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Diego Luna Goes Rogue

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Two decades after breaking out in the iconic indie Y Tu Mamá También, the accomplished Mexican actor is starting a galactic revolution in the new Star Wars series Andor.

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Cassian Andor, the intergalactic spy played by Diego Luna in the Star Wars universe, is an enigma at first. In the 2016 spin-off Rogue One, Andor vaguely alludes to his lifelong fight for the rebel cause, at one point telling a fresh recruit, “I have been in this fight since I was six years old.”

Out of that line blossomed Andor, a new Disney+ prequel series set a few years before Cassian gave his life for the Rebel Alliance, which tracks his evolution from recalcitrant cynic to martyr. The show, out in September, is part origin story, part political awakening, a saga about how imperialism can shake a population out of its reverie and make it fight back. Luna tells me that, at its core, Andor is “about a community that is waking up.”

More than most actors, Luna gets what it’s like to be ushered into a rebellion. In 1994, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) staged an uprising against Mexico’s government for the rights of Indigenous people in Chiapas, the country’s southernmost state. With the encouragement of family and teachers, a teenage Luna would skip school to join the protests. He and his classmates mobilized, independently organizing events—protests, concert fundraisers, food drives—to support the residents of Chiapas. “I remember meeting amazing people of all ages, all worried about the same issues, and feeling part of something meaningful,” Luna recalls on a recent hot July afternoon in Madrid. He found comfort in the movement’s growing numbers and learned the power of banding together for a greater good. “I was 15 years old and I was feeling the responsibility of being a citizen in my country. I remember those days as being important. They defined me.”

We’re eating lunch at a tapas restaurant in the Chamberí neighborhood. The city is uncharacteristically quiet, save for a few remaining traces of the previous day’s Pride celebrations. “You know,” he says, peering at my plate of grilled vegetables. “You’re with the only Mexican who doesn’t like avocado.”

Luna has spent the past few weeks in Spain performing an intimate play called Cada Vez Nos Despedimos Mejor, which roughly translates to “Every Time We Break Up in a Better Way.” It’s a monologue about a crumbling decades-long relationship set against the backdrop of events that have marked Mexican history, from the 1985 Mexico City earthquake to the contentious 2012 elections in which a deeply unpopular Enrique Peña Nieto became president. “It was amazing occupying that space for so many weeks,” he says. Prior to the pandemic, he used to return to the stage every couple of years. That live, ephemeral energy is something that Luna had been missing, especially in “a tiny space for 250 people every night.”

Luna broke out in the international art house scene with Alfonso Cuarón’s Y Tu Mamá También and has been steadily taking on acclaimed roles with an eclectic set of directors, from a lovestruck airport attendant in Steven Spielberg’s The Terminal to a Michael Jackson impersonator in Harmony Korine’s Mister Lonely. With Andor, the actor, now 42, is transcending the art house roles that have so far defined his career to become a leading man in a multibillion-dollar franchise.

Nevertheless, Luna doesn’t measure success by scale. “We’re not here for the fireworks,” he says. “We’re still telling very intimate stories and character-driven journeys. I like to be able to have that texture in a universe like this.” Luna connected Cassian’s refugee status to the forced migration he sees happening all around the world. (As a child, Andor’s home world gets destroyed by the Empire.) “He’s got a directorial eye,” his former costar Sienna Miller tells me. “He approaches something not just as an actor, he really sees the bigger picture.”

Of course, finding and holding onto space for artistry inside the vast bureaucracy of the Star Wars machine isn’t exactly easy. You’re searching for glints of Shakespeare inside the terms and conditions. With Luna, that stubborn insistence on storytelling and heart trickled down through the rest of the Andor cast. Tony Gilroy, the series’ creator, tells me that “the personality, leadership skills, grace, and empathy of the person that occupies number one on the call sheet has an incredible effect on a show.” In Luna, he found that he “could not have a better number one.”

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Theater was practically encoded into Luna’s DNA. His father was a renowned set designer in Mexico, and his expat British mother designed costumes. Young Diego was obsessed with soccer. He played as a boy and watched eagerly when the World Cup came to Mexico in 1986. But it was Luna’s home life that shaped him: The kitchen table was constantly buzzing with debate and discussion, and he remembers there were at least three newspapers scattered around at all times. Home was a judgment-free haven where someone young and impressionable could test ideas and “define what you believed in.”

Luna’s schools were their own nascent forms of democracy in action. The student body would hold a referendum on everything, even on things as basic as what they would have for lunch. Social justice was central to their education. If there was a demonstration going on—say, the Chiapas uprising—educators would leave the door open for you to go. “I was always in schools that were pushing you to be proactive,” says Luna. “To be loud about what mattered to you. To define your voice. Not to become just a number.”

His mother died in a car accident when he was young, so Luna ended up spending a lot of time shadowing his father. The theater became his playground. Whenever his father was working on a production, he would run around and watch the technicians and actors.

He forged a close bond with Gael García Bernal—another son of artists—when they were young. They would become close friends and eventually creative collaborators, drawing deeply from their shared background. “We were quite advanced for our ages because we grew up really exposed to adult dynamics,” García Bernal tells me. “We saw the adults play [onstage] and we just wanted to play too. We wanted to be close to them. We became little Phantoms of the Opera.”

Luna remembers witnessing every step of his dad’s process, from the impressionistic sketches strewn across his home to the architectural dioramas that would steadily increase in size and detail. Watching his father work entranced Diego. “It was like being in Alice in Wonderland,” he recalls, holding his arms wide open to demonstrate the scale. As a teenager, he apprenticed under his father, learning the ins and outs of theater production.

García Bernal remembers those days fondly. “It was actually quite incredible growing up like that,” he adds. “Because we felt that we could become anything or anyone.”

Luna cut his teeth acting in telenovelas. As a child actor he would sit idly at a dinner table while scandal and drama unfolded around him. (In El Premio Mayor, for example, he played the son of a womanizing lottery winner who’s trying to tamp down his libido so he can remain faithful to his wife.) Those shows transformed Luna into a teen idol in Mexico, and the immediacy of that fame was disorienting, especially in relation to his previous theater experience, where integrity and performance were valued above all.

It’s why Luna appreciates doing theater, especially in Mexico—and even something like Star Wars—so much. There’s a real relationship that develops between him and the  audience. “There’s people that have seen the last three, four shows I’ve done in Mexico,” he says. “It’s nice that I get to grow up with [them].”

Eventually, Luna landed a role alongside García Bernal in Y Tu Mamá También—Cuarón’s road movie about a pair of horny teenage boys, with homoerotic subtext so overt it’s just plain text—which launched the pair into a new stratum of fame. For six months, they were on the road hitting the festival circuit. “I had no expectations of how my life was going to change,” Luna recalls. “And then we went to the Venice Film Festival and won the award. I got an agent, things started to happen. We went to Europe, South America, Japan, and the States.”

It was the kind of promotional circuit usually reserved for global blockbusters. Both Luna and García Bernal remember it as lightning in a bottle, the kind of film that strikes once a generation. “[If you pitched] Y Tu Mamá También now, I don’t think it would get made,” García Bernal says. “With that film, we discovered cinema. That’s when we both formally decided that we were going to be actors.”

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For Luna, it was gratifying to see the world embrace the film, especially one so steeped in Mexico’s history and culture. “We were telling a very specific story [and] you had to read subtitles, and audiences responded,” he says. “I suddenly realized there was a chance that specificity will take you far.”

Y Tu Mamá También’s legacy endures in everything from aesthetic Tumblr GIF sets to film-school curricula. I tell him that I studied the film in college—a fact that horrifies him.

“I was a part of your textbooks at school?” Luna says, his voice rising in faux despair as he sinks into his chair. “I’m ancient!”

Luna is particularly attentive to Mexico’s film industry, having witnessed how a number of films from the late ’90s and early aughts—Sexo, Pudor y Lágrimas; Amores Perros; Y Tu Mamá También—became phenomena that birthed a movement. “People went to cinemas to see stories where they could see themselves and their context represented,” he explains. “Back then, there were very few films that the government wanted to fund. That control is not there anymore.”

But despite the greater creative freedom, he is aware of the challenges that Mexican filmmaking currently faces. “We don’t have a healthy industry these days. It’s very difficult to get your money back from the box office,” says Luna. “The amount of pressure the major [blockbusters] have on cinemas leaves very little space for Spanish-speaking movies.”

Even if Luna will forever be one of the faces of the New Mexican Cinema, he eschews the pedestal of national representation. “I don’t like thinking in passports,” he says. “I don’t think my passport defines anything about me, besides that I was born in a place at a certain day and certain time….” He stops himself. It’s an impossible paradox: He’s trying to avoid thinking nationalistically, but he recognizes how his roles have allowed others like him to feel seen. “How do you say arraigo?”

He looks over at me, immediately clocks my cluelessness, and reaches for his phone to ask Siri:

“Arraigo in English.”

The word translates to “roots,” but that definition doesn’t sit right with him. It’s insufficient; arraigo is something more ingrained. It’s one of those words whose connotations run deeper than what an internet translation can convey.

“But let’s use roots,” Luna continues. “I think your roots can’t just be from one place. My mom was British, my father is Mexican. As soon as I was 18 years old, I started going to Spain, then to the States [for work]. I’ve lived in many places, but I’ll always call Mexico home. When I’m here in Spain, I relate to this country as if I were a local. I think we have to be very careful of this nationalism that’s very dangerous these days.”

Every night after the play here in Madrid, he greets fans outside the stage door. There was someone who came back a second time to bring their partner, others who flew all the way from France and Italy to watch him. Luna became acquainted with the city’s thriving Latin American community—Colombians, Venezuelans, Peruvians.

“As much as the States is the region to migrate to from Mexico and Central America, countries in South America tend to look more to Spain as a place to move to,” he says. “I ended up understanding a little more of what Latin America is like being in Madrid. Latin Americans interact more here than we do in our [countries]. We know very little about each other, but Madrid congregates so many nationalities.”

He adds: “This doesn’t happen anywhere in the world, where you can cross 20 borders and you’re still speaking the same language, right? At the same time, it’s kind of sad, how little we [Mexicans] travel—our art, our stories, our work. When you’re in Madrid, you realize how all these different communities interact [with each other] in a very interesting and rich way.”


The next day, I see Luna at a modest villa outside the city. We’re surrounded by thick, well-read books that line the walls: Historia de España, an architectural atlas of Warsaw, a biography of American engineer John DeLorean. Luna tells me he wants to direct, something he’s done a few times in the past. “It’s something I’m missing,” he says, hoping to create something more personal. “We have this saying in Mexico,” he says.“Jugamos como nunca y perdimos como siempre. It means, ‘We played like we haven’t ever played before, and we lost like we always lose….’” He trails off, unsure. “It sounds better in Spanish.”

Luna explains that the phrase comes from soccer. He felt it during the 2018 World Cup, when Mexico faced off against Germany, who were among the favorites to win the tournament. Mexico somehow did the improbable when Hirving “Chucky” Lozano scored a goal in the first half.

Luna remembers the moment clearly—he had 30 people in his house, all crowded around the TV, just waiting for something to go wrong. “Until the last second, there was a feeling we were going to draw, that they were going to score somehow,” he recalls. The saying, then, describes the “feeling that you’re never going to be able to win. But that was the day I went, like, Okay, something is different.”

Germany’s attack grew desperate, but Mexico’s defense was stronger. The Mexicans ended up winning 1-0.

“And then we lost the next day,” Luna says, laughing. “But in that game we beat Germany, the unbeatable team. And I felt like things could change.”

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Iana Murray is a writer based in the U.K.

A version of this story originally appeared in the October 2022 issue of GQ with the title “Diego Luna Goes Rogue”


PRODUCTION CREDITS:
Photographs by Fanny Latour-Lambert
Styling by Tobias Frericks
Grooming by Matthew Tuozzoli for Oribe Hair Care and Chanel 
Produced by MAMMA TEAM PRODUCTIONS SL

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