When childhood friends Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna starred in the wild Mexican drama Y tu mamá también in 2002, they spent a year traveling the world, catching the attention of Hollywood and dreaming of the future. “We always fantasized about what was next,” Luna, now 43, said in a Zoom interview from her home in Madrid. “We hoped to own a football team one day. That didn’t happen. But we managed to achieve everything else.”
The plans included founding their own production company (they co-founded Canana Films in 2004, then La Corrientes del Golfo in 2018), as well as a film festival (the Ambulante traveling documentary film festival). However, these had nothing to do with “Star Wars” or superhero movies.
But with Luna starring in Disney+’s Star Wars spin-off Andor the same year García Bernal made his MCU debut in Disney+’s mid-length Werewolf in the Night, their meandering journey through popular culture with some of the most unusual blockbuster ventures has reached a turning point. Both projects are complex swings with large-scale properties only viable in the streaming era — and allow two of the most famous Latino actors working today to sneak into Disney’s biggest endeavors.
“I grew up in theater in a very loud community where everything they did for TV was a disaster and sold out,” Luna said. “You had to lose your integrity to do big commercial projects. I grew up with what I like as an audience — the tone of the acting, the kind of stories, the darkness, the political aspects — everything that’s the opposite of popular.”
He shrugged. With “Andor,” a show that explores the radicalization of the future leader of the Rebel Alliance, he is at the center of the first serious attempt to make a “Star Wars” for adults. “I’m not messing around here,” he said. “Thank you to this show for proving me wrong at this moment in my life.”
García Bernal made a similar point when he spoke to IndieWire at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year about moving into blockbuster territory. In “Werewolf by Night,” he plays the titular man-beast, Jack Russell, in an ambitious black-and-white homage to classic monster movies that would have been unthinkable in a blockbuster context a few years ago. “Our experience is ‘I’ll show you mine if you show yours,'” he said. “We don’t have to be exiles. We can live in Mexico, do these projects and still come back to Mexico.
After their work on “Andor” and “Night of the Werewolf,” the busy pair managed to reunite in their homeland last fall to film the Spanish-language Hulu series “La Máquina,” in which García Bernal plays an aging boxer. And Luna plays his manager. In fact, they coached each other’s career choices for years. “I have a good friend who shares this kind of journey, an experience of what comes with this great opportunity to do what you want, but also a lot of loneliness and solitude and reinvention. García Bernal said. “We feel less alone.”
Of course, Luna took the first ambitious step into franchise territory when he first played Resistance fighter Cassian Andor in the 2016 “Star Wars” standalone “Rogue One,” which builds on the original 1977 “Star Wars : Episode IV – A New” movie. Hope,” showing how the Rebels smuggled out the Death Star plans. At the time, he was attracted to the possibility of portraying the first Latino hero of the “Star Wars” universe, but it did not tie him down for long. “From the beginning, they thought the film had a very definite ending,” he said, noting the character’s martyrdom at the end of the film. But it didn’t take much coaxing from showrunner Tony Gilroy, who directed most of Rogue One after original director Gareth Edwards quit over creative differences, to take on Luna’s cause for the prequel series.
“These characters can never be made into a movie,” Luna said, referring to Cassian’s origins as a lower-class smuggler well outside of the lightsaber show scene. “They are never the center of it. This is the most modern movie about “Star Wars” possible. The accents are a mix, the people are refugees, you don’t get to choose their circumstances.” Cassian begins “Andor” ambivalent about the Empire, but as he grows to understand its harmful effects on his community, he becomes radicalized. “The show tries to explain how a revolution comes out of nowhere,” Luna said. “You have to understand what oppression is. That’s the point of the show.”
Similarly, García Bernal said the Latin American cultural site Remezcla that the “night werewolf” attracted him in part because of the character’s similarity to Latin American folklore. “There is no part of our imagination, no part of mythology, that we do not feel close to us,” he said. “That’s why I feel it’s natural.”
But the timeline is another story. García Bernal has been tight-lipped about playing Jack Russell in future MCU installments. (Regardless, it won’t be in the running for an Emmy this season, unlike “Andor”: As a 50-minute special, “Werwowolf by Night” falls under the 75-minute requirement for TV movies and has yet to be submitted in the Other categories.) However, Luna he knows for a fact that the next season of “Andor” (which still has two months left to shoot in London) will be his last.
While the first season covered one year in the character’s life, the next season covers the four leading up to the start of “Rogue One.” The breakdown was a relief for Luna after the first season lasted two and a half years. “Four more seasons would have been another 10 years,” he said. “I would have been 52 years old. My son is graduating from university. That would have been impossible.” Instead, in part because of looming production costs and Disney’s uncertain long-term “Star Wars” plans, Gilroy planned a second season in which each four episodes would cover one year. “It’s a very interesting narrative device,” Luna said. “Each block has a beginning and an end, and then a time jump. This means that we can approach them as we approach movies.”
And what movies: The depth of the Rebel struggle in “Andor” is a rare effort to turn a vast intellectual property toward a polemical cause. “This is an anti-fascist show,” Gilroy said at a recent FYC event. “The show is about oppression and imperialism and the destruction of community and free will.” However, it also presents the possibility of a fight against these forces, as Cassian takes a growing interest in the efforts of Stellan Skarsgard’s Rebel Alliance leader, Luthen Rael. “This project was a really good way to talk about what’s important to me without having to pause my life and do something else,” Luna said. “That’s what this job is about.”
Luna’s previous forays into projects dealing with underclass rebellion, including the 2014 biopic he directed, “Cesar Chavez,” the story of a burgeoning rebel not unlike Cassian’s own situation. “Every time we’re faced with a problem, we have to think about those who don’t have the privilege of witnessing the problem,” Luna said. “That’s what makes these characters interesting, nothing else but that.” He was particularly pleased to depict Cassian’s experience in an Imperial prison, where he is forced to participate in the development of the Empire’s weapons. “It’s a fascinating commentary on what this consumer world has done,” he said. “Prison is a place where you are clean, healthy, fed and very active because you are producing for a market that needs to be done. I mean, it’s not just a good idea about prison. No, man, prisons are factories! The whole time I kept saying “Holy God!”
Still, he was thrilled to be back on set with García Bernal before the “Andor” shooting schedule picked up again. “I didn’t know exactly what it was going to be like until I lived it,” Luna said. “It’s so good to be able to get back to the basics and find the energy — the chemistry, the humor. It doesn’t matter where you go because you can come back to this. It makes me realize that I belong here. So I can go out and experience this other shit, because it’s always going to be there.”