Adria Arjona | Front, Center, and Rid of the Mask

Featuring Armani Beauty, Via Issue 173, The Wishes Issue!

Written by

Elizabeth Aubrey

Photographed by

Yulia Gorbachenko

Styled by

Sandy Armeni

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TOD’S jacket. ARMANI BEAUTY My Way Eau de Parfum.

When you ask Adria Arjona how she’s coped with lockdown, her answer is unflinchingly honest. “Lockdown? Oh, it fucked me up,” the 28-year-old actor admits candidly. “It’s been so harsh. I’ve never spent this amount of time at home, never.” Since childhood, Arjona has rarely stayed in one place for long. After living a nomadic childhood on account of her father’s job (he is renowned, award-winning singer-songwriter Ricardo Arjona) and traveling frequently from set to set as an adult with roles in True Detective, Emerald City, and Pacific Rim: Uprising—to name a mere few—Arjona has struggled spending months-on-end in the same place for the first time in her life.

“It’s messed me up,” Arjona adds, speaking from her L.A. home over Zoom about adjusting during lockdown’s early stages. “I felt a bit trapped, but I also understood everyone else was going through the same thing. If it weren’t for quarantine, and I was trapped because I was trapped, I would be going manic: because I knew and I understood that everyone had to stay put for the safety of everyone else, it made it bearable.”

TOD’S jacket and top and MICHAEL KORS COLLECTION shoes. ARMANI BEAUTY My Way Eau de Parfum. 

There were further struggles too. As Arjona saw the detriment the pandemic inflicted, her thoughts turned to a vulnerable friend shielding to keep safe. Even after restrictions eased, she was still fearful to see them. “Because I’m human,” she shares, “I really cannot deal with the responsibility of potentially giving it to someone else. I have a friend who has an autoimmune disease. I don’t want to see them just in case... I became that paranoid person. I’m always wearing a mask and gloves; I still wear a face shield. People look at me like I’m crazy, but I don’t care. If I have it, I don’t want to give it to you and I don’t want you to give it to me... I go the whole shebang. I’m Miss Covid Cop,” she laughs, “That’s what my friends call me now.”

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The process took an emotional toll, Arjona says, explaining that while everyone else was seemingly keeping busy and active during the start of lockdown, she was the opposite, unable to focus on anything at all. “Towards the beginning, I was so unproductive,” she recalls. “On social media, I kept seeing workout routines, meditation, all of that. It made me feel bad about myself because I was like, ‘All I’m doing is watching Friends!’ I always say I need time, but when I had it, I wasn’t doing much with it... I think at the beginning, it hit me more. I was sad for what people were going through.”

Eventually, she found some solace. Arjona read the works of Haruki Murakami and started to write herself, something that proved a timely distraction. It also helped her to cope with missing her family at home in Puerto Rico (she was born in San Juan) and in passing the time before she could return to work once more. “I got really lucky that right before quarantine, I got my next job,” she continues. “That gave me peace of mind. I didn’t have to look for another job in the middle of a pandemic: I got very lucky there. I know a lot of people can’t say that, so I feel very grateful for that.”


That job turned out to be a life-changing one. A few weeks before lockdown, Arjona learned that she was successful in landing a part in the upcoming Star Wars Rogue One spin-off television series. The as-yet-untitled project is still being written, but Arjona’s delight at the news is palpable. “I don’t know what I can say about it. It’s Star Wars!” she beams, still overjoyed at her casting. She explains, “I was approached for this project in early 2020 and I sent a self-tape. I was in Paris, shooting a beauty campaign for Armani and they called me and said, ‘Can you be in London tomorrow? We want to test you.” The team was so impressed with Arjona’s performance that she was offered the role almost immediately. “I met everyone, tested, and then I found out really early that I got the job. That usually doesn’t happen.

I found out right away, which was so exciting and nerve-wracking: [I was] just a big ball of emotions. It’s such a complex and beautiful and creative world that I’ve just been dying to be a part of for so long. I’ve gone up for every Star Wars [role] you could think of. I was waiting for the perfect one: I really believe this is the one.

Arjona has come a long way since her earliest acting days at school where the very thought of a drama class would cause her huge anxiety. “I took an acting class and I remember my heart beating so fast,” she recalls. “I remember trying so hard not to be picked. And of course, the professor picked me on the first day,” she smiles. “I went on stage and he gave me a scenario, a character. I was... very shy and I didn’t quite do it, but... I was like ‘I can hide under a mask, I can hide under the name of a character and I can hide under this role.”

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This realization meant that drama classes and acting could become an eventual escape from the strange new world of continuity she found herself in, after years of traveling with her family. A period of relative stability followed when Arjona attended school in Mexico, but it was a world away from what she was used to. Arjona’s parents lived humbly despite her father’s growing fame, careful not to spoil Arjona or her siblings by always conveying the importance of hard work and humility. When she arrived at school, however, it was a culture shock. “It was such a different world. People were wearing all these designer bags to school, I’d never seen anything like it,” she says of her Clueless-like classmates at the private school. “I didn’t realize my dad was famous until I was like 13. I was like, ‘Wait, how come I haven’t got a cell phone? You have money, why are we still living like this?’ [laughs].” She says she wished for more but under- stood her parent’s decisions. “My father came from such a small town in Guatemala called Huehuetenango, and my mom also came from a humble background too,” Arjona explains. “They felt more comfortable with their little things and their smaller house and just a simpler way of living. They were always afraid of moving up a little bit. We grew up very simplistically but very happily and very creatively.”

ARMANI BEAUTY The Luminous Silk Foundation.

Arjona took her family’s work ethic through to college, when she eventually studied at New York’s prestigious Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute. She helped finance her degree working 16-hour days as a waitress in between classes. During her time as a student, Arjona learned to combat her stage shyness by training her brain to think “in role.” She explains, “There’s so much of me in every character, but I manipulate my brain to think that it’s not... that’s why now, I don’t feel shy when I’m on set or where I’m talking about a character. It’s me, but I’m hiding behind this mask. There’s many alter egos that come out when you do that. It’s really hard when I have to perform just as Adria. That’s quite challenging.”

While she may have alleviated her fear on stage, Arjona explains that her real-life shyness isn’t so easy to put aside, something she wishes could be different. “I’m talkative, but if we were to be sitting at a dinner table I would... probably be the one listening and laughing,” she admits. “I would pitch in here and there but I really dislike being the center of attention. It makes me feel uncomfortable; I hate it. It makes me feel nervous.” She is, she says, getting better at it as her aforementioned Giorgio Armani My Way campaign illustrates. In the campaign, Arjona plays herself in documentary-like photo stills and a short film; Armani Beauty also used original images, without alteration.

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“With campaigns and all that, I tend to be a little bit careful—I shy away a bit,” she explains. “With this, the message behind the campaign was so different—the fact it’s an untouched image. We shot it documentary style and... it wasn’t scripted. Every moment you see in that video happened, it was a genuine moment captured... I’m so proud of it.” One of the best parts of the process, Arjona says, was meeting other people and observing them—one of her favorite things to do. The lack of being able to do this during lockdown has hit her hard, especially when thinking back to the campaign.

“More than travel, not being able to see new faces is what really messed me up,” she reflects. “I’m so used to walking in the lobby of a hotel and seeing a bunch of faces—that’s where I get my inspiration for characters. I like observing how people move, speak... the way that they walk, the way that they react to their partner or friend. I’m constantly consuming all of this. I’m a true observer, and I have the best time by myself just doing this.” Wearing a white silk polka dot shirt, Arjona is sitting on a comfy chair surrounded by floral cushions at home. She points to the screen. “Zoom calls like this help because I’m getting to meet you,” she laughs. “Seeing the way you talk and react to me is inspiring. I just want to see people: I love people so much!”

One of the last times Arjona was surrounded by people was on the set of her upcoming Marvel project, Morbius. Following Venom in a series of films inspired by the Spider-Man universe, Morbius will also star Jared Leto as the titular character alongside Matt Smith, Jared Harris, Al Madrigal and Tyrese Gibson. While filming was completed last year, Morbius’ release date (originally intended for July of this year) has been pushed back until next Spring. “Doctor Morbius is such a complex character,” Arjona smiles. “Watching Jared Leto transform into Doctor Morbius was one of the wildest things I’ve ever seen. I met Jared a month before filming and then a month after filming. In the middle, I cannot tell you how it is to work with Jared Leto—but I can tell you how it is to work with Doctor Morbius!

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“My character is kind of side-by-side with him and we worked together... I think that’s all I can say,” she laughs as she talks about the secrecy surrounding the project, similar to Star Wars. “They definitely hired the wrong person: I am the worst with keeping secrets. I get so over-excited that I just want to share everything,” she jokes. While Arjona does do a good job at guarding the secrets of both projects, it’s impossible for her to hide her enthusiasm, joy and excitement at landing the parts. “I’m excited to meet a lot of the fans: I want to hear their predictions! I loved hearing these [at ComicCon] for Pacific Rim and Emerald City. They know so much more than I do and that, to me, is so cool and so interesting.”

Her aforementioned roles in both Pacific Rim: Uprising and Emerald City took Arjona’s career from being known by many (largely thanks to her role as Emily in True Detective) to one of the most talked about rising stars in Hollywood. With Emerald City, Arjona took on the lead role of Dorothy in Matthew Arnold and Josh Friedman’s fantasy television series, set in the Wizard of Oz universe. Arjona says the role re-wrote the rules of casting for Latinas in television, something which she thinks has been slowly but steadily changing for the better in both television and film. She wishes, however, that it had been an easier journey. “There’s a lot of work to be done,” she shares, “but it definitely has changed. Ever since Emerald City, I can feel and see the difference. Emerald City was hard because [viewers] never expected it to be a Latin American playing Dorothy. That’s when things shifted... I had a lot of people on social media, or interviewers, giving me the pressure of ‘Oh, this is what Dorothy Gale should be like.’”

IRO shirt, DODO BAR OR bra, and BVLGARI necklaces and rings. ARMANI BEAUTY Eye Tint Liquid Eyeshadow #10 and Eyes To Kill Stellar #2.

This enormous pressure continued until she decided to shake off all the stereotypes and play the role proudly as a Latina. “Finally, I just said, ‘No: this is the first Hispanic Dorothy Gale, which is going to be different to the original because I am different. That’s just it, and that’s what I’m going to go with.’ I was able to start having fun after that, after I switched my brain to that way of thinking. I applaud every single casting director that casts completely differently. I just find it more interesting and cooler to see characters that we already know, with a little bit of a twist. Was it nerve-wracking? Yes. Did I give myself probably a hundred ulcers? Yes. Was I dying of nerves every day? Yes. Did I cry the first time I saw the episode, and I was like, ‘I’m quitting acting?’ Yes, but I’m my worst critic: I’m never going to be content with my work. I stop watching or I just close my eyes. It’s hard, especially when you know that there’s not that many of you being this successful. You’re like, ‘Damn it, I need to do it for them.’ I need to represent Guatemala and Puerto Rico.’ I want my home to look at this and be like, ‘That’s our girl, she’s killing it.’”

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Arjona continues to share that the many scripts she’s received over the years, few placed Latinas in what she calls “front and center” roles and many drifted towards age-old tropes. “They’re hard to come by, I’m constantly looking” Arjona says of roles like Dorothy Gale in Emerald City or her part as Yovanna in Triple Frontier (Arjona was also the only female in the film). “I have this immense responsibility, within myself, that I want to really reintroduce what a Latin American woman is to the world. I want to do that by picking roles that show who we truly are. Latin American women, there’s a big façade, just like English women, just like Black women, just like American women, just like French women. You can go on and on.

“Latin American women—we’re constantly being portrayed either as sexy, tough, [the one] who’s imitating the man or a victim that is scrubbing a bathroom floor... There’s so much more to us, there’s so much more. Look at AOC [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez], she’s a Latin American woman killing it in Congress. I think talking about representation and really making it my duty and my responsibility to tell those stories, to portray those characters that show Latin American women on a pedestal and redefine them: I think that’s really important.”

Arjona continues to share that one of her greatest wishes is for a change at the executive levels of production and casting to come. I think it comes from an executive level, to get a little bit political. We need more females, and women of color and men of color in an executive level, to be making those decisions of what stories to tell and what stories not to tell. [We need to be] hiring more people of color and more females to direct, to be cinematographers, to write.

“Once you start getting that, then you’ll start seeing a change on the other side. It’s hard. Triple Frontier was a great experience for me, but it was written by a white male. [On set] me and Oscar [Isaac, her co-star], took it in as two Latin Americans and we were like, ‘This isn’t quite how things happened, or happen.’ We had to mould it. Because J.C. [Chandor, the film’s director] gave us that freedom...I think that’s why it’s so authentic.”

In challenging these barriers now, Arjona says she’s hoping for a better future for young actors emerging from similar backgrounds to hers. “I am going to do everything in my power to make sure that the generation that comes after me has it so easy. They have those roles, they have those stories already given to them. I want to be at the center of that, whether it’s writing, whether it’s producing, whether it’s directing... I just want to be part of that.”

Next on Arjona’s agenda is to push for more of these front-and-center roles herself—but also roles where realistic representations of women abound. “I’m interested in seeing more complex women on screen,” she reveals. “We’re very beautiful humans, but also we’re disgusting, we’re funny, we’re weird, we’re quirky. There’s so many different things to us. I want to play a character that’s a bit more Diane Keaton-y that has the essence of a very well-rounded, complex woman. For me, Diane Keaton and Gena Rowlands are perfect—those are the women, the actors, I look up to. I think more of that complexity would be really fun.”


Arjona continues that the desire for these kinds of roles is still met with an internal struggle, but also a welcome journey. “I still get so nervous before every single production. I try quitting five days before,” she laughs. “But the day I stop getting nervous about what I do is the day I quit. I’ll become something else... I asked my dad, ‘How do you know when you’ve made it?’ My dad told me, ‘I haven’t made it yet.’ And I love that. It’s like, you’ll never make it...you’re constantly evolving and constantly growing. It’s the same thing with confidence. You get better... I feel confident in that I will work my ass off, will give every piece of my soul into everything that I do.”

For now though, work aside, Arjona is just overjoyed at the opportunity—albeit still a very limited one—to be able to see some socially-distanced faces out in the world again. “I went to the gas station and I was so excited to see a new person,” she laughs, playing out the scene from her seat. “Even though it was with a mask, I started full-on conversing. I was like ‘How are you? How have you’ve been? How’s your day going?’ He just looked at me and was like, ‘Ma’am, there’s people behind you.’ I was like, ‘Great. I’m that fucking person right now!” 

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Adria Arjona, Flaunt Magazine, Issue 173, The Wishes Issue, People, Tod's, Michael Kors, Armani Beauty, BVLGARI, Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello, Isabel Marant, Tiffany & Co., Dior, Etro