Adria Arjona hopes I won’t mind meeting her family. She’s just returned to Los Angeles after filming Los Frikis in Santo Domingo, and her mom and brother have surprised her with a visit. We’d made plans to meet up at an outdoor café, but when we arrived to find it unexpectedly closed, Arjona was quick to invite me to her place, just a few minutes up the road.
It’s starting to get dark when we pull up to her serene, airy ranch house, where her family has settled in. Outside the café, I’d barely recognized the 29-year-old actress, who was masked and bundled up against an unusual L.A. cold snap in a cozy, chunky gray sweater; cropped, wide-leg Celine pants; and lug-soled Chelsea boots, her dark brown hair (often blown out in photos) curly and wild.
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Once we’re inside, introductions are made, red wine is poured, and Arjona and I step out to the patio to sit by the pool and talk. She loves this house, which she shares with her husband. She’s been away for a year and feels like she is finally back in her sanctuary. “When I’m home, I tend to just stay home. I go shopping in my closet, my drawers, like, ‘I [forgot] I had this!’ ”
I ask Arjona where she feels most at home, and she nods toward the sliding glass doors, behind which her mother is puttering around the glowing kitchen. “Wherever [she] is.” Arjona is the daughter of platinum-selling Guatemalan singer-songwriter Ricardo Arjona and Leslie Torres, a former model originally from Puerto Rico. Arjona grew up in Mexico, but would occasionally travel to see her father on tour. “There was definitely a certain circus energy, a circus style of living,” she says of her early years.
For a while, her parents thought she might be deaf, “just because I was in my own world, creating different characters and stuff,” she says. “The doctor was like, ‘I’m sorry to tell you, but your daughter is ignoring you.’ ” As a kid, Arjona wanted to be an ice skater, then a lawyer, then a teacher. “My dad was like, ‘You have a personality disorder. Or you’re an actress.’ ” When she was 12, her parents divorced, and she moved with her mom to Miami, where she lived until enrolling at the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute in New York at 18.
Genre-wise, Arjona’s short career has been incredibly diverse; she’s taken on action, comedy, and fantasy, which feels remarkable in itself, but especially so for a Latin American actress. Did she set out to defy expectations, or did it just happen? “I’ve been told, ‘You’re not Latina.’ Or ‘You’re too Latina.’ Or ‘You look a little Italian.’ Or I get compared to my colleagues. Or I’m being called by their names.” Eventually, she says, “I think there was an acceptance. ‘You need to tick a box? Okay, I’ll tick a box for you.’ I’ll make my career out of ticking boxes, and then at some point I’ll break free from that.”
It would seem she has. She’s played Dorothy Gale in the Emerald City series and Anathema Device in the Amazon adaptation of Terry Pratchett and Neal Gaiman’s book, Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch. She’s appeared in season two of HBO’s True Detective and opposite Jason Momoa in Netflix’s Sweet Girl.
She’s also shot campaigns for Tiffany & Co. and Armani. “The last five years, I’ve sort of been building up this momentum,” Arjona tells me. “But this year, specifically, has been really busy.” In April, Arjona stars as Martine Bancroft, fiancée to Jared Leto’s Dr. Michael Morbius, in Morbius, a Spider-Man spin-off. It’s her biggest role to date. Ahead of meeting Arjona, Morbius director Daniel Espinosa recalls a conversation with Ryan Reynolds, who had worked with the actress on 6 Underground. “He told me, ‘Daniel, she’s a movie star.’ He never says that about anyone,” Espinosa says. “Adria took the part from us. Nobody gave it to her. It was clear—the part was hers.”
Morbius was shot three years ago, but the timing of the release could not be better. “It feels like there’s been a progression,” she says, adding that working with Leto was an education in itself. “I almost felt like I was in acting school, watching him perform and prepare. His determination is definitely contagious.” Leto never broke character while filming; Arjona almost forgot it was him. “I met Jared in L.A., and then I worked with Dr. Morbius for three months, and then I came back to L.A. and saw Jared. I was like, ‘Hey man, how have you been? I heard you shot a movie!’ ”
Later this year, Arjona will appear in the Cuban American remake of Father of the Bride, with Andy Garcia and Gloria Estefan, and the Disney+ Star Wars series Andor, a prequel to Rogue One, starring Stellan Skarsgård and Diego Luna.
At the start of the pandemic in 2020, Arjona was in Paris for Fashion Week when people started coming in from Milan and testing positive for COVID-19. That’s when she got a call about traveling to London to do a screen test with Diego Luna for Andor. “I was freaking out,” she says, both about traveling and the opportunity. “Should I wear a mask? Should I not wear a mask? I was so scared that I wasn’t going to be let back into the country.” So she called her mom. “She just said, ‘Let the force be with you, my daughter,’ and hung up the phone. So I went straight to London.” She auditioned for showrunner Tony Gilroy and was cast on the spot.
Knowing she had a job lined up post- quarantine provided Arjona with some peace of mind during the first work pause she’d had in a long time. Mostly she read and wrote, but she also helped launch a fragrance—Armani’s My Way. The Zoom press conferences somehow felt more genuine to her than the usual junkets. “You could just be like, ‘I’m kind of having a shitty day,’ and it was just more real,” she says.
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Gearing up to shoot Andor after the time at home was one of the scariest experiences of her life. “I prepared so much. I kept reading and rereading the script to the point where I was like, ‘I need to stop.’ ” The UK was in total lockdown and it was the middle of winter, but she found the five-month shoot incredibly cozy. “I worked with really nice people—800 of the most talented people. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
Los Frikis, the indie film she just wrapped in Santo Domingo, is about a Cuban punk subculture in which kids intentionally infect themselves with HIV in order to live in an AIDS sanitarium. Arjona starred in and executive produced the film. Also coming up is HBO’s Irma Vep, a limited series adaptation of the 1996 film by Olivier Assayas starring Alicia Vikander. “It was a movie within a movie; now it’s a movie within a movie within a TV show,” Arjona says. One of the things that stood out to her on set was how much she got to interact with Vikander. After one five-page scene, she says, “Alicia and I sort of looked at each other, and we were like, ‘That was so much fun! Why don’t we get to do this more often?’ ”
Hair by Sylvia Wheeler for R+Co Bleu; makeup by Nina Park; manicure by Natalie Minerva; set design by Ali Gallagher at Jones Mgmt.
This article appears in the March 2022 issue of ELLE.