Star Wars newcomer Kelly Marie Tran has held the attention of fans since The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson casually dropped her name during Star Wars Celebration Europe in the summer of 2016. Now, a year and a half later, we fully understand what Johnson’s love for the character of Rose Tico, and Kelly Marie Tran herself, is all about.
Prior to Episode VIII’s release, Tran stopped by the ET studio to dish on being cast as Rose Tico, watching Star Wars for the first time and her take on Johnson helming an all-new trilogy.
“It’s been such an insane journey,” reflected Tran, who landed the role of Rose Tico in late November 2015, one month prior to the release of The Force Awakens.
“I was auditioning for [The Last Jedi] and waiting to hear back while all the marketing for The Force Awakens was coming out. I tried to get it out of my head, but it was everywhere. It was so insane,” said Tran, who used her lunch break at her day job to have an in-person meeting with Johnson, where he offered her the role of Rose Tico.
“God, I remember that day like it was yesterday. It's just so crazy,” Tran recalled. “I had imagined this moment so many times and I thought that I would be ecstatic, I thought that I'd be jumping up and down, but I was just shocked and quiet for maybe a full minute or two.”
Tran also reflected on her biggest “pinch me” moments so far, like seeing a fan dressed up as Rose Tico for the first time during a taping of Jimmy Kimmel Live! And, of course, starring alongside iconic actors like Laura Dern, Benicio Del Toro, Mark Hamill and the late Carrie Fisher.
“I think that Carrie is such an icon, not just as someone who played Princess Leia, but someone who was groundbreaking in that, she was OK with being honest, brutally so, unapologetically so,” Tran said. “It's scary to be yourself when a lot of people are watching and she was so fearless. I truly think she's going to be immortal for it.”
Given Tran’s excitement for the movie, one would naturally assume that she has been a lifelong fan of the franchise, but the truth is, Tran didn’t grow up with Star Wars at all.
“I think Star Wars is normally something that is passed down through generations of families and my parents were -- I mean, they're refugees from Vietnam -- so they were not in this country when Star Wars came out,” Tran shared. “I actually ended up not seeing these movies until I got cast.”
In fact, the first Star Wars movie Tran ever watched was The Force Awakens, while already knowing the outcome.
“I actually read The Last Jedi before The Force Awakens came out,” Tran said with a laugh. “It totally helped me though! The idea of this franchise that I already knew was such a big cultural thing, I was sort of given this freedom to be honest with that character and not have this pressure of making her something else that we had already seen in this universe.”
After reading The Last Jedi before watching The Force Awakens, she then went back to the original trilogy. Darth Vader’s iconic line, “No, I am your father” is arguably one of the biggest twists in movie history, and one Tran had no idea was coming on her first viewing of The Empire Strikes Back.
“I didn't know that was going to happen!” Tran exclaimed. “I knew people always said that as a joke, but I had no idea what the context was, and so when I watched it I was like, ‘Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god! That's where that comes from!’”
As for her experience working with Johnson on The Last Jedi, Tran couldn’t help but gush, insisting that he’s “the best human ever” and hopes “every actor gets to work with him.” While Johnson won’t be returning for Episode IX, Lucasfilm announced Johnson will helm an all-new Star Wars trilogy, outside the Skywalker saga.
“I think that Rian isn't afraid to do something that's different and I think that's really hard with something that has been established and something that people love so much. [The Last Jedi] really feels like it's a standalone film, if that makes any sense. There are great action sequences, there are great characters -- but every single character has an arc, every character [has] some sort of a mental, physical or emotional challenge that they're going through, and it's pretty incredible to kind of see what he's done with it,” Tran said. “I think that there's not a more perfect person to make something new in that universe and I can't wait to see that new trilogy.”
All right, if you’ve taken one glance at who conducted this interview, you’re probably waiting for the inevitable final question... Porgs?
“I'm totally pro-porg! I would not eat a porg. They're so cute, you can't eat them. They're friends!” said Tran, adding that she’s “working on” co-star John Boyega’s current anti-porg stance (ugh).
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is in theaters now.
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