In London with the ‘No Time to Die’ actresses, part of The Hollywood Reporter’s Next Gen Talent list, as they open up about bringing James Bond into the #MeToo age: “There is an evolution.”
When Ana de Armas first arrived at London’s Pinewood Studios to shoot No Time to Die, the 25th installment in the James Bond franchise, she was a bit starstruck — though not when introduced to lead Daniel Craig. It happened as she was walking into a meeting with director Cary Joji Fukunaga, who was chatting with Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the British creator of Fleabag and Killing Eve who’d been hired to bring a fresh female perspective (and some humor) to the film’s script.
“I saw Phoebe, and I just blushed — I got red like a tomato,” says de Armas, 31. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, can I hug you? I want to be your friend.’ ” De Armas’ co-star, Lashana Lynch, had a similar reaction when she learned of Waller-Bridge’s involvement. “I very literally squealed when I first heard her name,” says Lynch, 31. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, British girl just like me. She’s going to know how to actually take care of women onscreen.’ “
Never has that been so critical for a Bond film. When it’s released April 10, the $250 million No Time to Die will be the first entry in the series to land in a #MeToo and Time’s Up world. And while the $7 billion franchise may forever be best known for its womanizing namesake agent, director Fukunaga (True Detective, Beasts of No Nation) and producer Barbara Broccoli have worked hard with both Lynch and de Armas to create a new type of female Bond character who is much more fully realized than the “Bond girls” of films past.
“It’s pretty obvious that there is an evolution in the fact that Lashana is one of the main characters in the film and wears the pants — literally. I wear the gown. She wears the pants,” says de Armas, curled up in a chair in the lobby of London’s Charlotte Street Hotel.
She and Lynch, chatting about their career trajectories for THR‘s annual Next Gen issue, are both in the midst of breakout years. In addition to Bond, de Armas plays a lead in Rian Johnson’s Knives Out (Nov. 27) and will portray Marilyn Monroe in Netflix’s Blonde, arriving in 2020. Lynch co-starred in March’s blockbuster Captain Marvel and will soon begin shooting FX’s anticipated comic book adaptation of Y: The Last Man.
Now they are one week away from wrapping what has been an epic six-month Bond shoot, and both are exhausted. De Armas pours two packets of sugar into her coffee. “I use a lot of sugar,” says the Cuban-Spanish actress apologetically as she cracks open still another packet. “I usually put condensed milk in it — we call it café bon bon.”
Lynch, who plays a British agent in the film, is presently at her West London home sleeping after shooting late into the night, but during an interview at the Ace Hotel the next day, her voice cracks from strain and she orders a hot tea. “Luckily, we don’t have any speaking scenes next week, so I don’t have to use it,” she says.
These two rising stars don’t have much in common when it comes their paths to Bond. One was born in Cuba. The other in London to Jamaican parents. One cut her teeth on Spanish TV, the other on the stage. But both have roots tied to this latest Bond outing, which is set in Cuba and Jamaica. And through their characters, they’re helping redefine what it means to be a Bond heroine. “Everyone was really responsive to having her be what I wanted,” says Lynch. “You’re given a fresh perspective on a brand-new black woman in the Bond world.”
Bond girls have a complicated history. For decades, they’ve had a reputation for being eye candy, wooed by Bond and then cast off. In 1964’s Goldfinger, Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) says repeatedly she’s not interested, but Bond tosses her to the ground and kisses her; in From Russia With Love (1963), Bond attempts to beat a confession out of Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi); and in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, Bond pulls a bikini top off Marie (Denise Perrier) and strangles her with it. Recent films have brought more fully realized female characters into the series, including Judi Dench’s M, Naomie Harris’ Moneypenny and Léa Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann, the latter two of whom return in No Time to Die. Still, both de Armas and Lynch paused before signing on.
“[The women] have been sexualized before, a stereotype, a kind of woman who will always be in danger and waiting to be rescued by Bond,” says de Armas.
De Armas notes that she has worked hard to avoid being typecast. After attending Cuba’s National Theater School, she moved to Spain when she 18. “Literally two weeks after I moved, I was cast as one of the lead actors in a new TV show that became like the most successful TV show for the next three years,” she says of booking El Internado, a drama set at a boarding school. But after a few years in Madrid, she found herself outgrowing it — she was 22 playing 16. She moved to Los Angeles, where her Hands of Stone co-star Édgar Ramírez introduced her to his agent.
The problem was, she didn’t speak English. She found herself at CAA, sitting with “a full team that I really couldn’t communicate with,” she says. She even booked a major horror film, Knock Knock with Keanu Reeves, without speaking the language. “I learned it phonetically,” she says. “I wasn’t really sure what I was saying.” She quickly enrolled in English classes and, as soon as she could say a few words, called her team with a mandate — she didn’t want to go out for Latin-specific roles: “I said, ‘I don’t want to audition for Maria, Juana and Lola and all these things. I want to audition for the same parts that everybody is auditioning for.’ “
She booked War Dogs with Miles Teller and Jonah Hill and Overdrive with Scott Eastwood. A role in 2017’s Blade Runner 2049 as Ryan Gosling’s love interest was supposed to be her breakout, but the film underperformed. “I think I was home literally doing nothing for a year,” she says. The paycheck did allow her to buy her first big splurge, a house in Cuba, which she still visits regularly.
When her agents told her about a role in Knives Out, Johnson’s comedic mystery ensemble, she was put off by the “pretty Latina caretaker” logline and passed on even auditioning. “I’m like, ‘Latina again, really? No! I am not doing this.’ ” She only agreed to go in when they sent her the script and she realized the part was the heart of the film, a kind caregiver with secrets of her own who is swept up in the family drama (and vomits when she’s lying). “She’s obviously got tremendous skills as an actor,” says Johnson, who cast her, “but those eyes, man, you just look at those eyes and instantly you’re on her side.” (The film features her Bond co-star Craig as well as Toni Collette, Chris Evans and Michael Shannon.)
It was Bond producer Broccoli, who has overseen the franchise with her half brother Michael G. Wilson since 1995, who first thought of de Armas for No Time to Die. The two had met five years earlier, when de Armas, still new to L.A., was brought to Soho House by Knock Knock producer Colleen Camp. She introduced the actress to Broccoli, who was there with Spectre helmer Sam Mendes. “We met very briefly because I couldn’t say anything [in English],” says de Armas. “But I guess Barbara never forgot that meeting.” When de Armas had wrapped Knives Out, she says she got a call from Fukunaga, who told her that part of the Bond film is set in Cuba and “he wanted to write something for me.”
Broccoli, who also was key in bringing Lynch on board, has been vocal about the franchise’s need to evolve. “#MeToo has influenced our culture, which is a great thing, so of course it’s going to influence everything we do on Bond,” she told the Daily Mail in April. “The films are representative of the times they’re in.”
After producing a 2018 London play in which Lynch starred, Broccoli reached out to the actress for the role of Nomi (Lupita Nyong’o previously had been eyed, but a deal was never made, according to sources). “I trusted Barbara from the beginning,” says Lynch. “I think the franchise has changed so much over the years — with the past five movies, I’ve witnessed the change.”
Lynch, who is of Jamaican descent, was born and raised in London, and describes herself as a “London girl through and through.” She attended ArtsEd drama school then jumped into theater work, doing odd jobs to make ends meet (retail, a car service). “There was never a plan B, from 5 years old to now, there’s never been one,” she says. After her feature debut, the 2013 British film Fast Girls, she starred in the short-lived 2017 ABC series Still Star-Crossed, produced by Shonda Rhimes, and signed with ICM.
Her big break came when she landed the part of Maria Rambeau, a former Air Force pilot and a single mother, in Captain Marvel, which earned $1.1 billion worldwide. “Getting into the Marvel universe was something that I’d been aiming for for two to three years,” says Lynch, who had sent tapes in for Black Panther and Spider-Man: Homecoming.
“It’s her empathy,” says Captain Marvel star Brie Larson of Lynch’s appeal. “It is impossible not to connect with her when you’re watching her onscreen.”
Lynch says creating her Bond character was about working with Waller-Bridge and Fukunaga to shape a real woman. “I didn’t want someone who was slick. I wanted someone who was rough around the edges and who has a past and a history and has issues with her weight and maybe questions what’s going on with her boyfriend,” she says.
She even talked to Waller-Bridge, who is only the second woman in the history of the franchise to be a credited writer after Johanna Harwood (1962’s Dr. No and 1963’s From Russia With Love), about adding an issue that nearly every woman faces but rarely makes its way into action films. “We had one conversation about her maybe being on her period in one scene, and maybe at the beginning of the scene — and I spoke to Cary about this — throwing her tampon in the thing,” says Lynch, making a motion of tossing trash into the bin. (She’s mum about whether it made it in.)
No Time to Die suffered no shortage of offscreen drama. Though both Lynch and de Armas joined after the director switch-up (Danny Boyle was attached but dropped out over “creative differences”), they were both impacted when Craig sustained an ankle injury in May while filming in Jamaica and had to undergo surgery. “Daniel is fierce and wonderful, and I’m sure if his eyeball was falling out he’d still be at work giving his best and giving the best shots ever,” says Lynch, who continued filming while Craig recovered. De Armas’ schedule was shuffled, so she left for three months and returned in October to film her scenes.
Along with London’s Pinewood, where the Cuba scenes were shot on a set, the cast filmed in Scotland, Italy, Norway and Jamaica, the latter of which was especially significant for Lynch, whose parents emigrated when they were teens. “There’s a heat and spice that comes with Jamaica that no matter what you’re shooting, whether it’s a drama or an action movie, you can’t help but feel that,” she says.
Being a part of one of the biggest franchises in movie history — and one of the most secretive — brought its own challenges. Rumors leak, both true and not (for example, de Armas says reports of an intimacy coach being hired for her scenes with Craig are false). Everything the actresses say about the film makes headlines — and they can’t say much. In the lobby of the Charlotte Street Hotel, de Armas begins to talk about Paloma, then gets nervous. “I don’t know how much I can tell you,” she says. Five months out, only their character names have been officially confirmed, though when pressed, both actresses do divulge a little more than previously known.
“[Paloma] is a character that is very irresponsible,” says de Armas. “She’s got this bubbliness of someone who is excited to be on a mission, but she plays with this ambiguity — you don’t really know if she’s like a really trained, prepared partner for Bond.” Sure, de Armas is running around in a gorgeous gown with sky-high heels (“No one can train you or prepare you for that,” she says), but she adds that “brains and looks are equal this time. She’s very smart. She helps Bond navigate through certain things that he wouldn’t be able to do alone.”
So far, the biggest leak about No Time to Die is that Lynch’s character begins the film having inherited the “007” designation from Bond, who has retired. (Lynch won’t confirm the rumor, but sources close to the film tell THR that it’s accurate.)
When the rumor leaked, the trolls on Twitter went crazy, with many people expressing fervent anger that a black woman was being named 007. Lynch says she’s been taking it in stride. “It doesn’t dishearten me. It makes me feel quite sad for some people because their opinions, they’re not even from a mean place — they’re actually from a sad place,” she says. “It’s not about me. People are reacting to an idea, which has nothing to do with my life.”
She said every once in a while, she has messaged a hater back, usually saying something very nice. “Then they’ve been like, ‘Oh my gosh, thank you so much!’ But it’s an interesting test because it reminds them that they definitely wouldn’t say that to someone’s face,” she says, though she adds that she doesn’t plan on interacting with trolls anymore.
It’s not only Lynch and de Armas who have a lot riding on No Time to Die, but also studio MGM, which for the first time will distribute the film via its United Artists Releasing banner co-owned with Annapurna (Universal is handling international). “Lashana and Ana both have that magical combination of a remarkable acting range matched with undeniable charisma,” says Jonathan Glickman, MGM’s Motion Picture Group president, noting that the team behind Bond is “committed to continuing to bring on emerging talents that allow the films to expand their relevance.”
In the meantime, both actresses will remain busy until they take off on the global promotional tour ahead of the film’s release. In the new year, Lynch will shoot FX’s new series Y, based on the comic book series Y: The Last Man, set in a postapocalyptic world where women rule after a cataclysmic event leaves just one man alive. “Every female character has agency and is equipped to take over the world, which is a nice reflection of where the world — and our industry in particular — is going right now,” she says.
De Armas’ Marilyn Monroe biopic Blonde, from Plan B and Netflix, is awaiting a release date. “It’s not what I think people think or have seen before about Marilyn,” she says. “It’s a very deep, raw, dark side of the same story we think we know — behind the smiles and the glamour.” She’s going straight from the Bond set to New Orleans to shoot New Regency’s erotic thriller Deep Water with Ben Affleck. She says, with a wry smile, “So maybe I’ll sleep next year, someday.”
This story first appeared in the Nov. 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.