“It was so scary,” Ana de Armas says, recalling her arrival in Boston last fall to start filming Knives Out. “I was really nervous.”
The 31-year-old Cuban actress had been cast for the Rian Johnson murder mystery in something of a whirlwind. She auditioned for the role via Skype from Thailand, where she was shooting another movie; when that went smoothly, Johnson asked for an in-person meeting, with filming only a couple of weeks away; then, after passing that final round, she was cast just five days before she had to film her first scene.
De Armas—who plays levelheaded caretaker Marta, a pivotal role in the story—joined a stacked cast that included Christopher Plummer, Chris Evans, Daniel Craig, Toni Collette, Jamie Lee Curtis, LaKeith Stanfield, Don Johnson, and Michael Shannon.
“We started to shoot, and I was scared,” she says, on the phone from Los Angeles in early November. “I felt like I wasn’t prepared, like I didn’t have the time that I wished I had, and I wasn’t sure what Marta was going to be like. I was walking on the set with all of these big actors … ”
But looking back on it now, de Armas—whose layered, emotive performance is the stylish film’s standout—believes her real-life nerves may have worked to her advantage. “Maybe a little bit like Marta, who was thrown into a situation where [she needs to] swim quickly because there are sharks around—yeah, I guess I was feeling exactly what I should have been.”
De Armas says she grew close to the cast over the two-month shoot, her nerves quickly alleviated by the welcoming gang of actors. Evans—with whom de Armas shares a good amount of screen time—was “amazing,” she says. “He’s just so confident, but not pretentious. He was very, very nice and sweet, and that confidence … it just made me feel like, you know, O.K., we’ve got this. I adore him. He’s the funniest guy you can imagine.” She adds, “If you are going to interview him, make sure you’ve got a long time, because he talks a lot. He’s incredibly smart.” (Evans traded in his Captain America duds for some enviable sweaters for the film, and de Armas says, with a laugh, that he was quite enamored of them. “He was very happy about his cashmere sweaters, bragging all the time.”)
The next year promises to be a transformative one for the actress, as she will be starring in the new James Bond film, No Time to Die, opposite Knives Out co-star Craig. “Daniel is still Daniel,” she says, “and I’m glad we got to know each other before Bond because there’s so much pressure that was already lifted off of my shoulders, and it was really comfortable.”
De Armas couldn’t say much about the contents of the film, which was co-written by Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge, though she teases that her “Bond girl” will mark “the beginning of a new Bond woman, let’s say.” She continues, “I’m just happy I’m a part of this shift, and the new representation of that woman in that universe.” She says she blushed when she met Waller-Bridge, whose work she loves, for the first time: “She’s really special, and she actually wrote my dialogue and you can tell that all that fire, that sexiness, and that humor, it comes across in my character.”
Josh Duboff is a writer and screenwriter living in New York