When childhood friends Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna starred in the smoky Mexican drama “Y tu mamá también” in 2002, they spent a year traveling the world, attracting Hollywood attention and dreaming of the future. “We always fantasized about what would come next,” Luna, now 43, said in a Zoom interview from his home in Madrid. “We hoped one day we could own a football club. It didn’t happen. But everything else, we managed to achieve.
These plans included starting their own production company (they co-founded Canana Films in 2004, then La Corrientes del Golfo in 2018) and a film festival (the Ambulante traveling documentary film festival). However, they had nothing to do with “Star Wars” or superhero movies.
Yet, with Luna starring in the Disney+ “Star Wars” spin-off “Andor” in the same year that García Bernal makes his MCU debut in the Disney+ medium-length “Werewolf by Night,” they have come to a turning point in the their meandering journey through popular culture with successful ventures of a very unusual kind. Both projects are the kind of complex seesaws with large-scale properties only viable in the streaming age, and allow two of the most famous Latino actors working today to sneak into Disney’s biggest businesses.
“I grew up in the theater in a very loud community where everything done for TV was a mess and sold out,” said Luna. “You had to lose your integrity to do big commercial projects. I grew up thinking that what I liked as an audience – the tone of the acting, the type of stories, the darkness, the political aspects – anything that was against popularity.
He shrugged. With “Andor,” a show that delves into the radicalization of a future leader of the Rebel Alliance, he is at the center of the first serious attempt to make “Star Wars” for adults. “I’m not kidding here,” he said. “I thank this show because it proved me wrong at this time in my life.”
García Bernal struck a similar note when discussing the transition into blockbuster territory while speaking to IndieWire at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. In “Werewolf by Night,” he plays the titular man-beast Jack Russell in an ambitious black-and-white homage to classic monster movies that would have been unthinkable in a blockbuster setting a few years ago. “Our experience was, ‘I’ll show you mine if you show me yours,'” he said. “We must not be exiled. We can live in Mexico and do these plans and we can still go back to Mexico.”
In the aftermath of their work on ‘Andor’ and ‘Werewolf by Night,’ the busy couple managed to reunite in their home country last fall to film the Spanish-language Hulu series ‘La Máquina,’ in which García Bernal plays an aging boxer and Luna plays his manager. In fact, they have been guiding each other in their career choices for years. “I have a good friend who shares the type of travel, an experience of what comes with this great opportunity to be able to do whatever you want, but at the same time, has a lot of solitude and a lot of loneliness and reinventing yourself,” García Bernal said “We feel less alone together.”
Naturally, Luna took the first ambitious step into franchise territory when he first portrayed resistance fighter Cassian Andor in 2016’s “Star Wars” standalone, “Rogue One,” which sets the stage for the original of the 1977 “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope” showing how the rebels smuggled the plans for the Death Star. At the time, he was attracted by the representative possibilities of playing the first Latino hero in the “Star Wars” universe, but also by the fact that he wouldn’t bind him for long. “I was told from the start that the movie was going to have a pretty definitive ending,” he said, noting the character’s martyrdom at the film’s end. But it didn’t take much coaxing from showrunner Tony Gilroy, who directed much of “Rogue One” after original director Gareth Edwards exited over creative differences, to back Luna for the prequel series.
“These characters will never have movies of them,” Luna said, referring to Cassian’s origin as a lower-class smuggler well outside the lightsaber arena. “I’m never at the center of them. It is the most modern possible version of “Star Wars”. The jumble of accents, people who are refugees, don’t have the freedom to choose their conditions.” Cassian begins “Andor” ambivalently about the Empire, but as she grows to understand her detrimental effect on her community, she becomes radicalized. “The show is trying to explain how a revolution starts from scratch,” Luna said. “You have to understand what oppression is. This is what the show is aiming for.
Likewise, said García Bernal the Latin American culture site Remezcla that “Werewolf by Night” appealed to him in part because the character bore a resemblance to Latin American folklore. “There isn’t a part of our imagination, mythology, that doesn’t feel close to us,” he said. “That’s why I feel it’s natural.”
But timeline is a different story. García Bernal hasn’t said much about future commitments to play Jack Russell in future MCU installments. (Regardless, it won’t be up for Emmys this season, unlike “Andor”: As a 50-minute special, “Werewolf by Night” falls within the 75-minute requirement for TV movies and hasn’t been submitted in other categories.) However, Luna knows for a fact that the upcoming season of “Andor” (which has two months to shoot in London) will be her last.
While the first season covered one year in the character’s life, the next covers four, up until the beginning of “Rogue One”. The breakdown came as a relief to Luna after the first season took two and a half years to complete. “Four more seasons would have been another 10 years,” she said. “I would have been 52 years old. My son would have finished college. It would have been impossible.” Instead, faced in part with looming production costs and Disney’s uncertain long-term Star Wars plans, Gilroy conceived a second season in which every four episodes spanned a year. “This comes with a very interesting narrative device,” Luna said. “Each block has a beginning and an end, then a time jump. It means we can approach them like the movies.”
And what a film: the depth of insurgent struggle in “Andor” marks a rare effort to harness massive intellectual property toward a polemical goal. “It’s an anti-fascist show,” Gilroy said at a recent FYC event. “The show is about oppression and imperialism, the destruction of community and the destruction of free will.” Yet he also portrays the potential to fight against those forces, as Cassian develops a growing interest in the efforts of Stellan Skarsgard’s Rebel Alliance leader Luthen Rael. “This project has been a great tool to talk about what matters to me without having to pause it in my life and commit to work for something else,” said Luna. “This work is also about that.”
Luna’s previous excursions into projects dealing with lower-class insurgency include the 2014 biopic she directed, “Cesar Chavez,” a story of a burgeoning rebel not unlike Cassian’s plight. “Whenever we are faced with a problem, we have to think about those who are not privileged to witness the problem,” said Luna. “That’s what makes these characters interesting, nothing more than that.” He was particularly gratified by the portrayal of Cassian’s experience in an Empire prison, where he is forced to participate in the development of the Empire’s weapons. “It’s a fascinating commentary on what this consumer world has produced,” he said. “Prison is a place where you are clean, healthy, fed and very active because you are producing for a market that needs this thing done. I mean, it’s not just a cool prison idea. No, dude, prisons are factories! The whole time, I was like, ‘Holy shit!’”
However, she was excited to get back on set with García Bernal before the ‘Andor’ shooting schedule came around again. “I didn’t know exactly what it was going to be like until I experienced it,” said Luna. “It’s so nice to have this chance to go back to the core and find that the energy is still there – the chemistry, the humor. It doesn’t matter where you go because you can go back to that. It makes me realize that this is where I belong. So I can go out and experience all this other shit, because this is always going to be there.