Kelly-Marie Tran is about to burst into tears in front of me and we can’t find any tissues.
‘I don’t want to look back in 50 years and think I never let myself feel anything,’ she admits, ‘so I thought, I don’t care if people said don’t cry I was going to let myself be a mess.’
Tran stars as Rose in The Last Jedi, episode eight in the Star Wars saga that has spanned five decades and is known globally. She is a newcomer to the series but don’t think that she has no idea of what kind of world she has let herself in to.
She speaks passionately about the film, about director Rian Johnson, about working closely with John Boyega, about the opportunities she’s been given, about diversity in Hollywood – even about my sequinned cardigan which she exclaims over when we first meet.
Her enthusiasm is infectious and makes you realise how one film role can really change someone’s life.
Tran has been a jobbing actor for nearly ten years, but this is her first big screen role. It took her four years for a commercial agent to sign her – without even a commercial agent, she says, no one from TV or film would even consider hiring her – but in the meantime she was still working a full-time job to pay the bills, and auditioning, writing and doing improv sketches in her spare time.
It was her parents’ resilience and determination that she and her sister be given the opportunity to dream and make those dreams reality that ensured she never gave up.
‘From the beginning something that has really helped me is where I come from and where my parents come from,’ she says.
‘The idea that their only dream was, really, to give me a choice – they came to the US not speaking the language in their late teens, and they have spent their entire lives working jobs that they don’t necessarily enjoy as it was just to provide for us, so we could reach the level of having the luxury of having a dream.’
‘So many people don’t realise you need to be on a certain level of Maslow’s hierarchy to have a dream, you have to have food and be safe from danger, all these things my parents didn’t have at the get go, so I, from the very beginning, believe I have been living for multiple generations, for my parents and grandparents.’
After getting the call from Johnson though, and joining one of Hollywood’s biggest franchises of all time, Tran then had to step on to set for the first time, joining not just a film series that everyone in the world knows, but a film set where everyone already knows each other.
‘I tried to erase fear from my mind because I do believe fear blocks creativity, and I didn’t want the fear to rob me of this experience,’ she says.
‘Maybe that was my greatest fear – I knew I wanted to be 100% present as so many people want this and I have wanted this and it is a once in a lifetime thing and my biggest fear, maybe, was the idea that I would be so scared I wouldn’t enjoy it.
‘But first day on set was… I remember feeling it was like I was going to play the Superbowl, my senses were so heightened – it must be what an animal feels like when they’re about to be chased!
‘I just remember walking on set in my costume and make up done and seeing John [Boyega] but really seeing Finn, and there was Poe and there was C3P0 and R2-D2….. the entire time I worked on the film it was making sure I could concentrate and do the work but also be like OMG C3P0 OMG BB-8! I keep thinking it’s a weird inception dream or I took a Matrix pill.’
In The Last Jedi, Tran’s character Rose Tico spends much of her time with John Boyega’s Finn as they hunt down a codebreaker who may be able to help the Resistance.
Everyone was ‘so welcoming’, says Tran, and that it’s obvious for anyone to see see how happy everyone is to be on set, ‘and that’s so rare, especially in this day and age when everyone has a phone and is wondering what’s happening in the other room.’
Film set canteens can often the source of great gossip, and Tran admits that on The Last Jedi set you end up with incredible moments, such as ‘watching Kylo and Poe playing ping pong together’ and stormtroopers or furry creatures ‘riding skateboards’.
Still, she admits that she had a closer relationship with Boyega, simply due to the amount of time they spent together on set, and one moment with him particular will stay with Tran forever: ‘There is one [moment] where John and I were filming a scene and as soon as we finished the shot he turned to me and said, “we’re making history”, and I think I’ll remember that forever.
‘It was a realisation, trying to take it all in – I want to save all those moments and catalogue them away into the back of my head so I can pull it out like a CD.’
The return of Star Wars in 2015 saw the casting of Boyega, a British-Nigerian actor, Oscar Isaac, a Guatemalan-American actor, Lupita Nyong’o, a Kenyan-Mexican actress, and Daisy Ridley, a British actress who would play Rey, the saga’s first leading character that was a woman.
When we discuss the importance of diversity, Tran, a Vietnamese-American actress, understandably pauses, and sighs: ‘I wish I didn’t have to answer this question, I wish we lived in a world where every different person has the chance to write, direct, produce, and star in movies but that’s just not true.
‘I can say that I’m excited to be part of the change, it feels like a responsibility but it’s awesome as I get to be in this movie and be this character, but it’s horrifying because it’s so rare… I do feel a sort of… I don’t take representation lightly, and I am excited to be part of the change.’
Up next for Tran? Well, she plans to just ‘ride the Star Wars’ train for as long as she can.
‘I want to work with great directors and tell great stories – story telling is the one great love of my life, and it means so much and we have the ability to change the world by telling stories, and I want to keep doing that,’ she adds.
‘[Star Wars] is iconic but you look at what Oscar, and Daisy, and John and Adam have been able to do and I….. if there is nothing out there for me I will write it myself.’
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is out in the UK on 14 December.
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