Thank you to Disney and Lucasfilm for hosting me during the #TheLastJediEvent.
I feel like Kelly Marie Tran is the embodiment of living your best life. She’s still processing the fact that she’s staring in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. She’s so ridiculously excited that you can’t help but get excited for her. I won’t see the movie until Monday, but I’m pretty sure she’s going to be one of my favorites. Rose Tico and Porgs forever.
So how is she feeling?
I am feeling a lot of emotions. Like, from… I feel like I’m feeling every emotion on the spectrum. But it’s good. I’m just trying to take in every moment, and really be present here.
What was her audition process like?
The first audition I had was back in 2015. And at this point, I had been pursuing acting for about seven years. And up to then, I… For one reason or another, I couldn’t get… I mean, it took me years to just get a commercial agent, much less a theatrical agent. And then it took me years to begin auditioning for commercials. And then into TV. I never could get into the room for movies. This is probably one of the two or three movie auditions I ever was allowed to go to. So that first audition came in, and I remember thinking, like, okay. Like… This is crazy. There’s no way I’m gonna get this. And so that feeling kind of traveled with me from the beginning to the very end. And it served me, because I was so sure in my mind, and in my heart, that I wasn’t going to get it, that I was free to be present and have fun. There was none of this, like, oh my god, I’m gonna get this. There was none of that. It was, like, there’s no way in hell I’m gonna get this. I’m just gonna have fun with the people who are here. I want to have fun with John, at this test. I want to have fun with Rian, in taking his direction. I think that that served me in the end. It was a five month audition process. And it included a surprise chemistry [test] with John Boyega. And then the final test was in London in full hair and makeup. There was this set that they had built. It felt like we were shooting the movie. And the whole time, and still now, I’m just still trying to be present in all of it.
How did she find out she was cast?
I was still working my day job. I was working at an office. I was an assistant. And… I got this email from my agent, or a call from my agent saying that Rian wanted to meet with me before the Thanksgiving break. This is November of 2015. So I remember saying I had to go to lunch. And driving over to this meeting, and just feeling how almost I feel now. I just have the goosebumps, and I was, like, oh, either he’s gonna be, like, you have it, or it’s gonna be, like, look, nice try kid. Just wanted to say, good job, which was possible! And so… I was so nervous going to that meeting, and I remember sitting in the waiting room and picking up the book that was on the table and being, like, I’m gonna casually read this book. I’m so, like, so casual. And then Rian got there, and he was, like, “Oh, Kelly. Like, come on up.” And we go into this room. And at first, there’s a little small talk. How are been? What have you been up to? Dadadadada. And then he says, “I want to offer you this role.” And I had imagined this moment. I’m gonna cry right now. I had imagined this moment for so long. And… Oh my god! This is crazy. I’m sorry. I had imagined this moment for so long, and I thought that I would be so ecstatic, and I’d be jumping up and down. And when it happened, I was so scared. I just was silent for a full minute. I was just staring at the floor, like, oh my god! I was treading water for so long, I never thought I would get to the end of the pond. Or the lake. Whatever it’s… I don’t know, I made that up just now. I never thought that I would actually get there. And so I never thought, oh, this is what I’m gonna do when I get there. And so yeah, there were definitely moments of just being so horrified. And then when I finally got to set and I got to London, I mean, after four months of not being able to tell anyone… And just lying for so long to my parents and my family, I had to tell them I was living in Canada. I was working on this small movie that no one had ever heard of. And… And finally when we were there, and we were just on set, it felt like home. It felt like I was in someone’s backyard making a small movie with my friends, which says a lot more about everyone else involved than about me. Everyone was so welcoming, and en. And it… I don’t know that as an actor you could have a more fulfilling experience than that. Just the ability to collaborate, and really work with people.
What did Star Wars mean to her growing up?
That is a funny question because I think… And I’ve heard Daisy say this, too- Star Wars is such a family. It’s such a family-oriented thing. And so a lot of parents had seen the original movies. You know, passed on to their kids, and dadadadada. My parents, when the first movies came out, were still in a different country. My parents are both Vietnamese refugees. They aren’t from this world at all. They don’t work in entertainment. This is a very weird thing that I think I am having trouble understanding. But they’re having a real hard time understanding. So growing up I didn’t watch Star Wars. I was aware of it. I never really saw it. And I think that that gave me this kind of wonderful freedom. When I was auditioning for this movie I never thought to myself, oh, how can I make this more like something I had seen? How can I make this more like the characters that are so iconic to all these people? I had this gift of being able to look at that paper, and just be what I thought was honest. And what I thought Rian had written onto that paper. So obviously after you get it, you watch all these movies, and there’s nothing but just amazement for how- and especially those original films, you watch them now and they’re still incredible- and how innovative they were during the time, and the idea that they were so groundbreaking when they first came out. I do think that they continue to do that in this film, that in ways, this film will also be groundbreaking.
What does she hope for future Star Wars generations, who now have a strong female Asian role model to look up to?
I thought about that a lot. And it feels like such an honor, but also a lot of pressure. This idea that… I mean, I knew what it was like to grow up in a world where I never saw myself in anything. And I would like to hope that in some way this character is such an example of someone who doesn’t necessarily belong in this world. She works in maintenance. She works behind pipes all day. She’s not a star pilot. She doesn’t have magical powers. She’s not a princess. She’s someone who is just an every woman, essentially. And these people that you don’t necessarily see in these stories, but that are so crucial to the idea of the resistance. Without these people that are fixing the ships, Poe couldn’t go fight the First Order! So, of course, they’re important. But no one ever really sees them, or talks about them. They’re always just running around in the background. If this character could mean anything, I really hope that she portrays the idea that even if you are someone who’s kind of in the background, who’s not in the spotlight, who’s not a princess… you can still make a difference. You can still rise up to any challenge that comes to you.
Is her character envious of those in the forefront?
So she has an older sister named Paige who is in the forefront of the action. She’s a gunner, and she flys alongside Poe, who’s the hotshot pilot in the resistance. So I think that there was probably always a part of her that secretly wanted to be part of that. But I also think she’s really good at what she does. She’s so good at what she does. And I think that she knows [that]…. We live in this world where everyone wants whatever’s flashy. Everyone wants to be in the front. Everybody wants this, this, and that. And I think Rose is one of those people that really does understand that those people who are out there on the forefront of the action cannot be there without everyone else behind them, right? You’d be fighting the First Order and your ship would just fall apart. And this is, I think, a metaphor for real life… A lot of times actors get so much credit for something that so many other people are working on… Rian wrote it. All the people that created the sets, and the creatures, and the stunt team teaching us how to fight! Everyone who’s kind of out there in the forefront in this shiny place that everyone gets to see- there are hundreds of people behind them that put them there. So I love that Rose is kind of this metaphor for that, and I think she understands that.
What’s it like to have toys and merchandise from the film?
It’s bizarre. It’s really insane. I don’t know that I understand it at all. I feel like whenever I see something with my face on it, I’m just, like… That’s not me. It’s like a very out of body experience. And because this movie hasn’t come out yet, and because I think I’m just very normal looking, and I dress very normal in everyday life, I’ve never been recognized outside of being in association with the cast. If I’m at an event like this, obviously people are like, she must be this person because she’s with that person. But other than that, everything in my life is really normal. I run outside, and I go to the grocery store, and no one’s ever recognized me. So having merchandise, and things like that, it doesn’t register with me still. I don’t know that it ever will. I’ll have to let you know.
How has the role changed her?
I love this character. I think that she’s amazing. I think that she’s different. I think that… A lot of the things that she goes through in this movie, I relate to on a personal level. And I think that… I always knew what I wanted. I always believed in it. I always believed that If you work hard and you’re a good person, you will get where you want to go. I always believed that. But experiencing it is a whole different thing. And I think if you’re talking to me personally, spiritually, it’s really changed the way I look at the world. I really want people to know that if your parents are not in this world, if you have no connection to it, if it seems impossible, if you’re working four jobs to support it, you can’t pay off your student loan bill, if you’re worried about all that stuff and you still want to do this, and if you keep going, and you put your head down, you just ignore the parties, and ignore all the people that don’t believe in you, I just think it’s possible, and I always have. But now, I believe that even more so.
If she had a lightsaber in real life, what color would it be?
Orange. It’s my favorite color.
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In Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the Skywalker saga continues as the heroes of The Force Awakens join the galactic legends in an epic adventure that unlocks age-old mysteries of the Force and shocking revelations of the past. Star Wars: The Last Jedi is in theaters now.