Just as The Force Awakens launched Daisy Ridley into the stratosphere, The Last Jedi will be introducing viewers to an instantly likeable actor who should be huge in a matter of weeks. Born to Vietnamese parents but California-raised, 28-year-old Kelly Marie Tran can only tell us that she plays a Resistance fighter named Rose Tico, and the character is some kind of space mechanic. But her enthusiasm on the cusp of fame speaks volumes.
Are you remembering to breathe?
[Laughs] I just took my first breath of the day right now. No – I’m good. I’m truly trying to be present and enjoy every moment, because I know it’s going to be over sooner than I think.
How did you come into contact with this whole thing?
At the time, I was working a day job but I had an agent. I had probably been pursuing acting for seven, maybe eight years. And this notification came to me, just like any other audition, through email. I remember reading it and being, like, [disbelievingly] “Okay”.
Like someone was scamming you.
Yeah. It’s was like: What is this, first of all? Second of all, there’s no way I’m getting this. There’s no way that they would put someone like me into a movie like that. And that, ironically enough, was the thought that helped me get the part.
You tapped into the crazy confidence of the doomed.
Seriously. I would have bet my life on not getting this. And I was so confident in that, that it gave me this wonderful freedom. I think that really helped.
Your being Asian-American feels like a big deal. The Star Wars universe has always featured different species, but to have it better reflect our own is gratifying. Do you feel the weight of that?
[Laughs, groans] I’ve been carrying it a while now. Yeah, I definitely think about that. I feel like it’s an honour and a responsibility at the same time. Star Wars, it’s so much bigger than any single person involved, so to feel like you want to do that justice, and then to also feel like you want to do justice to that little girl inside me that never saw anyone who looked like her, that person who’s starving for representation – it’s a lot.
How has it changed your life?
What’s crazy is that I never get recognised, outside these events. I go to the shops or the bank and no-one ever stops me. I even bought my own toy, and told the cashier that it was me. They didn’t believe me.
Enjoy it while it lasts!
That’s what everyone keeps saying. I feel like I might be able to skate by. I think my hair’s so different to this character. I might be able to have sort of a Hannah Montana lifestyle, maybe forever. I’ll let you know.
Are your years of auditions over?
I don’t know if that’s true. I want to work with amazing filmmakers and tell important stories, and if I have to audition to do that, I will.
Admit it, you play with that toy of yourself.
[Laughs] I actually have it right here [pretends to reach for it under her chair]. I actually haven’t taken it out of the box – I know! I’m weird about it. You know what I did do? I built the LEGO set that had my character and John Boyega’s. That was really weird. And cool.