Kelly Marie Tran almost gave up acting before she landed a lead role in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
“There was absolutely a moment,” Tran told Entertainment Weekly. “When I turned 25, I had been at it for some years and I was struggling to pay my bills. I was tired. I had been working [my day job] 40-plus hours a week, plus sometimes I’d have two auditions in the day and then I would write a sketch or do improv at night, or rehearse for the next auditions the next day. So, my days, I would get up at 5 a.m. and then I wouldn’t be home until 11:00 p.m. The days were like that for years.”
The 28-year-old San Diego native and daughter of Vietnamese immigrants will play Rose Tico, a problem-solving Resistance mechanic.
“I remember thinking, ‘This could be my life forever,’” she says. “Like, I could just never make it. I could work this hard for the next 20 years of my life and still be struggling.”
Tran kept trying.
“There are so few times in life where you are passionate about anything,” she says. “And I think that if you can find that, you should just hold on to it and protect it at all costs and just follow it, because it’s so rare.”
In Los Angeles, Tran trained at the improv groups iO West, Second City and Upright Citizens Brigade, and did guest spots on shows like Jimmy Kimmel Live! while appearing in and writing digital shorts. Her biggest hit was the 2013 web series Ladies Like Us.
Tran said auditioning for Star Wars felt like a longshot. But after a long run of callbacks, it felt unreal.
During this time, she was also working for a company called Syndicatebleu, a temp agency and recruitment firm.
“I worked in an office. I was like an assistant. So, I would just answer phone calls, coordinate events,” Tran said. “It was a great day job. I worked with amazing people, but obviously whenever you are doing something that’s not your dream, you kind of feel like, ‘Oh, I’m on this grind.’”
Writer-director Rian Johnson scheduled another meet-up, right in the middle of her regular 9 to 5.
“The day I found out, Rian was like, ‘Oh, we want you in this movie,’ I had just left work on my lunch break to go to this meeting,” she said. “Afterward, he told me that I couldn’t tell anyone, so I went back to work and answered phones and answered emails, like nothing happened. It was the most bizarre experience. Inside I was like, Ugh! Crazy!”
Tran was announced, and the film went into production.
“She is smart, brave and loyal, someone who knows she comes from a humble beginning – she’s not a princess, she’s not a superhero,” said Tran about her character to SFX Magazine. “She’s in the Resistance, and she is aware of things that are happening, but she’s always been someone who’s worked behind pipes, fixing things. She’s never been someone who’s been at the forefront of the action, but in this movie she gets pulled into it.”
Tran is the first Asian American woman to land a lead in a Star Wars movie, but its being immortalised by an action toy that has definitely made an impression on her.
“I try not to think about it, because it’s so overwhelming [laughs]! There was definitely this part of me thinking about how do I deal with this life change, and then I started to realize that I am just going to go on in my life the way that I have been, and just take everything day to day. I’ll let you know how it goes. I’m still trying to figure it out!
Star Wars: The Last Jedi comes out December 15.
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