In 'Hit Man,' Adria Arjona found the role of a lifetime

Adria Arjona went skydiving to get over the heartbreak of missing out on a coveted role.

“It’s a little extreme, but it worked,” Arjona, 32, says on the phone days before the crime-fueled romantic comedy “Hit Man” debuted Friday on Netflix. “While I was on the plane, I thought, ‘I’m going to leave all this negativity [here]. I’m going to jump off, ground myself and completely forget about it. What’s up in the air doesn’t belong to me anymore.’ ”

With “Hit Man,” the actor has certainly landed on her feet. The critically acclaimed crowd-pleaser is the latest from prolific Texan director Richard Linklater and has already become a breakthrough project for Arjona’s rising profile in Hollywood.

“I find her amazing,” said Linklater, describing Arjona as a “wonderfully smart and hard-working collaborator from the first rehearsal until her last shot of production.”

In the film, Glen Powell plays a psychology professor who works for a police department undercover, pretending to be a killer for hire. Arjona plays Madison, who seeks out his services to eliminate her abusive husband. The two become entangled in a high-stakes, morally complicated, fiery relationship.

The daughter of famed Guatemalan singer-songwriter Ricardo Arjona, she was born in Puerto Rico to a Boricua mother but spent her childhood in Mexico City when not on the road with her touring father.

“It’s a funny little debate that happens online,” Arjona says. “Everyone is like, ‘She’s Guatemalan’ or ‘She’s Puerto Rican,’ and I’m like, ‘I’m very much both and I carry my two flags very high up. I can’t pick.”

Despite growing up around music, Arjona was never inclined to follow in her father’s footsteps. “I can’t sing! I would’ve embarrassed our last name,” she said, jokingly.

“I’ve always thought my dad’s job is coolest job in the world, but I wanted to do something different. I rebelled against music, and got away from it. If I’m honest with you, it’s a pretty big regret of mine now.”

As a teenager, Arjona’s family relocated to Miami. Struggling to adjust to her new environment, she began taking acting classes on her father’s suggestion. Performing, she says, helped her come out of her shell.

“If I don’t hide behind a character, it’s really hard for me to perform or be the center of attention,” she said. “I feel comfortable putting on a costume and being on stage, but I could never, and I still can’t speak in public. I had to give a speech for Glen a couple of weeks ago when we were in Austin, and I was trembling like a chihuahua.”

As an adult, Arjona moved to New York to study at Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute, working as a waitress to pay her bills.

“I feel really lucky that I have a father who gave me the biggest gift in the world, which is not giving it all to me. He made that a point in raising me and my siblings,” she said. “He grew up really poor in Guatemala and he had to work to get to where he is.”

Arjona initially tried to break into theater but felt there wasn’t much space for a Latin American actress. She decided to try her luck in film and television instead, landing a small part after her first audition. Over the last decade, Arjona has built up her resume by landing parts in high-profile productions.

Among her most notable films are the Netflix action movies “6 Underground” and “Triple Frontier” — in the latter, she shared the screen with another actor with Guatemalan roots, Oscar Isaac. Arjona was also cast as bride-to-be Sofia Herrera in the 2022 Latino remake of “Father of the Bride” and portrays mechanic Bix Caleen in “Star Wars: Andor.”

“Getting the jobs wasn’t hard, but it was getting the roles that really served me as an actress that’s been the struggle,” she said. “I want to show the world that a Latin American woman has so many dimensions and we can be so many things.”

Arjona says she is now at the point in her career where she is being offered opportunities she wouldn’t have gotten a few years back. She recalls Linklater telling her she was the only person he spoke to for the role of Madison in “Hit Man.”

“We were nervous because Madison demanded so many qualities in one person,” said Linklater. “Smart, funny, vivacious, mysterious, and of course so smoking hot you’d totally believe somebody would risk everything they had and had worked for all their life, including their potential freedom, just to be with. Adria is all those things.”

After meeting Arjona over video call, the filmmaker arranged for her to connect with Powell, who also co-wrote the screenplay. The two actors got along so well that by the end of their five-hour dinner, they had broken their “dry January” vows by drinking tequila.

“Glen was like, ‘Can we please do this together? I want you to be Madison,” she said.

Within days Arjona was on Zoom with Linklater and Powell writing Madison’s part.

“That’s how Rick works. He invites the actors into the collaborative process and you’re in the writer’s room with him and you’re creating your character with your director, and your co-star. You’re writing lines, you’re pitching ideas,” she said. “That’s never happened to me.”

The process gave Arjona a creative autonomy and ownership over her character that she believes were crucial for her to craft and ultimately understand Madison’s personality.

“I loved the idea that she was constantly role-playing. She’s this woman that is seeking reinvention at every turn of the page. She’s her own idea of a femme fatale, but she’s not a femme fatale,” Arjona said. “She’s playing a character within being a character. And that I found really interesting and had a lot of fun playing that.”

For Arjona, “Hit Man” represented an opportunity to truly show off her acting chops.

“Thanks to this movie I feel just so much more confident of what I can bring to the table,” she says. “Rick and Glen did that for me.”

And what’s next? Arjona is slated to star in “El Sobreron,” the new genre tale from Guatemalan auteur Jairo Bustamante. Later this year, she can also be seen in the thriller “Blink Twice,” opposite Channing Tatum. Her strategy of not having a set plan seems to be paying off for her, successfully avoiding being pigeonholed by an industry that still has a limited view of who Latinos are.

“I’m so much more than where I was born. I have it in my veins. I carry that with me proudly, but I’m also a human,” she said. “You are your experiences, and being a Latina is definitely part of my experience, but there’s also a lot more. I’m just a woman.”

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