Paloma (Ana de Armas) in 'Cuba' in 'No Time to Die.' Photo credit: Nicola Dove. Courtesy of MGM.

Ana de Armas on Shooting a Havana-Set Bond Film in London: “I Wish We Were Actually in Cuba”

Paloma (Ana de Armas) in 'Cuba' in 'No Time to Die.' Photo credit: Nicola Dove. Courtesy of MGM.

“We’re supposed to be shooting in Cuba,” Ana de Armas says as she shakes her head. “I don’t know about that.”

The tent off the set of de Armas’ latest movie, the James Bond sequel No Time to Die, bursts into laughter. We’re thousands of miles and several temperature degrees away from de Armas’ former island home. Instead of a warm Caribbean breeze, de Armas and her co-star Lashana Lynch are wrapped up in jackets fighting off London’s chilly air in October. It’s their last week of shooting at Pinewoods Studios, where the Bond filmmakers have recreated an approximation of Cuba’s old buildings, weather-beaten facades, hand-painted propaganda slogans, refurbished midcentury American muscle cars and the occasional piles of rubble for added effect. If anything, the set looks too sturdy to be Havana Vieja, but that’s probably best for the safety of everyone involved.

Unfortunately, we don’t get to see de Armas and Lynch in action. The nature of their characters will remain a mystery until the movie comes out and we see Daniel Craig don the Bond tux for one last job. It’s that “one more job” that brings Bond to Cuba in No Time to Die. The finer details of the plot were kept a secret but even in this fictionalized world of super spies, U.S.-Cuba relations remained accurately tense.

Part of that tension made it so that the production of the then-unnamed 25th Bond movie could not easily film on the island. De Armas had hoped to bring Bond to Cuba for reasons beyond the weather. “I wish we were actually in Cuba and share this experience with my people,” she says. “Get a Cuban crew in there. Bet they would have been very excited and proud.”

Ana de Armas No Time to Die Bond
Ana de Armas (Paloma) and Cary Joji Fukunaga (Director) on the set of ‘No Time to Die. Photo credit: Nicola Dove. Courtesy of MGM.
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Never to let a downbeat last long in her answers, de Armas perks up. “But we’re here and it looks amazing. Everything here looks really spot-on — except the weather.” The accuracy of the set would unintentionally bring on bouts of homesickness for the Golden-Globe nominated Cuban actress, who left the island to pursue acting in Spain and then the United States. The familiarity of the set would cause some unintended awkwardness on set as well. Sometimes, she would forget and try to talk to the extras in Spanish only to be met with confused looks. No matter how close the set looked like Havana, it wasn’t quite the homecoming she had in mind.

De Armas’s role was a surprise late addition to the No Time to Die screenplay. When she first received the offer to play the part of Paloma, the character wasn’t even in the script yet. More thrillingly, she learned Emmy-winning Fleabag writer and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge had been brought on to do rewrites for the film. “I think she wrote or developed [all] my scenes. It was all these things happening that are really, really exciting and it feels like we’re doing the same but new.”

That “same but new” approach helped de Armas see herself in the role of a Bond girl because yes, even Ana de Armas, had doubts about stepping into the part. “I never thought of myself as a Bond girl,” she confesses. “It was hard to imagine. It wasn’t reachable to get to that level of perfection, so tall and so glamorous. It was not on my radar. It was very flattering that they thought of me.”

As the first James Bond movie to open after #MeToo and in the wake of so much conversation about representation in entertainment, many audiences will be paying close attention to the characters played by de Armas and Lynch. De Armas claims their characters won’t be like the Bond girls of decades past. “There are amazing Bond women who we’re now following in their steps, but as you can tell there’s a shift going on,” she says. “Our producers understand the situation and the world and what needs to be changed. They want to keep moving. They’re aware of how many people follow this franchise. Without stepping away from the core and essence of what a James Bond movie is and staying in that universe — keeping the context of that fantasy and glamour of that universe and people who seem to be perfect — there are these changes happening and there is representation of a Black woman and a Latina in these movies.”

Even with these updates to the franchise and extra attention on the women of James Bond movies, both Lynch and de Armas wave off worries that they feel under pressure. “We have things to say and a community to support,” de Armas adds. “We have a responsibility, but we’re also artists. We just want to enjoy our job … and have fun with it. It shouldn’t feel like pressure. It should feel like this is awesome and I’m going to do my best. Hopefully people will love it and learn something from it.”

No Time to Die premieres April 10, 2020 in U.S. theaters.