Before actress Kelly Marie Tran had to endure the five-month casting process to join Star Wars: The Last Jedi—as Rose Tico, a Starfighter mechanic who becomes one of Finn’s (John Boyega’s) biggest allies in his continued fight against the First Order—she was knocking around the L.A. audition circuit while working as an office assistant to pay the bills. “I always thought I was going to be that weird friend on a sitcom,” says Tran, the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants (her mom worked at a funeral home; her dad, at Burger King) and a UCLA communications major. “But after I got the role, I had to work for another week! Then I told my job, my family, and my friends I was moving to Canada for an indie. I had to Google pictures of Canada to send them! It was so stressful.”
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Nevertheless, Tran was quick to put her stamp on the notoriously top-secret saga. “Kelly has an infectious energy and creative spirit that actually ended up influencing her character,” says director Rian Johnson. Rose “may not be glorified in the Resistance the way Rey [Daisy Ridley] and Finn are,” Tran says, “but has an important story to tell. She can and will make a difference.” Which means she’ll have the attention of many an insatiable Star Wars fan. “The best thing I did to prepare for all of that was just leave everything,” she says. “As soon as we wrapped, I bought a ticket to South Africa, lived on a wildlife reserve, and worked with endangered animals for two months—with no internet. It was absolutely perfect.”
This article originally appears in the November 2017 issue of ELLE.
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