June 7, 2024

adria arjona, hit man, andor, true detective, hollywood authentic, greg williams
adria arjona, hit man, andor, true detective, hollywood authentic, cover, greg williams

Photographs, interview and video by GREG WILLIAMS

When I arrive at Adria Arjona’s Hollywood Hills home, she’s prepping for her goddaughter’s birthday party in her pyjamas. She landed in Los Angeles the night before, and decided to undertake some DIY on her first owned home. ‘Get ready for my outfits, Greg,’ she laughs as she offers me some birthday party chocolate-covered strawberries. ‘There’s no Versace, no Armani, no Saint Laurent. It’s Carhartt and dirty T-shirts!’

The Spanish-style house isn’t just a place to rest her head, it’s a physical representation of the actor’s success – an ambition fulfilled. ‘I think that you get to define what the Hollywood dream is for yourself, and I believe in mine. I am very much living my dream – just being able to do what I love, to tell stories for a living, to be an artist, and to get paid for it.’

Arjona has lived at her house for six years and revamped the property from a place she describes as initially looking ‘like a weird porn video was filmed in the 80s here’. Her roof recently leaked and rather than get contractors out, she climbed up to her eaves herself to fix it. Today, she needs to patch up another rogue spot and has invited me along to help with the home improvements. It’s a change from our usual set-up; ‘I love that every time that you’ve shot me, it’s always been really glamorous and elegant… I’m always in a really nice dress and a full face of makeup when I see you. But there is a different side of me that I don’t think a lot of people know, which is: I’m a little more of a tomboy, and I am a fixer. It’s really empowering to know that I can fix something, and I don’t need anybody else to come and do it. I find beauty in things that are kind of broken. I think that kind of relates to my job as well. I find broken characters really beautiful, but I don’t try to fix them.’

adria arjona, hit man, andor, true detective, hollywood authentic, greg williams

Had I not been an actor, maybe I would have been a contractor. I just like the idea of having an empty canvas – an idea in your head – and then gathering a group of people and bringing a vision to life

In her latest role as Madison, an abused wife who hires Glen Powell’s contract killer to off her hubby in Richard Linklater’s comedy, Hit Man, Arjona certainly plays a character struggling to repair herself. It doesn’t help that Powell’s character is a police informant and not a murderer – or that sparks fly between the duo. ‘The movie is really sexy, and Madison is really comfortable with her own sexuality, and kind of uses it to her own advantage,’ Arjona nods. ‘Had I not been an actor, maybe I would have been a contractor. I just like the idea of having an empty canvas – an idea in your head – and then gathering a group of people and bringing a vision to life. It’s very similar to filmmaking, in a way.’

Rocking chunky boots that her character wears in Star Wars series Andor and a look she terms ‘contractor chic’, Arjona climbs on a cooler box, onto her barbeque, along a precarious wall and jumps onto the roof, inviting me to follow. We make our way across the sloping expanse to the leaking tiles – it reminds me of the rooftop scene in Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood. Arjona is already checking tiles to see if they’re watertight, the city sprawling below us and the hills rising behind. 

adria arjona, hit man, andor, true detective, hollywood authentic, greg williams
adria arjona, hit man, andor, true detective, hollywood authentic, greg williams

Having trained at the Lee Strasberg Institute in New York, Arjona started her acting career on the East Coast, juggling waitressing and working kids’ birthday parties (‘I got fired when they realised that I wasn’t really that good at face painting!’) in between auditions. The discipline of the Strasberg school is something she feels helped build resilience. ‘It almost felt like therapy, in a way. I went there to discover a lot about myself, and heal a lot about myself, and learn about the craft.’

Her big break came with a role on season two of True Detective, which meant a move to LA in 2015. ‘I first moved here to an apartment in West Hollywood, and I always saw the hills as this big dream of mine. I was like, “One day I will live there.” The fact that I’m already living here and I’m 31, it’s kind of epic for me. I don’t take it lightly, and I don’t take it for granted. That’s why I take care of it.’

Self-taught via YouTube tutorials, Arjona has tiled her own bathroom and incorporated friends’ work in the detail (a friend’s ceramicist boyfriend contributed features), plastered her living room walls and fixed her air-conditioning unit. ‘I’m getting my hands a little bit dirtier than in filmmaking. It’s making things – when I was little, I loved arts and crafting. I think as I’ve gotten older, and as I own my own house, I come home from four months of being away and I see it completely different. I’m like, “Ooh, now I want to do this with it.”’

The daughter of musician Ricardo Arjona and Leslie, a beauty queen, Adria was born in Puerto Rico and brought up in Mexico City until she was 12 – a place she considers a big part of her heritage (‘You can hear it when I speak Spanish, right? There’s a twang. I have a little bit of a Mexican accent’). They moved to Miami when the family felt unsafe due to her father’s growing fame, but Arjona ‘ran away from that city quick’, north to New York. ‘I was 17 when I moved to New York. I got a modelling job, I think it was a cleaning commercial, that never came out. But it paid me so good, and it really allowed me to move to New York, and kind of run away, and not really ask for permission.’

She has just completed work on Andor season two, returning as intergalactic mechanic Bix Caleen, and on Los Frikis, the true story of Cuban teens infecting themselves with HIV to live in a government treatment facility. ‘It’s probably one of the most special films I’ve ever, and probably will ever, be a part of,’ she says as she kneels over the leaking roof and begins sealing the tiles with a sticky, black sealant. Working with six young non-professional Cuban actors in the Dominican Republic, the actor saw the world differently having viewed it through their eyes. ‘You know, they had never seen a full chicken before. They had never chewed gum before. We went to a supermarket, and one of them walked out and just started crying. I asked him what was wrong. And he said, “Now I can’t unsee it.” He had never seen a full supermarket. We were in the chocolate aisle, and he goes, “Why are there so many chocolates?” It was really humbling to see life, and live, through them.’

adria arjona, hit man, andor, true detective, hollywood authentic, greg williams

With the roof sorted, we climb back down to the ground to head off to Home Depot for supplies in the actor’s no-nonsense Toyota pickup. Rather than a sports car or vintage runaround, this is Arjona’s ‘dream car’ and she also has the truck bed camper so she can camp out in the back. ‘I got it this year, and it gives you so much power on the road. A pickup is so cool. I learned how to drive in Mexico City. I feel like if you can drive in Mexico City, you can drive just about anywhere in the world.’

As she pilots the pickup down the ribboning canyon road to the city grid where the Hollywood sign comes into view, she recalls how she landed the role of Madison in Hit Man – a potentially game-changing gig given the rave reviews for the film out of the Venice Film Festival, where it premiered last year. Writer-director Richard Linklaker was sold on her as his femme fatale with a twist, but skipped a traditional chemistry read with his star and co-writer, Glen Powell. Instead he simply sent his potential co-stars out for a drink.

‘We went to a restaurant, and it was supposed to just be an hour meeting. We talked about the character and the story for maybe 10 minutes out of the five hours we were there,’ she laughs. ‘We weren’t the most responsible. We just got to know each other. We were both doing Dry January, and that also lasted 10 minutes! We both looked at each other, and I was like, “I kind of like you.” He was like, “I kind of like you, too. Do you want a shot?” We just started drinking mezcal… I just felt so comfortable and so safe. We talked about our lives. We talked about relationships… We sent a picture to Rick of us together after five hours, quite tipsy, and we were like, “We just left the meeting.” I think after that, we just knew that he was going to be in my life forever, and that I was going to be in his forever. Whether he wants it or not, I think Glen’s kind of stuck with me now!’

We stop off for construction supplies, Arjona zooming down the aisles of Home Depot, filling her trolley and squealing with excitement as we pass the power drills. We head to a friend’s nearby art gallery where the walls are in need of some love. ‘It’s this beautiful technique – to put it on the walls,’ Arjona enthuses about plastering, unloading her equipment from her truck’s cargo bed. ‘It’s kind of alive, it gives a zen vibe, and it’s minimalist and beautiful. But it’s pretty hard to do… The reason I go there is because I can fuck up her walls, and not mine!’

As the daughter of a beauty queen, this sort of downtime activity wasn’t necessarily Arjona’s family’s dream for her. ‘I think my whole family, grandmother included, really wanted me to be Miss Puerto Rico one day, and they had this big dream of me going to Miss Universe. I’m quite shy in front of the camera, I have to hide behind something – whether it’s an outfit; whether it’s a hair and makeup look; whether it’s a character. I need to feel like I’m hiding behind something. It’s a little too vulnerable to just be pretty, or just to be myself, I think. I get too self-conscious. I enjoy the fact that I’m saying words that aren’t mine, and wearing an outfit that doesn’t belong to me, and walking in someone else’s shoes. Red carpets, for me, are probably the scariest thing in the world.’

She gets stuck into mixing the plaster in a bucket, her hands covered, her boots splattered. ‘As a kid, my parents thought I was deaf. They took me to all of these doctors to find out if I had an actual hearing problem. And what they found out was that I was just so in my head, and I would create all these worlds in my head. I just really lived in my imagination. I wasn’t deaf; I was just ignoring the shit out of everybody!’

adria arjona, hit man, andor, true detective, hollywood authentic, greg williams

But that rich interior life led to an aptitude for acting. ‘There weren’t that many opportunities for Latin American actresses, even when I started. I see this younger generation, and I see more new faces, more Latin talent. I think we have a lot of work to do, but it’s really exciting that this new generation won’t have it as hard as my generation did. I didn’t have many people to look up to, to say, “I want that career.” It was definitely a hard start, because I saw myself as something, and no one else seemed to have the same vision that I did. They just saw me as this tough, Latin woman who was destined to be a cop, or the tough roles, in movies. And I wasn’t really interested in that. I wanted to play complex women, and there kind of was no space for that when I first started. I had to veer off to other things, and play in different genres in order for me to get those roles like in Good Omens. Or The Belko Experiment. Or Irma Vep. I think genre kind of saved my career, and saved me as an actress. It allowed me to have fun, and be weird, and to play different characters.’

Now she dreams of playing real-life character Lolita Lebrón, a Puerto Rican nationalist who was jailed in 1954 for attacking the US Capitol, and Arjona is in the process of developing her story for the screen. ‘She did a lot for our island, and fought for our people. She’s someone who I admire a lot, and I would love to play her.’

With the wall plastered, we head back home to the birthday party and a house full of relatives. Arjona’s mother is delighted to see her daughter after she’s spent time away working, describing her as ‘the most selfless, loving, kind, hard-working, tenacious, smart, bright, amazing human being I know.’ She kisses her and adds, ‘made in Puerto Rico!’

‘And this is what we call the Puerto Rican flag!’ laughs Arjona, slapping her backside. Both women repeat the movement in sync and giggle. ‘The Puerto Rican flag!’

Photographs, interview and video by GREG WILLIAMS
Adria Arjona stars in the Netflix movie Hit Man, out 7 June

hollywood authentic, greg williams, hollywood authentic magazine

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Words by JANE CROWTHER British filmmaker Andrea Arnold is beloved by the Cannes Film Festival. She has won the Jury prize three times for her movies