The new James Bond film No Time to Die finally premiered after close to 18 months of COVID-related delays. It was hardly the only film to be impacted by the devastation of lockdown, but it was the first one to choose to move its release date, a sign of the irrevocable change that would soon engulf the entertainment industry. While reviews have been mixed to positive, one of the undisputed stand-out elements of the film, according to critics, is the appearance of Ana de Armas as Paloma, a CIA agent who assists Bond on a mission. She’s charismatic and appealing and exactly the kind of woman you want going toe-to-toe with MI5’s finest. It’s just a shame she’s barely in the movie.
De Armas’s presence in the most iconic film franchise of all time, playing a ‘Bond girl’ alongside Daniel Craig in his final entry in the series, was positioned for many months as yet another sign of her unstoppable rise to the top of the Hollywood lot. Indeed, 2020 was supposed to be her year, with a slew of high-profile projects and a burgeoning gossip-friendly relationship with a highly familiar face. It was the perfect narrative, the kind of A Star is Born moment that publicists would sacrifice their mothers for. But its delay is a reminder that not even the achingly practiced machinations of the entertainment industrial complex can be prepared for everything.
Ana de Armas is a wonderful actress. She’s gorgeous, charming, has great range, and, even before her breakout in Hollywood, had a flurry of hype following her every move. Following her starring appearance in Knives Out, wherein she played the kindly carer to a rich author whose squabbling rich family contrasted with her working-class quietness, it seemed evident that this was an actress going places. She even landed a Golden Globe nomination, and yes, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association is meaningless garbage, but they have a long history of singling out rising starlets right before they burst into the mainstream. It also stood as the stepping-stone towards what was supposed to be her year.
At the beginning of 2020, de Armas had no fewer than three major movies lined up: her Bond debut, set for April, the lead role in an erotic thriller, Deep Water, and the much-coveted part of Marilyn Monroe in Andrew Dominick’s adaptation of Blonde. It seemed like the kind of one-two-three punch that, even if the movies themselves weren’t brilliant, couldn’t fail to catapult de Armas into a new level of stardom and visibility. Add to that the news that she had begun dating her Deep Water co-star Ben Affleck, and you had a perfect narrative in play. And then, you know, COVID happened. So, all of those movies were, like everything else in the entertainment industry, put on hold indefinitely until we could return to something remotely resembling normalcy.
The world of celebrity had a strange time during lockdown: Ill-advised sing-alongs, TMI social media splurges, and a lot of Eat the Rich spectacle that made us wonder if all the famous people were OK. Much of the basic gossip ecosystem came to a grinding halt. There were no red carpet fashions to coo over, no interviews to dissect for juicy details, and greatly reduced or outright cancelled major events like film festivals. If you were a celebrity hoping for some privacy, say, during your pregnancy, then this was a great time. Besides, it’s not as though you could claim ignorance after playing along with the paparazzi when the streets were deserted. But then we got BenAna.
I’ve written about the Summer of BenAna and their legendary paparazzi walks before so I won’t go into it too deeply here. It was hilarious, occasionally endearing, but mostly just sort of daft. It felt entirely at odds with everything else going on, a blatant performance for an ambivalent audience with no real aim beyond mere visibility. Now that Affleck’s back with Jennifer Lopez and we’re seeing how such media savvy is done with a real expert at the helm, the BenAna era can’t help but feel like amateur hour by comparison. It didn’t negatively impact either party, mostly because there were no stakes and jeez, who could be bothered holding that petty a grudge? Really, it was the kind of work that would have felt far more enjoyable had they had projects to promote.
The industry tends to love this sort of narrative, the true-in-spirit breakthrough tale that doesn’t hold up much under scrutiny but remains irrepressibly appealing. Consider Alicia Vikander, who went from being an unknown Swedish actress to an inescapable figure in seven movies in only two years, which culminated in her winning a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. There’s also Jessica Chastain, who struggled to make a mark in film until she had six releases in 2011 in a huge array of projects that ended with an Oscar nomination. Part of what made these two stories so exciting to watch unfold was the portrait they created of extremely talented women who showed off their range and potential in one huge explosion rather than years of projects building up to something impossible to ignore. It can be dizzying for the actress but also something of a double-edged sword. Women tend to face far more unfair accusations of overexposure than men. It’s wearily inevitable that their talents will be viewed with skepticism. When the hype is so deafening, there’s often a sense of glee from some if the payoff is disappointing. As always, the game is extremely unfair for women in the industry, and de Armas is a Latina woman working in her second language in a business where actresses are written off at 35 (de Armas is 33), and she’s playing a true American icon in Blonde. Frankly, she was always going to be fighting an uphill battle, even as a ridiculously beautiful and talented actor.
I hope de Armas gets to stick around and show off what she can do. I find her to be a sharp and charismatic presence who can be a standout performer as well as an organic part of an ensemble. I’m eager to see how she does in Blonde, which could be highly controversial given the content of the novel it’s based on and rumors of an NC-17 rating. Whatever the case, I hope she can be more than a flavor of the month, another Instant Star to be replaced with a younger woman when Hollywood gets bored. That everyone wanted so much more of her in No Time to Die can only be a good thing.
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Image sources (in order of posting): Tristan Fewings // Getty Images for EON Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, and Universal Pictures