photos / Aubrey Devin
styling / Matthew Hensley
makeup / Anton Khachaturian for Exclusive Artists Management
using MAC Cosmetics
hair / J. Michael using R+Co with DLMLA
story / Erica Russell
Photographed at Meltdown Comics in Hollywood
Hollywood has a tendency to recycle the same faces over and over again—both literally and metaphorically. Actors and actresses are repurposed in a never-ending cycle of buzz-casting, and what’s worse (through little fault of their own) is that these stars all tend to be cut from a similar cloth. And by similar cloth, I mean the same heteronormative, whitewashed fabric that, quite frankly, is just so out of fashion… and out of touch.
So when the opportunity for a young new actress to be cast in a film role comes along, especially one with a big budget and large box office attached to it, it’s refreshing when that role actually goes to someone outside of the traditional young Hollywood box. This brings me to Lana Condor, the 18-year-old Vietnamese-American adopted daughter of an American journalist who portrays mutant Jubilee in Marvel’s superhero juggernaut, X-Men: Apocalypse.
Often times Asian actresses end up playing Asian caricatures and archetypes in film—that is, when they’re lucky enough to even land a role. In an era where Emma Stone gets to play a Hawaiian in a movie and Rooney Mara gets cast in a traditionally Native American role, the lack of diversity in Hollywood is enough to make one’s head burst open like Gizmo’s back in Gremlins. Is that a grotesque visual? Well sorry, but the issue’s just not pretty.
So what does Condor—a young Asian-American woman making her film debut—think about the state of the industry which she’s just now entering? “I really feel the lack of diversity and how people don’t think Asian-Americans will gain revenue,” she shares of her experience auditioning. “It’s very frustrating because I don’t think that the roles aren’t out there, they’re just not written. Basically, if I audition for something, sometimes I feel like they’re bringing me in to see if they can fill a diversity quota. Or I’m auditioning for an Asian-American girl struggling with adapting to a society that might not love her as much as someone who’s white. I love portraying that because that’s so prevalent in society, but at the same time, it would be really awesome to play girl next door—not just the Asian girl next door. It’s not everything that defines us as actors.”
When I mention that I feel it’s important to be vocal about these issues, the young actress agrees, adding, “I also think that a lot of young, ethnic actresses maybe feel that if they do talk about it, that it’ll turn people off, in terms of the people that will hire them. At the same time, how is it ever going to be changed if no one talks about it?”
Thankfully, things are starting to change, with shows like ABC’s critically acclaimed Fresh Off the Boat and CBS’ award-winning Elementary, which stars Lucy Liu in a historically white, male role. Condor, of course, now has the opportunity to keep up the momentum with her own burgeoning career which, by the way, was headed in a completely different direction before she landed her big role. “Dancing was a huge hobby of mine,” the former ballerina, who trained at the Los Angeles Ballet, tells me. And while she had to quit to focus on acting full-time, does share that dancing helped her gain the “confidence and presence” necessary to act on screen. “Performing in ballet really, really helped me to be comfortable in my own skin… If I hadn’t done ballet, I’d be so awkward in front of a camera!”
While awkwardness is traditionally a trademark of being a teenager, Condor—whose hobbies include reading, hot yoga, going to the movies (when she has “fourteen dollars to spare; movies are so pricey!”), and performing with her improv troupe (“it keeps my brain and humor sharp”)—doesn’t really strike me as the sort of dorky teen girl that I certainly was in high school. She seems way too level-headed, way too introspective and self-assured. Then again, as she begins excitedly gushing about the time she met Channing Tatum at Comic Con and how she totally hid in the bathroom of her all-girls Catholic school when she got the call from her agent about booking X-Men, I start to relive the fleeting, giddy magic of being not a girl, not yet a woman.
“I was a nervous wreck! I was in study hall, conveniently studying for my AP test, when I [found out],” she reveals of the moment she received her casting news. “But I couldn’t say anything! I had to keep it a secret until the press release came out. I was at school with all my peers, it was so hard; I didn’t look or talk to anyone for the rest of the day… And then all of a sudden, my little world exploded very instantly. I think that can be a lot, just for a high school senior.”
Speaking of worlds exploding, it’d be a great disservice to Marvel fans to not talk at least a little about Condor’s role as pyrotechnic mall-rat Jubilee in Bryan Singer’s apocalyptic third entry into the popular prequel series. Of entering the Marvel universe, the rising starlet is well aware she’s stepping on hallowed ground: “I see how massive this fanbase is and how passionate they are, and I’m like, ‘Oh wow, this is huge!’ I’m obviously thrilled to be a part of something so massive and unifying, [though] there is still definitely an insecurity—I hope I do justice to this beloved character that people have been reading in comic books and watching on cartoons for years. At the same time, I’ve realized people are either going to love what you do or not, and I can’t control that. I definitely have a lot of hope that the fans will be proud of what I did for Jubilee.”
When I ask which X-Men power she’d most like to have in real life, her answer surprises me. “Nightcrawler. His power is so cool—it’s teleportation—literally, there’s so many things you can do with that.” What about Jean Gray? “Hearing so many different voices in my head would freak me out a little!” Fair enough; I laugh and comment on how funny it is that we’re having so serious a conversation about superpowers.
“Oh, it’s a very serious topic,” she laughs, before her voice gets dead serious. “Superpowers are no joke.” And then we start laughing again—perfect comedic timing.