If you’re a horror fan, you might have caught the Cuban actress playing an avenging seducer in Eli Roth’s nasty thriller “Knock Knock” in 2015, opposite Keanu Reeves. Sci-fi lovers will recall her as Ryan Gosling’s ethereal hologram-girlfriend, Joi, in “Blade Runner 2049.”
You might also know her from her much-photographed walks with Ben Affleck during the pandemic; the two actors, who met while filming the not-yet-released thriller “Deep Water,” dated very publicly for nearly a year. The quarantine-era relationship ended in an absurdist flourish, with a cardboard cutout of de Armas being thrown into the trash outside Affleck’s building after she reportedly dumped him.
But it’s safe to say de Armas’ role as a CIA agent named Paloma in the new James Bond movie — finally coming out Friday — will raise her profile significantly. De Armas’ character is one of three significant female characters in the film, alongside Lashana Lynch’s agent Nomi and Léa Seydoux as Bond’s girlfriend Madeleine Swann; Paloma teams up with Bond on a mission in Havana, where the two banter suggestively while fighting bad guys.
The actress brings a light, comic touch to her scenes with Craig — her character claims to have only three weeks of training despite her expert combat skills.
Although the term “Bond girl” is still kicking around — and her character sees a lot of fighting action wearing an implausibly low-cut gown — the 33-year-old actress has made it clear her character is a modern update on the franchise’s retro trope.
“I think this movie is ‘Bond women,’ not so much ‘Bond girls.’ They’re highly skilled, they’re powerful [and] they all show it in their own way. They’re equals to Bond,” de Armas told CNN.
De Armas attended her native Cuba’s National Art Schools before using dual Spanish citizenship via her grandparents to move to Madrid at 18 to pursue acting. After making a splash in the Spanish series “El Internado” (“Boarding School”), she leapt to Hollywood and paid her dues with a series of obligatory girlfriend parts (see “Blade Runner 2049” among others). Initially, because she didn’t speak English, she learned her lines phonetically.
Even in small roles, though, she gave nuanced performances that made viewers — and her A-list co-stars — take notice. Reeves reflected about re-teaming with his “Knock Knock” colleague in the 2016 thriller “Exposed,” reportedly saying: “I only have one scene with her at the end of the picture, which was great, but I wish we’d had more.
In the story she’s bringing such emotion, depth, comedy, warmth, love, energy and tragedy. It’s such a great role and Ana is the actress for it, because she can produce all those colors and bring that to the screen.”
De Armas finally scored a breakout lead role in 2019’s “Knives Out,” the star-studded whodunit comedy (whose cast included Bond himself, Daniel Craig). Her role as Marta Cabrera led to a Best Actress Golden Globe nomination, but she initially balked at the part, which was described in the script as “a pretty Latina caretaker.”
That nutshell “just really didn’t speak to me,” she told the Hollywood Reporter. “Latinas rarely exist at the center of a film, especially not in the context that we have in this movie. So, because of the character description, my imagination immediately went to a portrayal that was not necessarily very positive or exciting in relation to Latin culture.”
When she finished the script, though, she realized how much her character transcended those stereotypes, and signed on.
That savvy choice of roles, and the awards attention it brought, has made her the kind of star directors will do anything to have in their films. Recently, a promotional video for “No Time To Die” included de Armas’ revelation that director Cary Joji Fukunaga essentially created the role of Paloma to get de Armas in the film: “This character, I think it didn’t exist in the film. It was just [through] talking to Cary that he really wanted me in the movie. And they just made it happen. So I was in the conversation a long time before it became real,” she says in a video, as reported by CinemaBlend.
Next year could be an even better one for de Armas fans. “Deep Water,” the psychological thriller in which she co-stars with Affleck, is set to be released in January; she’s also starring alongside Chris Evans, Gosling and Regé-Jean Page in “The Gray Man,” a spy movie from “Avengers: Endgame” directors Anthony and Joe Russo.
But her defining film next year may be “Blonde,” the Netflix film in which she’ll play Marilyn Monroe in an adaptation of the Joyce Carol Oates novel. When she saw herself as Monroe for the first time, “I cried,” she told Allure. “It was a big, big deal for me. It was a very important role for me, a big challenge, something that I was preparing for a very long time — and to finally sit in the chair and put the wig and makeup on … it was very special. I completely transformed.”
She’s also, notably, the first Latina actress to play Marilyn. As she told the Hollywood Reporter: “All this time and effort, holding my ground and staying true to this belief that I have about finding more positive roles is paying off.”