thing and I know that outfit because I wore it for so long, but I don’t associate it with myself, if that makes sense. It’s like it’s me, but it’s not me. Every time I look at it, it’s almost like I’m trying to solve an equation. It’s a very out of body experience.
Q) Were your parents happy you decided to be an actress or did they want you to be something else?
A) Not immediately. When I initially told them I wanted to be an actress they thought I was insane. I thought I was insane! You have to understand too where my parents come from and having that sort of culture. If any of you who have parents who come from a different country I think it’s sort of hard because they risked whole lives to get you to a place where you have the luxury of security – that’s such a luxury, right? And so to be like, “Uh, I’m going to be an actress,” it was like, “Have fun not having any money” – which was true for like eight years.
Q) But that was following your dreams! What do you say about that now?
A) I don’t regret any of it. There was a point…There’s always a moment, a few moments, when you’re pursuing something that you don’t know if it’s possible and it feels so far away. And at one point I was working four jobs to make it work. Anytime you are doing that there’s moments of doubt and there’s moments of “Okay, I have to come to terms with the fact that I might, for the next forty years of my life, never be in a place where I’m financially stable because I’m doing something that is impossible.” I remember making that decision and thinking to myself I was happy, even though I was working this forty hour a week job and also auditioning two to three times a day and also writing at night and also doing improv at night and rehearsing for auditions for the next day at night. I still thought to myself at least I was doing what I loved and I owed that to my parents. They saw that in a different way, that “Why would you not choose something that was secure? We risked our lives so that you could have a comfortable life.” And I saw it in a way where I couldn’t bear to think I settled for something that didn’t make me happy. They had basically lived their whole lives to get me to the point where I could have a choice and if I had chosen something that left me feeling unsatisfied it would to me feel like a disservice to them and their parents.
Q) Who was your biggest inspiration to get into acting? Did you see a movie or an actor or actress you looked at and said I want to be just like that person?
A) I don’t know if there was a specific actor that I wanted to be like. I know that I have always loved stories. Ever since I was really little I’ve loved books, I’ve loved plays, I’ve loved movies. I think telling stories has been the one true love story of my life, always. I’ve learned so much from characters. So many people do and I think that especially when you’re in a situation where you might not be able to travel the world, you won’t be able to meet all these kinds of people; the types of characters we see in movies and film and TV really inform us and inform our worldviews sometimes. I think stories are influential and they can open the eyes and minds of people that they don’t even know they’re opening their minds to something different. I think that’s the reason I wanted to be an actor.
Q) I know this next question may be very controversial but are you yes on porgs or no on porgs?
A) I am pro-porg! John Boyega is anti-porg, but I’m working on him. It’s a thing. I’m going to make him try to like them. We’ll see.
Q) Can you do any impressions of Star Wars characters?
A) I can! I can do a porg!! [imitates a porg] You know who does really good impressions? John. If you ever interview him, you have to ask him to do impressions. He can do a lot of stuff. He’s really great.
Q) Did you sign on for just this movie or how many more movies?
A) I can’t say. Do you see my Disney rep sitting there? I really can’t say.
Q) Do you have anything other than Star Wars and Harry Potter that you are nerdy about?
A) “Game of Thrones.” I love Lord of the Rings. I LOVE Lord of the Rings. So, I met Andy Serkis and I like freaked out. He’s so amazing. Oh my gosh. Did you see the face I just made? It’s like truly, I’m a huge Lord of the Rings I watch it fifteen times a year and it’s embarrassing. I love it, I just love it. But I also love “Game of Thrones.” I love “Stranger Things.” And I also love all those 80’s Spielberg movies like The Goonies, which I just watched last night. Hook – love Hook.