“I never thought of leaving Cuba to begin with,” says Ana de Armas, from the lobby of her hotel in Midtown Manhattan. The Havana-born actress will make her Cannes Film Festival debut on Monday, ahead of a year that has her starring alongside some of Hollywood’s biggest names on locations all over the world. “I wouldn’t have done it if it hadn’t wanted to do more movies,” she continues of her move from the country. “Obviously, in Cuba, the situation, which includes the movie industry, it’s very difficult. I guess my curiosity was, I don’t know, bigger than that.”
Up first is boxing drama “Hands of Stone,” premiering Monday at the festival, which stars Robert De Niro, Édgar Ramírez, Usher and Ellen Barkin. She’ll follow that up with August’s “War Dogs” with Miles Teller and Jonah Hill, from the “Hangover” trilogy director Todd Phillips; after that will be seen in “Overdrive” with Scott Eastwood, and finally, the latest “Blade Runner” with Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling. Safe to say things are happening since leaving home almost 10 years ago.
De Armas, now 28, was raised in Havana, and acting was always what she pined for. “I don’t know, I just kind of always knew that that’s what I wanted to do,” she says. “When I was 13 I auditioned for the theater school, and I was there for four years. In the meantime I did my first three movies, all in Cuba.”
She set out for Madrid at 18, by herself, leaving Cuba for the first time. “My grandparents were from Spain, and I had a Spanish passport,” she says. “That was why I chose Spain, because it was the only way I could get out of Cuba.”
Never mind the fact that she didn’t know a soul in Spain. “I always say, ‘When you don’t know, you don’t fear,’ so it was kind of a blind adventure,” she says. “I even told my mom, ‘When I run out of money I’ll come back.’ I was saving euros from the movies – I had, like, 300 euros, which in Cuba is a lot, and I obviously didn’t know what that meant in Spain. And a week after I got to Spain, a casting director gave me the lead in a TV series that lasted three years.”
While in Spain, she auditioned for “Hands of Stone” and soon after, off she went to shoot in Panama. After wrapping, she moved yet again, this time to the acting Promised Land of Los Angeles. “I went to Panama for three months to shoot and afterward, I thought, ‘Maybe now is the right time to go,’” she says. “Spain was going through a crisis, and productions were in a difficult moment, and I thought, ‘you know, there are more opportunities in Los Angeles, right?’ So I just did it. You can always go back to the place where you were comfortable, the place where you’re from. You just need to try. And I guess I’m pretty flexible at adapting to new people, culture, languages — when I moved to L.A. two years ago I didn’t speak English at all.”
In the less than two years since de Armas moved to L.A., she’s learned English, gotten her driver’s license, and shot five English-speaking films.
In “Hands of Stone,” she plays Ramírez’s wife, Felicidad. “She is a very strong woman,” de Armas says. “Normally in other movies it’s ‘who do you play’ and when it’s, ‘I play the wife,’ you kind of picture that character as the woman who is behind the husband, in a second position, not adding too much to the story. But she is the one who carries everything. She is the one who wears the pants.”
She plays the girlfriend in “War Dogs,” this time to Teller, and is getting a bit of a taste of a narrative familiar to every seasoned actress in Hollywood. “I think women, we are very interesting. We have a lot to say and sometimes it’s frustrating how all the lead parts are for men,” she says. “I don’t mind playing someone’s girlfriend or wife, if I have something to say, if I bring something to the picture, if I can be strong and powerful and say smart things. If not, then it’s just boring.”
For de Armas, it seems boredom isn’t an option.