At the beginning of the month, Caitlin and I got the opportunity to not only chat with the stars of ANDOR, but also sit in on the global press conference with the cast and crew of the show. It was a fantastic experience and their answers are some we’re still thinking about (particularly Tony saying, “There’s nothing cynical about our show.”). Here’s an edited and abridged version of the Q&A session, featuring answers from Tony Gilroy (Executive Producer, Writer, & Showrunner), Diego Luna (Executive Producer & Cassion Andor), Genevieve O’Reilly (Mon Mothma), Adria Arjona (Bix Caleen), Kyle Soller (Syril Karn), and Denise Gough (Dedra Meero). The press conference was moderated by Joe Neumaier, film critic for New York’s WOR radio. Thank you, Disney and Lucasfilm, for the opportunity!
This series is a new perspective on the Star Wars galaxy, involving the burgeoning rebellion in its infancy in the years prior to the film Rogue One. What inspired you to create the series? And what was your vision for it?
TONY GILROY: I think the main idea is we have a character in Rogue One. And we know where he ends up. And we know how accomplished and complicated he is. And the idea that we can do a story that takes him literally from his childhood origins and walk him through a five-year history of an odyssey that takes him to that place, during a revolution, during a moment in history in a place where huge events are happening and real people are being crushed by it, the fact that we could follow somebody as an example of a revolution all the way through to the end, that was the walk-in for me. That was the buy-in, the opportunity to do that. Look, there are a lot of characters in our show. Everyone is going to be circulating and spinning and intersecting around the Cassian Andor story as we move towards Rogue One. But it’s a potent moment in history. And a lot of people are facing a lot of really difficult times and difficult decisions along the way. And that’s what the show is about, the opportunity to do that on a large scale, on a big canvas, that’s why I’m here.
Diego, what do you find exciting about stepping back into the role of Cassian Andor? Do you have a sense in many ways of completing the character in this series, kind of filling in details, as well as our understanding of him?
DIEGO LUNA: Definitely, definitely. First of all, just the chance to be back working with this family, getting to do more stuff with Tony, which is someone I admire, and I love his company and, and collaborating with him is amazing. So just being back felt great. But I think Rogue One is a film about an event, you know? You don’t get to know those characters. You don’t get to understand exactly where they come from, what needed to happen. And for me, it’s quite relevant today to tell the story of what needs to happen for a revolutionary to emerge, to exist, to come to live, you know. What gives meaning in the life of someone to be willing to sacrifice everything for a cause, you know? What needs to happen? That that journey matters to me. And the character says stuff that it haunts me in Rogue One. You know that he started to fight since he was six years old. What does that mean, exactly? You know, why a six-year-old would miss his childhood and start a fight? That, to me, is really interesting to know. He talks about a dark past. He talks about doing terrible stuff for the Rebellion. What is he referring to? I think that story matters. That story is interesting. And there is a lot of material there for us to play. So I was really excited to be able to go into that journey and give those answers, you know?
Genevieve, but we have seen Mon Mothma before. And your return to the role is a real treat. But what can we expect to find out more about her over the course of this series? And what was it like exploring those different sides of her?
GENEVIEVE O’REILLY: You know, like you’ve said, we’ve met Mon Mothma before in different iterations, in different versions of the Star Wars storytelling. And each time we’ve met her, we’ve met this kind of composed, regal, dignified woman who often like with Cassian in Rogue One, she is to send people out on a mission. I think what’s extraordinary about how Tony has written Andor and where he has chosen to begin this story is so very different to where we find Mon Mothma in Rogue One. She is still that very dignified senator. But for the first time, we get to see the woman behind the role. We get to see a private face of Mon Mothma. We get to flesh out not just the senator, not just the would-be leader of a Rebel Alliance, but also the woman.
Adria, your character Bix is a strong female character. It must have been great bringing that sense of empowerment through the screen. What do you like most about Bix?
ADRIA ARJONA: Well, I liked a lot of things about Bix. I think she’s fearless. And she’s bold, yet really deep inside, she’s incredibly loyal and compassionate and cares a little too much for the people around her. And I think that’s sometimes at her own detriment. I think this boldness and powerful thing is sort of like a facade that she puts on for… She almost puts that as a show. But deep down, she cares deeply about the people around her. And I think that’s the part that I love the most about Bix.
Denise, how does your character Dedra Meero fit into the story?
DENISE GOUGH: So Dedra is an ISP officer. And when we meet her, she’s at the kind of low end of the ladder. And she’s incredibly ambitious and meticulous. And what I love about playing her is that, you know, she’s in this very male-dominated world. And she’s seeing around her the way that people are missing what she can see is happening. And we’ve been talking a lot about this today, both about Dedra and Syril and how they come into this world. They’re sort of outsiders within the ISB. And so yes, she’s clawing her way up the ladder. And I love portraying the effect that power just has on a person, like the danger of that pursuit of power and control, regardless of gender. I mean, I do kind of love that you’re thinking oh, go girl. And then you remember, she’s in a fascist organization. And so yeah, I’m getting a real thrill being able to play her.
Kyle, that leads us of course, to Syril Karn who is an interesting character as Denise just alluded to just now. And there’s so much going on with him as well. What attracted you to the role? And what did you enjoy most about playing him?
KYLE SOLLER: Well, what attracted me to the role was Tony’s writing. He had created a character that was really three-dimensional and had a big question mark over him as to, you know, he could kind of go either way. He could go into the Empire. He could go into the Rebel Alliance. And he’s got a lot of gray area. And he came from a place of such lack and it’s such a pain in his home life, that he’s trying to fill this void within himself through the fascist, corporate, bureaucratic structure, where he finds order. And he finds a place to be seen if he can supersede his station and climb those ranks. And so really, what Tony created and having a character that wasn’t really sure about himself was what kind of made it the most fun to play.
Tony, this story feels so big and grounded in reality. Who do you think the show is for? And what kind of audience do you think it will appeal to?
TONY: Well, look, I mean, there’s no secret way. The show exists because there’s an enormous, arterial, important, passionate Star Wars community. And I know it’s not a monolithic community. There’s many different version and factions within it, but there’s this huge dedicated Star Wars community that shows up. And that’s our whole card. That’s what gave us the money and the momentum and the ability to make a show that’s this insanely big, I mean, this abundant and this difficult to make. That audience is our primary concern, and we want to bring something to them that is a completely different lane than what they’ve had before, but we’re doing it in a completely uncynical fashion. There’s nothing cynical about our show. The word we use more every day, and I was at Pinewood today prepping for two, is real. We want to make this real. This place is real to us. And we will bring a lot of things to that community that we hope they’re really interested in, and we hope they really appreciate it, and we hope they really appreciate the passion that we’ve tried to make it real. At the same time, it’s no secret.
Their partner, their boss, their girlfriend, their boyfriend, their mother, their father. A lot of people that are Star Wars adjacent or Star Wars averse. And you should be able to watch our show. Our show is designed that this could be your entry point to Star Wars. You could watch our 24 episodes, that could be your way in. We’re doing a show that does not require any prior knowledge whatsoever to get involved. And our hope is, you know, I mean that’s the gamble. Can we satisfy and electrify and excite the dedicated fans? And can we at the same time bring something that’s so intense emotionally and seems so true and is the smallest domestic dramas and the smallest interpersonal relationships that are dropped down in the midst of the epic tectonic revolutionary historical moments where people have to make huge decisions? Can we attract another audience that’s interested in that as well? Can we marry those two things together? That’s the gamble. That’s what we’re trying to do and that’s why we’re here.
Diego, what did you want to explore the most about Cassian and his past?
DIEGO: How far can someone be from learning he could be a tool of change? How far can you be from that and still find your way into acknowledging that you are capable of big stuff, you know? Like, I think it was that. It was like, how far can we find Cassian? You know, you see the guy in the first episode and you don’t see any possibility of that happening, you know. That to me gives me hope, you know, in the world we live in, you know. If that’s possible, anyone can do something, you know. We can all find what we are capable of and it’s about the reference, it’s about what we find and the people we meet in our journey. And I always thought of him as a character that has been forced to move therefore he brings a pain that he’s carrying that is making him very cynical about life, you know. And exploring that person and then finding a way to get the clarity of someone that suddenly starts believing, you know, that goes through a process of acknowledging that articulating something in community can give you enough strength to be useful and to bring change, you know. I thought that story matters too much. It’s a story I would like to tell to my kids, you know, to my friends. It’s a story I would like to see as audience, you know. Again, that’s why we have to be so real because it doesn’t matter, we pretend to be in a galaxy far, far away. This story matters today in the world we live in, you know. Otherwise, I wouldn’t care and I always saw this potential in this story.
Genevieve, having been part of both the prequels and now spin-offs like Rogue One and Andor, what’s the biggest difference that you see in this interpretation of Mon Mothma through different eras of Star Wars filmmaking?
GENEVIEVE: I think the most exciting things about Mon Mothma is the bravery and where Tony has decided to begin. We meet Mon Mothma in a place we’ve never seen her before. We meet a woman steeped in Empire, navigating a very male-dominated Empire with a very powerful Emperor Palpatine at the top of it. We find her in Andor very alone, living in a world of orthodoxy and construct. We see a woman who has had to navigate her ideals and her beliefs within systems of oppression. And so, we find her in a place we’ve never seen her before. We find her in a bit of a gilded cage. And so, what I’m excited for is for us to travel that story with her. To journey with her as a woman and finding her voice, like Diego said, reaching for voices that are fighting for similar things. Finding community, finding collaborators to be able to eventually be the leader that she becomes in Rogue One. So, there’s a journey to travel and I’m excited for people to hop on that train with us.
Any highlights or fun moments working on location? Were there little details that stood out for you?
KYLE: Oh man. I mean, all of it. But yeah, I remember coming to one of the sets, the town that had been built by the production design and the set units and every little thing had been thought of. Every single drawer had something in it. Every cabinet had, I don’t know, a whole life inside. And there was this whole crowd milling about before we’d started filming, and the crowd kind of somehow was parted and there was this line of Stormtroopers. And at that point I had sort of forgotten that I was in Star Wars ’cause I was like, oh, I’m in this sociopolitical drama that’s also, like, a family drama and a love story and there’s all this, like, amazing stuff going on that’s, like, relevant to today. And oh shit, there are a bunch of Stormtroopers. I dropped my coffee and my inner child was, like, pretty happy.
Denise how about you? Any moments like that that stand out?
DENISE: Yeah, so similarly it was on the same set as Kyle was talking about. And it was so intricate and so beautiful. And you see, I don’t have any Star Wars background. Like, I never watched it. I was so into Batman as a little girl, I didn’t have any connection to the Star Wars universe, really. And then I’m standing there and I have this really cool coat on and my gun. And then I’m given two Death Troopers who are walking behind me, and I started going [SINGING THE IMPERIAL MARCH], and then all the extras started, and so suddenly, I’m walking through this set, and I’m thinking, even I, as somebody who is not in any way an aficionado of this stuff, I cannot believe that I’m here doing this. And then, just over the last week, like, I’d kind of forgotten it’s Star Wars, you know. And then suddenly, you’re introduced, the trailer comes out and the poster, and I’m like, oh my god, my nephews are going nuts. Now it’s just one big, like, oh my god, I’m in Star Wars.
Adria, how about you? Any small moments or highlights that stand out?
ADRIA: I feel like we’re all gonna talk about the same set. And for some reason, I remember like 10 city blocks, that’s how big it felt for me. I think maybe it wasn’t. But I just remember like the first day sort of walking around and-and-and kind of getting lost in it and exploring. And it was so cool. And I also had made like a silly rookie decision of really going into this show and saying like, I’m not in Star Wars. I’m making a conscious decision that I’m not in Star Wars, I’m in this amazing show with Tony Gilroy, we’re doing this. And then everything was a constant reminder, so it was like, oh, crap, every prop that was given, every set that you would walk in, everything’s like oh, man, I really am in Star Wars and sort of, like Kyle said, your inner child starts coming out, and the butterflies are going. You’re like, what did I get myself into? Like I can’t get out of it now. Yeah, that set was incredible. I remember there was one day where the director, one of our directors, told me to run, and I was like, well, where do you want me to run? He’s like, “Anywhere you want.” ‘Cause everything was filmable. Yeah, if I would go left, we could’ve filmed there, if I would go right, we could’ve filmed there, and it was just me exiting, and he could basically point the camera either left or right, and that was kind of cool.
Diego, how about you? Any moments or highlights that stand out?
DIEGO: Oof, yeah, I mean, many of course. But I’m gonna say that probably this was like the first or second day that I arrived to Pinewood at the very beginning when we were in preproduction, and I go to the stunts, where they have an amazing facility and stuff for you to climb and to jump and to, you know, fall and roll. And I go like, “Let’s do a very simple, you know, one. I need to get back into this.” And I pretend I was 10 years younger, you know, than what I had to play in this show. And the next morning, I was like, shit, I’m gonna have to quit this job. I can’t handle this anymore. Like every part of my body ached, and I felt like I went into a battle, and it was just the first rehearsal, you know? And I was talking to my family, saying I don’t know if I’m gonna be able to do this. No one’s gonna believe, I mean, I’m gonna have to spend the first two months in a chair, you know? Clearly, time passed, and gladly, there was a fantastic stunt that helped me and managed to do all the stuff I can’t do anymore.
Denise, Cassian says in the trailer that the Empire is proud of itself, do you think Dedra is like that or is she one of a kind?
DENISE: Oh, I think Dedra is so proud of herself that she’s working in this incredible organization. I had a scene where I had to walk into the building and I remember thinking how great she feels in that uniform, like everything about working for the Empire is everything that she wants. And the thing that’s really frustrating for her and what was really brilliant was the things that really annoy her, when I was sitting, there’s another character in this office who he’s kind of messy and like his uniform was a bit messy and he was slouched. And as Dedra, I was like oh my god, sit up. Like it just appeals to everything, her meticulousness, you know? And then when she meets Syril, like I remember the first time Kyle and I worked together and I go he’s so clean, I just love how tidy and tight and clean and they just are gonna live happily ever after in a really tidy clean house in space. Some tidy little dogs. But, you know, so she’s proud of being part of this. And she wants to really make her mark in this industry of the Empire.
Diego and Adria, how important is it for you to be able to represent the Hispanic community in this galaxy for Hispanic actors in general to get these types of roles in Hollywood?
ADRIA: I mean, it’s pretty amazing. Diego has, you know, he’s been doing it for way longer than me. But it just, I don’t know, it gives me hope that now a little girl’s gonna watch it and be like oh my god, that girl kind of looks like me and maybe I want to be like her in Halloween or whatever that may be. But it’s really exciting. And it sort of comes to show how things are sort of shifting and I’m happy that Tony sort of brought me along, but it wasn’t part of the conversation, which was I think the most beautiful thing about it. It wasn’t like oh, you’re Hispanic, so you need to be in this. Tony was like, “Oh, you’re Bix,” and it’s never justified, or we never even had a conversation about my own ethnicity. I think it was really just about the work. And I truly hope for in the future, that that question kind of isn’t asked as much anymore, that it sort of becomes this normality where seeing two actors like Diego and I in Star Wars is cool and it’s the norm. Yeah.
DIEGO: Yeah, I mean, I think the industry is reacting to some things happening out there, you know? We’re supposed to be a mirror, you know, for audiences to be able to see themselves there and gladly. And I think with the platforms and these new ways to connect with audiences, I think audiences are sending the right messages, you know? And the industry is reacting. I think when you buy a ticket, you send a message. When you don’t buy it, you also send a message. When you click, you send a message. When you don’t, you send a message. And the industry will respond to that and it’s responding, you know? I think it makes sense if we’re talking about a galaxy where there’s so many planets that people come from different places, you know? And if we’re talking about refugees, they come from different places and they gather in one place and they sound different, they look different. And that diversity, I mean, it’s what makes this, the reality I live in, very rich, you know? So I mean, I celebrate that the stories we see reflect on that.
Were there any specific real-world inspirations for Andor’s home world?
TONY: I mean, trying to think. I mean, just, I mean life. I mean, I grew up in upstate New York and I won’t go into details about it, but it was a place where it was kind of a blue-collar place and everybody always had jobs and it was a weird kind of thing and we all had, you know, when you were like 12, you went out and got working papers. It was an odd thing and, you know, I worked for masons, I was a plumber’s apprentice, and all kinds of jobs, you know? Things. And ran a painting company. And it’s a place where, I mean, it’s an idealized fantasy of mine I suppose of a community that’s been stable and benevolent and thriving and we don’t really have any economic diversity there really, everybody seems to be… It’s kind of, I suppose it’s my utopian mechanical side fantasy in a way of a place that really, really functions taking things apart and putting them back together again.
You know, we talked before about the set and the thing that they were talking about, our production designer Luke Hull, who did Chernobyl, I mean, he really is in the brain trust that puts the show together with Sanne and Luke and Leo, my brother John Gilroy, Kathy, the core group of people that put this together. I mean, Luke is just, I mean, he’s Mozart, and he’s a young production designer, and he’s just soaring. And they built an eight-and-a-half-acre city for us that we will use for all 12 episodes. And as they said, it’s a 360 set. And the community that we were allowed to build within it and the social structures and the rituals of it, because there are some really intense rituals about it, it really feels like a place, like what is it? You get to play God. We built a place, we built a whole culture, we built a whole life, we built a whole tradition, we had people care about it and anyways. It’s a fantastic maximal expression of imagination to be able to do this. It just fantastic to be able to do it. It’s thrilling.
In what way do you hope that Andor will stand out from the other Star Wars shows that are currently available?
DIEGO: Yeah. Well, first of all, this one is written by Tony Gilroy, which makes it very special and I’ll tell you why. I mean, Tony’s not a writer that lives in the language of right and wrong, you know? Or like black and white. He spends of his time in the complexity of the gray areas, you know? In the contradictions of characters. And that’s where I think this real thing comes out of, you know? Because it’s full of that, you know, of that experience of just being someone trying to live your life, you know, and having to make choices. And this is a show about people, about real people, you know? It’s very dark times in the galaxy, there is no Jedis around, these people having to articulate a reaction to oppression and it’s the most grounded kind of Star Wars you’ll get, you know? It is a show about us, it is a show about these people finding the strength to come up with a reaction, you know, to change and bring change to their reality. It’s very inspiring, I think. It’s huge, it’s big as Tony says. And it’s adventure and action at its best, what you expect from Star Wars, but then it goes very intimate and it’s very subtle and it takes time to understand each character and it has time for each storyline. And I just think it’s very rich, it’s powerful, and people are gonna like it hopefully.