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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Adria Arjona on ‘Hit Man’ and how the production surprised her

Adria Arjona at Beverly Gardens Park in Beverly Hills, Calif., on May 22, 2024. The actress, who stars with Glen Powell, said that with the contract-killer movie, her ideas were finally valued in a writer’s room. (Kayla James/The New York Times)

By Sarah Bahr

Adria Arjona doesn’t like doing what she’s told.

The co-star of the new Netflix romantic action comedy “Hit Man,” Arjona accompanied her father, Guatemalan Mexican singer-songwriter Ricardo Arjona, on tour from the time she was young. It was a musical mentorship opportunity, so she ended up deciding early on: Music was out.

He also made her read the poems of Pablo Neruda and the work of Gabriel García Márquez, so naturally, she said, all she wanted to do was listen to ’N Sync.

“I do everything backwards,” Arjona, 32, said on a recent weekday morning over sparkling water at the Whitby Bar in midtown Manhattan. “That’s just my personality — I just listen to my intuition. It’s not like I’m doing it on purpose or trying to be rebellious.”

In “Hit Man,” directed by Richard Linklater, Arjona is Madison Masters, a desperate housewife who tries to hire a hit man, played by Glen Powell, unaware he’s a police operative. The rapturously reviewed movie is the latest entry in a 12-year acting career that has suddenly become white hot.

She broke out in 2022 as the mechanic Bix Caleen in the streaming “Star Wars” series “Andor,” playing Cassian Andor’s fearless friend. (Season 2 of the Disney+ series, which she’s finished filming, is expected next year.) She also appeared as the betrothed daughter in the 2022 reboot of “Father of the Bride,” after roles in “Pacific Rim: Uprising” and Season 2 of “True Detective.”

But it was only with “Hit Man,” she said, that a director truly seemed to value her input.

“As a Latin American actress, I feel like I’ve often made myself smaller. Like, ‘I’m so lucky to be here; I don’t want to ruffle things too much,’” said Arjona, who was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and lived in Mexico City until she was 12. “But Rick made me feel like, ‘Don’t make yourself smaller, you’re so much bigger.’”

During an hourlong conversation, in which Arjona, a former dancer, sat with her legs tucked beneath her on a sofa, watching passersby outside the window, she was relaxed, casual and quick to laugh.

She discussed her differences with Linklater, where you might be able to catch her onstage and what her father thinks of her latest hobby. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

Q: “Hit Man” looks like it was so much fun to make. Was it?

A: It was! I’d never worked with Rick, but I always loved how actors in his movies had all this beautiful, philosophical, intellectual banter that felt improvised. And then I met Rick, and he hates improv. Every decision is made in a rehearsal, so once you get to set it makes the process a lot more fun. He really made me believe my ideas were important — that I had good ideas — and a lot of them ended up in the movie.

Q: What was an idea that you pitched for Madison?

A: There’s a lot of dialogue that’s very much mine — ours; it was a collaboration between Rick and I. One day in rehearsal, I was like, “You know, Anohni and the Johnsons, they have this live concert, and in one of the songs she starts talking about how the moon can affect the oceans and not affect us.” And Rick and I had this whole conversation about how there’s no way that that could be it, and it ended up in the movie — that’s the conversation me and Glen have as we’re going into the club.

Even the sex scenes — you have no say as a female actor what those scenes are going to entail. But because I was in the writer’s room, I had a lot of say in what we were going to do and how we were going to do it. I was impressed that a filmmaker of that caliber would be like, “What do you want to do?”

Q: Glen Powell has told the story of your first meeting lasting five hours over shots of tequila during Dry January. How did it start off?

A: The way Rick tells the story, I was the only girl, but he didn’t tell me this. This is Richard Linklater we’re talking about. He was like, “I really want you to meet Glen,” and — I don’t know this — but it’s really for Glen to be like, “This is or isn’t the girl.” So I get to the restaurant, we’re both doing Dry January and we hit it off right away. He’s a special human who comes from a really beautiful family. In his head he’s like, “She’s the girl, she’s the girl, she’s the girl,” and he was like, “I have to tell you, I want to do this movie with you.” Glen says, “I feel like I said I love you too early.”

Q: You have “Blink Twice,” Zoë Kravitz’s directorial debut, coming up in August. You’re in the Amazon Prime series “Criminal.” And you’re starring in and executive produced “Los Frikis,” inspired by true events about teenagers who inject themselves with HIV to escape the oppression of 1990s Cuba. Is there more?

A: Season 2 of “Andor” is coming out hopefully next year. I think people are going to freak when they see it. It’s so much bigger, smarter — Tony [Gilroy, the showrunner] really outdid himself. And then I have “El Sombreron,” which is the first time I’m going to be working with a Guatemalan director and filming in my home country — I’m half Guatemalan, half Puerto Rican, and I feel very much half and half. There’s a big debate on the internet over whether I’m Puerto Rican or Guatemalan, and I’m very much both. You live in a limbo when you’re mixed. If I go home, they’re like, “You’re not 100% Guatemalan,” and when I come here, they’re like, “You’re not American,” even though I’ve lived here a big chunk of my life. And then I go to Puerto Rico, where I was born, and they’re like, “But are you Puerto Rican?” I’m a little bit of everything. People need to leave me the [expletive] alone.

Q: What has it been like to be involved in a “Star Wars” series, with a fan base that scrutinizes even the tiniest details?

A: It definitely affects you — I’m not going to lie — because you spend so much time creating something and then someone can bash it in three seconds. But I really try not to pay attention to it. I have no control over it.

Q: You were a dancer in middle school and high school. Would you ever want to return to the stage?

A: I really want to go! There’s a theater opportunity in Miami I might do this fall; it’s a one-woman show called “The Second Woman.” The idea of being in a theater is just so beautiful. When I was studying at the Lee Strasberg Theater & Film Institute in New York and auditioning for theater, there weren’t that many opportunities for Latin American actresses — Horton Foote or Tennessee Williams plays were all white women, and they weren’t that open to hiring outside of that, at least when I was auditioning. Now, it’s very different.

Q: What are your hobbies when you aren’t acting?

A: I love boxing. I feel like I could be a contractor in my next life; I love fixing stuff, roofing, plastering walls. I’m also picking up the guitar now that no one’s telling me to! My dad is not happy — he’s like, “Are you kidding me, dude? I begged you to play when you were a kid, and now you want to play?”

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