Culture

Ana’s Getaway

ana de armas elle 0822

Polo shirt, hoop earrings, Louis Vuitton, $715. Rings, from $850, Marie-Hélène de Taillac.

CHRISTIAN MACDONALD

Ana de Armas is relieved the past couple of years are behind her. “It was weird,” she says. Her father was sick with a non-COVID illness and she wanted to go back to Cuba, where she’s from, but the island was closed for travel during the pandemic. “And then at the same time, I was working a lot, and I felt very lucky.” She shot The Gray Man, the summer action movie directed by Anthony and Joe Russo and costarring Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans, reportedly the biggest-budget film Netflix has ever made.

Well, and there was a lot of attention focused on her for a widely photographed and gossiped-about relationship with Ben Affleck. How was that, I had to ask. “Horrible,” she says, nodding and opening her big, round hazel eyes for emphasis. Really? “Yeah, which is good,” she says. “That’s one of the reasons why I left L.A.”

ana de armas in a coat and boots

Coat, Gabriela Hearst, $4,350. Corset top, Fleur du Mal, $275. Brief, Negative Underwear, $45. Rings, Marie-Hélène de Taillac, from $850. Boots, Louis Vuitton, $1,910.

Christian MacDonald

She had spent seven years in Los Angeles, seeing other performers’ lives become a fishbowl complete with paparazzi tracking your every move. “Going through it [myself] confirmed my thoughts about, ‘This is not the place for me to be,’” she says. “It became a little bit too much. There’s no escape. There’s no way out.” In Los Angeles, she adds, “it’s always the feeling of something that you don’t have, something missing. It’s a city that keeps you anxious.”

She lives in New York now, in an apartment with her boyfriend, Tinder exec Paul Boukadakis, and has met me at the Ladurée garden in SoHo, where she’s drinking jasmine tea and sitting with her back to the crowds. The two met during the pandemic through a mutual friend and, with a lot of places closed, spent their first dates at each other’s homes, drinking wine and talking.

ana de armas in a coat and blanket

Blanket, $1,510, boots, $1,910, Louis Vuitton.

Christian MacDonald

Not that she’s spent much time in her new city. She filmed The Gray Man in France and Prague and at sound stages in Long Beach, California. It’s her second big action movie after her brief but splashy turn in the James Bond film No Time to Die. “The truth is, I never thought I was going to be an action actor. It wasn’t my thing,” she says. Yet the offers started coming in. “You have to be careful, because it’s not what I want to put the focus on. This is not where I’m the most comfortable, to be honest, because I feel ridiculous. And it takes a lot of work.”

Her big, much-anticipated films—the Bond movie and this fall’s Blonde, in which she plays Marilyn Monroe—were much delayed. She read the script for The Gray Man and was intrigued and ready to work, but “the script still needed work. My character needed work. But the meeting went so well. Those two are so much fun,” she says of the Russo brothers.

“I do want to play Latina. But I don’t want to put a basket of fruit on my head every single time.”

Her character, Dani Miranda, is a CIA agent. “At the beginning, she’s very by-the-book, and that’s the mission, and it’s a big deal for her and her career and her reputation,” de Armas says. For research, she grilled a CIA agent on the phone about chain of command and trust.

What is really interesting about Dani is that in another movie, she’d be the token woman one of the leads would fall for (and to be fair, in a movie featuring Gosling, Evans, and Regé-Jean Page, aka three of the most handsome men in the world, the job wouldn’t be all that taxing). Instead, the dynamic between her character and Gosling’s is friendly and respectful. Which feels like a tiny win for women. “I was very happy to see that they didn’t rush this relationship. Whatever’s going to happen in the future, I don’t know”—the film begs for a franchise—“but I was happy that the focus was on the mission.”

ana de armas in a tank, brief and sneakers

Tank, Flora and Henri, $198. Brief, Negative Underwear, $45. Socks, Falke, $23. Sneakers, Celine by Hedi Slimane, $640.

Christian MacDonald

Chris Evans, her friend and three-time costar (in The Gray Man, her breakthrough role in Knives Out, and the upcoming Ghosted, an action-adventure movie she just finished filming in Atlanta), says, “I’m a fan first. There are certain people on camera you can’t stop watching, and her range, from power to vulnerability, is incredibly wide. Every actor has strong suits, but she can go from almost dangerous to exposed and gentle and soft in one scene.”

De Armas grew up in Cuba, in a beach town where her family had neither a computer nor internet service, or even a cell phone. When she was nine, her grandmother died, and her family moved to Havana to be with her grandfather.

ana de armas in a blanket and boots

Blanket, $1,510, boots, $1,910, Louis Vuitton.

Christian MacDonald

It was a new world for her, and she felt a little like an outsider in the big city. But it was also what would put her on her career path. De Armas enrolled in a Havana drama school at age 14, surrounded by students of music, circus, and art. She would meet up with friends at the Malecón, Havana’s famed seaside promenade and gathering spot, “playing guitar and drinking rum until the next morning. It was like a big, fun theater festival and film festival, and it was incredible,” she says. She did three Cuban films. And then, at 18, she left for Spain.

She settled in Madrid, mostly taking on TV roles. She made a life for herself and found a group of friends, but after eight years, at 26, she decided to take a chance on L.A. There, she found that none of the previous work she had done in Cuba and Spain really mattered to casting directors. And then there was her English, which wasn’t nearly as fluent as it is now. She attended English classes from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. for three months to get up to speed. (Chatting in person, she speaks with a somewhat stronger accent than she does speaking dialogue in films.) The whole thing was a humbling experience.

in ana de armas in an oversized shirt and briefs and sneakers

Shirt, Polo Ralph Lauren, $99. Brief, Negative Underwear, $45. Rings, Marie-Hélène de Taillac, from $850. Socks, Falke, $23. Sneakers, Celine by Hedi Slimane, $640.

Christian MacDonald

She loves that living in New York, she’s only about a three-hour direct flight away from Havana and is much closer to Spain than she was in L.A. Do you like living in America, I ask? “I do,” she says. “Sometimes.” I point out that she paused before answering. “Sometimes I do; sometimes I miss Europe.” There’s not a sadness exactly, but a wistfulness to her.

She’s balancing an intense drive to make it, to be a huge household name, with a feeling of being displaced. “I feel sometimes that I’m not part of the Cuban artist community, and then I was in Spain and I feel like I’m not part of the community there—especially because in Spain, I did more TV than movies,” she says. “And then I’m here, and I feel like I’m not there yet either. You know? Am I part of the community? I barely know anybody.”

ana de armas in corset and briefs

Corset top, Fleur du Mal, $275. Brief, Negative Underwear, $45. Ring, Bulgari, $2,960.

Christian MacDonald

She may be exaggerating her outsider status a little bit. When her Knives Out costar Jamie Lee Curtis met her on their first day, Curtis says, “I assumed—and I say this with real embarrassment—because she had come from Cuba, that she had just arrived. I made an assumption that she was an inexperienced, unsophisticated young woman. That first day, I was like, ‘Oh, what are your dreams?’” She asked because she was so impressed with de Armas that she wanted to introduce her to Steven Spielberg to play Maria in West Side Story, or to Curtis’s godchildren Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal. She was surprised she already knew Jake. De Armas is also close with Keanu Reeves, her costar in her first English-language film, Eli Roth’s Knock Knock.

Curtis says that her friend is neither the complete outsider nor the glamorous woman on the red carpet or in Estée Lauder campaigns. “She is not as fancy as maybe the advertisements would have you believe. She leans in, interested; talking to her is kind of give-and-take. She’s curious and asks a lot of questions,” Curtis says.

“Cuba is so free in ways that sometimes I’m shocked with the things that I hear in this country.”

ana de armas in jeans and a tank

Bodysuit, Skims, $62. Jeans, The Attico, $780.

Christian MacDonald

De Armas has a naked ambition that radiates off of her. She wants to do more producing. She was an executive producer on Ghosted; for her future project Ballerina, which is part of the John Wick universe and reunites her with Reeves, she was closely involved in finding the writer. “It was really important for me to hire a female writer, because to that point when I got involved in the project, it was only the director, Len Wiseman, and another guy. And I was like, ‘That’s not going to work.’ So I interviewed, like, five or six female writers. We hired Emerald Fennell, which I was so proud of.” Of her feminism, de Armas adds, “I grew up in the most macho-man culture, and at the same time, Cuba is just so free in so many other ways that sometimes I’m shocked with the things that I hear that are still conversations in this country. I’m like, ‘We’re still here?’”

She chooses projects based partly on directors she wants to work with. “And then, of course, what’s in there for me,” she says with a sly smile. Blonde is based on the Joyce Carol Oates historical novel about Marilyn Monroe. De Armas went to L.A. to screen-test for the role of Marilyn while filming Knives Out. “She showed me a picture of her as Marilyn,” Curtis remembers. “My father was in Some Like It Hot, and I have a lot of photos of my father and Marilyn. It was a couple of still pictures and one video of her moving through space with no audio. But it was so shocking because she was Marilyn.”

ana de armas in a two piece swimsuit

Bra, briefs, Louis Vuitton. Ring, Bulgari, $2,960.

Christian MacDonald

The fact that a Latina actor with a Cuban accent was cast in Blonde is not just a sign of her talent but that Hollywood might be becoming slightly more open-minded about its casting practices, and moving—slowly—toward inclusivity. “It’s definitely changing; it’s getting better. But it’s hard to know now, being in my position, because I know it’s not the same for everybody,” de Armas says. “And I feel like it’s coming from filmmakers, that diversity has become a must. You have to do the right thing. Thank God.”

ana de armas elle 0822

Hoodie, $3,400, Sneakers, $640, Celine by Hedi Slimane. Rings, Marie-Hélène de Taillac, from $850. Socks, Falke, $23.

CHRISTIAN MACDONALD

She hopes that she’s paving the way for other actors, but at the same time, she doesn’t only want to play women whose defining characteristic is their ethnicity. She wants to find a balance. “I do want to play Latina. But I don’t want to put a basket of fruit on my head every single time,” she says. “So that’s my hope, that I can show that we can do anything if we’re given the time to prepare, and if we’re given just the chance, just the chance. You can do any film—Blonde—you can do anything. The problem is that sometimes you don’t even get to the room with the director to sit down and prove yourself.” It is both exhausting and frustrating, she says.

To deal with the intense scrutiny thrust upon her, she doesn’t Google herself. “I deleted Twitter years ago,” she says. “I have barely been on Instagram for almost a year.” And no secret Instagram accounts–no secret anything.

She doesn’t have a lot of time. She travels—she’s about to leave for San Diego for a Louis Vuitton show, the same brand whose western-style blazer she’s wearing—and prepares for roles, which, for action films like The Gray Man, involves training six days a week. She’s going on vacation in Italy this summer and “all the limoncellos and tiramisus I can get, I’m going to get them.” She’s also been shopping online for bikinis and sundresses for the trip. With what free time she has, she FaceTimes friends and hangs out with her dogs, Elvis and Salsa.

ana de armas in a sweatshirt and sneakers

Hoodie, $3,400, sneakers, $640, Celine by Hedi Slimane. Rings, Marie-Hélène de Taillac, from $850. Socks, Falke, $23.

Christian MacDonald

To share how far she’s come, she tells me about her recent 34th birthday, which happened on set filming Ghosted. “It was at the beach and [there was] a fire pit, and we were working until almost 1 a.m. At the end, I said, ‘Okay. This is my birthday, so I need a Fireball.’” Yes, she recently discovered shot glasses of Fireballs—which she understands most Americans associate with college-era binge drinking—and thinks they’re the best thing she’s ever had. “I had everybody with me: my man, my dogs, Chris and the crew. I wasn’t home having a romantic dinner; I was on set with my people doing what I love and at the beach and having a shot of Fireball,” she says. “So that was my 34th birthday. And it is the happiest I’ve been.”

ana de armas in a polo shirt

Polo shirt, hoop earrings, Louis Vuitton, $715. Rings, Marie-Hélène de Taillac, from $850.

Christian MacDonald

Hair by Orlando Pita for Orlando Pita Play; Makeup by Mélanie Inglessis at Forward Artists; Set design by Todd Wiggins at MHS Artists; Produced by 1972 Agency and Callie Householder Productions.

This article appears in the August 2022 issue of ELLE.

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