This Friday marks the arrival of the action-comedy Stuber, which follows a hard-nosed, temporarily blind detective (Dave Bautista) and a meek Uber driver (Kumail Nanjiani) who become accidental allies in a quest to stop a vicious drug kingpin in Los Angeles. At the center of the story is the detective's relationship with his daughter, played by Natalie Morales, which has languished while he was busy chasing bad guys -- a dynamic the 34-year-old actress delves into with gusto. ET recently spoke with Morales about joining the project, bucking racial stereotypes and much more.
In Stuber, the 34-year-old comedian plays Nicole, a sculpture artist on the rise who is the only ray of sunshine in her dear old dad's life. Morales explained that right off the bat, she realized Bautista, who's best known as the lovable otherworldly brute Drax in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, was more than game to help her capture their characters’ fraught father-daughter relationship.
"Dave’s a really talented actor. He works really, really hard," she shared over the phone. "He wants to do the absolute best at every single thing he does and it totally shows, so he was really easy to play off of and really generous to work with. We hit it off pretty quickly and were able to jump into that relationship fairly easily, which was really special."
Morales also discussed the expansively diverse cast of Stuber, which includes herself, a Cuban American, Nanjiani, who’s a Pakistani American, Bautista, a Filipino-Greek American, and Indonesian action star Iko Uwais. She revealed that, although Nanjiani plays Stu, the film’s passive Uber driver who falls headfirst into danger, the character was never written for any particular race or nationality.
"I truly, honestly can say that Kumail didn’t get the part because he’s Pakistani," she said. "He got the part because he’s a brilliant, great actor who’s really funny."
"I think that the casting just happened to come together this way and it is a testament, not only to the casting that Fox did, the idea that, like, when people say 'any ethnicity' and they mean it. It can actually work," she added.
Morales herself also celebrated getting the opportunity to tackle a Latina character in an action film who is more three-dimensional than a smoldering femme fatale.
"Not only is it not super typical for a female lead in a movie to be a Latina, but if it is, it’s like the sexy seductress in an action movie, which is fine, that exists," she stated. "The sultry woman, you know, but there are various types of Latina women, and people in general, and I’m happy that the dorky, stubborn, funny Latina is represented. That’s exciting for me and also a new thing. It’s really cool."
Morales also briefly touched upon another upcoming film where race has taken center stage in the casting process – The Little Mermaid, admitting she is baffled by anyone's indignation over the casting of 19-year-old Halle Bailey as Ariel.
"The Little Mermaid is A) a mermaid and B) a cartoon. A literal drawing," she said, adding, "C) Is not based on a real person. So any kind of uproar is odd."
Throughout Stuber, L.A. itself is a character in the film, which Bautista and Nanjiani’s characters explore in the latter's electric car, leading to numerous shootouts and hilarious exchanges. However, the film was largely produced in Atlanta, Georgia. Morales explained that Tripper Clancy, the movie’s screenwriter, wrote it specifically as an L.A. film, challenging the filmmakers with recreating the City of Angels in the South.
"It is a love letter to L.A. and I think Tripper, the writer, wrote it that way," she said. "And they did map out how long it would take to get from this part of town to this part of town, how many electric car miles that would take, and when the car would actually die. They did do a lot of research on that, which I thought was really cool."
"I think the clear tell that’s it not in L.A. is how curly my hair is," she later joked. "Filming in Atlanta really did a number on my hair. There were some scenes where I look like a poodle…it wouldn’t happen in L.A."
Stuber arrives in theaters on Friday.
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