Five things you should know about newcomer Kelly Marie Tran who plays the gung-ho Resistance mechanic Rose Tico in The Last Jedi — and the first Asian actress to play a major Star Wars character (you’re major when you’re featured in the ads!).
1. Her audition to play Rose Tico lasted five months.
“The first one was a cold read, which meant it was so secretive that I didn’t have the information beforehand to prepare for anything,” recalls Tran, who was recently in Singapore on a promo trip. Every callback entailed a different challenge, but it was the fourth tryout that proved to be most terrifying: A surprise chemistry read with John Boyega, who plays stormtrooper-turned-Resistance fighter Finn. “They had flown him down [to LA] and didn’t tell any of us,” says the bubbly 28-year-old San Diego native, who’s previously appeared in web comedies and late-night TV sketches. She reportedly beat out Gina Rodriguez, Tatiana Maslany and Olivia Cooke for the part.
2. She read up on the Vietnam War.
Besides “nerding out” on all things Star Wars (“A New Hope is my favourite”) and engineering, Tran also studied the Vietnam War. “Because my parents have such a specific relationship with that war that it’s our blood,” says Tran, whose family migrated to the US after the war in the late ’70s. “Rose Tico also has a specific relationship with the war [with the First Order], and I wanted to make sure that I felt [real] in those scenes.” Does Tran speak Vietnamese? “I can speak conversational Vietnamese [but] my parents told me that I speak the equivalent of Street Viet,” she tells us, laughing.
3. Her first day on The Last Jedi set was surreal.
“The first thing I realised was that there were entire departments of people working on this film before the actors came on set. And so when the actors got there, everything felt real. To see [John Boyega and Oscar Isaac], walking by in costume and their hair and make-up done, R2-D2, and C-3PO — he gave me a hug! — it was very weird! I remember how I felt that first day. It was this out-of-body experience, and it still is. You know when your senses are just so heightened that you just want to be present for the entire experience. It’s almost like you’re a deer being chased by a wolf. I felt like I was about to play the Super Bowl.”
4. She was star-struck by Carrie Fisher.
Tran can’t confirm or deny that she shared a scene with the late actress, but would only reveal that she did meet and spend some time with her. “She has no definition,” says Tran. “She is someone who was shamelessly and openly herself. That sounds easy, but it’s really hard when you’re in front of millions of people, and she was unapologetic about it. That’s something I completely look up to and strive for.” Luke Skywalker himself Mark Hamill is swell, too. “When you meet him, it’s just like meeting a friend,” Tran quips. “It’s just great to be a part of something that he’s also a part of.”
5. She’s proud to be an Asian in a galaxy far, far away.
While it’s an honour and a responsibility to represent Asians in the franchise, Tran hopes the takeaway homily from playing Rose is “the idea that even if you’re born into a situation where you’re not a princess, in a position of privilege, a star pilot or someone with magical powers, you can still make a difference. You’re still important in whatever it is you believe in. If you believe in it, and you work towards it, you can really do amazing things. I remember growing up and feeling like I hadn’t seen anyone that looked like me [on screen], and now I’m like, ‘I can’t believe I am in this.’”