Ana de Armas: the Hollywood rise of the ‘new Sophia Loren’ that the pandemic briefly interrupted

The huge success of ‘No Time to Die’ has marked a post-Covid return to normality for the movie industry and reignited the blossoming career of the Cuban-American actor

Ana de Armas No Time to Die
Ana de Armas at the world premiere of ‘No Time to Die.’Tristan Fewings (Getty Images for EON Productions)

The coronavirus pandemic put everyone’s lives on hold, but few perhaps in such a resounding way as that of Ana de Armas. Covid-19 lockdowns caught the Cuban-Spanish actor in the middle of her definitive launch toward the Hollywood A-list. She had been on the rise since 2019, when she was nominated for a Golden Globe for her role in comedy Knives Out, which was significant as she was the only nominee from a star-studded cast featuring Daniel Craig, Jaime Lee Curtis, Christopher Plummer and Toni Collette, among others. De Armas had nearly turned the part down because the description of her character in the script read: “Latina caregiver, pretty.” When Lee Curtis first met De Armas, she sent an email to Steven Spielberg suggesting he see her. “She is going to be like Sophia Loren,” she told Vanity Fair. “One of those rare crossover worldwide sensations.”

“I want it and I’m going to give it a try,” she told Spanish magazine Fotogramas in 2016. Fortunately, she had the drive to match her ambition. Even the films she didn’t appear in helped to burnish her growing reputation. She was cut from hit musical comedy Yesterday because in screen tests the audience wanted the star, Himesh Patel, her to end up with her and not the scripted love interest, Lily James.

Cary Fukunaga, the director of the latest James Bond movie No Time to Die - which has become the biggest-opening installment of the entire franchise in the United Kingdom – decided to create a character specifically for De Armas. And De Armas was quick to reveal that the person who had been asked to write the role was the only woman more fashionable than her in 2019, Fleabag creator and Killing Eve writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge. In the first post-#MeToo Bond, everybody was going to be watching Paloma, the CIA agent dishing out the one-liners in a Michael Lo Sordo dress. Everybody was going to be watching Ana de Armas.

Ana de Armas meets Prince Charles at the premiere of ‘No Time to Die.’
Ana de Armas meets Prince Charles at the premiere of ‘No Time to Die.’Tim P. Whitby (Getty Images for EON Productions)

The scene was set for De Armas to conquer the world. But then the world stopped turning. No Time to Die was the first major studio movie to have its release date pushed back, an early sign that Covid-19 wasn’t going to be “a virus like any old ‘flu,” but the cause of a global health and social crisis. When US cities began to lock down, newsstands still carried the issue of Vanity Fair with the actor on the cover and the tagline: “How Knives Out star Ana de Armas is conquering Hollywood.”

De Armas’ career did not suffer a crisis as a result, but it did go into hibernation. Blonde, a biopic of Marilyn Monroe based on the Joyce Carol Oates novel, is due for release in 2022. Meanwhile, Deep Water, an adaptation of the 1957 Patricia Highsmith novel with director Adrian Lyne (Fatal Attraction) at the helm after a two-decade hiatus, is slated for a January 2022 premiere having been pushed back from November 2020.

During the lull in the movie business though, De Armas’ personal life took a different turn. During the first few months of the pandemic, the internet was awash with photographs of the actor walking her dog with Ben Affleck – with whom she had worked on Deep Water – hand-in-hand and sporting protective face masks (although Affleck had found a way to smoke cigarettes behind his). The social media high-point of the romance was a series of photographs showing Affleck’s children playing in the yard of his house with a life-size cardboard cut-out of De Armas.

A year later, more photographs emerged showing a man who looked very much like Casey Affleck (he would go on to deny it was him) throwing the cut-out into the trash. De Armas was still there, carefree and smiling, but now in the recycling container outside Affleck’s home (at a time when he on the verge of a reconciliation with his former girlfriend Jennifer Lopez). Affleck, like so many pandemic-weary people in the year 2020, had jumped the ship of the present for the calming waters of the past.

The good news for De Armas is that her career remains bright. The success of No Time to Die, released a week ago, officially restarted the movie business where it had been left in limbo a year and a half ago. This also means that “Operation Ana de Armas” has been reactivated. And the 33-year-old will be advancing on several fronts: she did not spend the lockdown as just Ben Affleck’s girlfriend. She has been named a global brand ambassador for Estée Lauder as well as acting as a spokesperson for Natural Diamond Council, which works to improve the integrity of the diamond industry, while also shooting The Gray Man, Netflix’s most expensive movie production to date. The Gray Man is directed by the Russo brothers (Avenger: Endgame) and stars two old acquaintances of De Armas’, Ryan Gosling, with whom she worked on Blade Runner 2049, and Chris Evans, who was part of the ensemble cast of Knives Out.

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