Isabela Moner is on the verge of mega stardom. The sixteen-year-old actress and singer already has an impressive career. She's grown up acting on Nickelodeon, performed on Broadway, and done big-budget action in Transformers: The Last Knight. Nothing you've seen from her previously will prepare you for Sicario: Day of the Soldado, an absolute gut punch.
The sequel brings back Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin. After a horrifying terrorist attack, the US government decides to wipe out the Mexican drug cartels. The plan, pit them against each other and let the bullets fly. Isabela Moner co-stars as Isabella Reyes, the daughter of a drug kingpin. The black operation to kidnap her and frame a rival does not go as planned. Isabella becomes a pawn in a bloody game. She's brutalized as the narco war explodes.
Isabela Moner spends the entire film in physical and emotional distress. She's forced into uncompromising situations to survive. The actress delivers the most powerful performance among the celebrated cast. It's ugly, and difficult to watch, but a truthful adaptation of a savage conflict.
Moner describes the working environment, and what her co-stars did to put her at ease. They treated her like an adult, with respect. Moner had particular high praise for their Italian director, Stefano Sollima. He wasn't afraid to tell her if something sucked. His method is proven. Moner is simply amazing in Sicario: Day of the Soldado.
Her next film is the live action version of Dora the Explorer. Moner will become the face of the beloved, globally famous character. Moner embraces the role as a proud Latina. She describes the script as Jumanji-like in its approach. Playing Dora is a far cry from a terrified cocaine scion. Moner has no worries about losing her privacy with such a high profile film. She's looking for versatility in her career.
Please see below our complete interview with Isabela Moner. She'll be a household name after Dora, but struts her stuff solidly in Sicario 2. She hopes to follow in the footsteps of J-Lo and Beyonce, acting and pursuing music. Moner never fails to root for her hometown. She's a Cleveland girl, and proud of it.
How are the Sicario 2 interviews going?
Isabela Moner: I've just started my day, so I don't know.
Sorry, I guess us press guys are pretty annoying?
Isabela Moner: Well, it's really awesome when there are some new questions. I look forward to hearing questions I've never been asked before.
I'll try my best to be interesting. First, congratulations on a great performance. Have you seen the completed film?
Isabela Moner: Thank you, I have seen the film, I think this is my fourth time seeing it. Wait, I think I've seen it three times actually? (laughs)
I walked in expecting the film to be gritty and hardcore, but it went way beyond. What was your first reaction to Sicario 2?
Isabela Moner: At first I was like, what the hell is going on? You really have to pay attention. I only understood it when I saw it a second time, even though I read the script. They changed it a lot. There's a couple things, if you miss it, then you won't understand the next part of the movie. I really did enjoy it. It turned out the way I wanted it to. The first time I saw it was without a soundtrack. But once you add that classic...GRRRRRR...it makes it so awesome. (laughs)
What was so different in the final cut? What was changed from the script and filming?
Isabela Moner: They cut a lot of parts of the movie. It almost seems like little holes, but that's the point. Pardon my French, but that's the shit show it's meant to be. It really is. The Americans are trying to start this mock war with this entirely different government. It's other people's territory. It goes to show that nothing turns out the way you want it to. There's something to be said about the incomplete storyline. It ends up falling apart. There's a huge moral dilemma. Do we kill this little girl? Who the hell is going to do it? This is just a job? It's quite interesting.
I agree, it shows how nefarious countries can be. Let's table the politics for a second and address your performance. You have quite a bit of experience for someone so young. But this film is so violent and emotional compared to your previous work. How did you get into character? You're running, screaming, basically getting your butt kicked the entire time?
Isabela Moner: I really don't know, maybe it was just pent up teenage angst. I don't know, to be honest. It helps to do a lot of research. It helps being around Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin. They pushed me to be my best. They were so supportive, the coolest people ever. I knew I had to give it my all. I really appreciated Stefano [Sollima]. He treated me the same as the adult male actors. He didn't give me any special treatment. I mean, he always asked if I was okay. He believed in me, more than I did sometimes; especially when he wanted me to improv. It was great. He was so straight up. That one sucked, please do it again. I was like, okay. He's so Italian. It's just the way he communicates. There's never ever any undertones. He's just straight forward.
Was there ever a day you were star struck? Did you ever pinch yourself to be working with such acclaimed actors?
Isabela Moner: Well, it was like, here are these forty year old men. I have no idea what we're going to talk about. At first it was boring. They didn't know what to say to me, or who the hell I was. Are we allowed to curse? They were very confused. It wasn't until we were deep in process, and they started talking about Josh's mom, Barbra [Streisand], a legend. They were so casual. It wasn't until that moment that I knew I was in the presence of really cool people. It was neat. They were kind of goofy. Benicio is nothing like he seems.
What was the best and worst day working on Sicario 2?
Isabela Moner: The worst day, I was really sick, and it had been building up for quite a bit. One day it got really bad. We were in the middle of nowhere. I had to go to the emergency room. Nasty talk, but there was a build up of fluid in my lungs.
Isabela Moner: Yeah, it was getting really intense. They had me come back, just to see what I could do. But we're in the middle of nowhere, so you can't move easily. I get back to set. There's fluid in my lungs. I can't breathe through my mouth. Basically, they're starting to roll, I'm supposed to act like I've been kidnapped. All of a sudden, I couldn't breathe, and I'm like trying to communicate with my mom. She brought me an inhaler. I really couldn't tell anyone either, because I couldn't vocalize very well. That was my worst day on set.
Wow, that sounds pretty bad. How about the best day?
Isabela Moner: The best...the most fun day, well, there are two things I've always wanted to do in a film. The first is beat someone up. Then shoot an alien blaster. So I got to beat someone up. (laughs) In Mexico, in the schoolyard, it was fun getting to choreograph that fight sequence. I remember they had the fake blood packets in her mouth. So when I "punch" her, she bites down and the blood comes out. I just thought that was so cool.
Let's talk about your career up to this point. You've done a lot of Nickelodeon, you've made a Transformers film, you've been on Broadway, you have experience. What did you learn from Sicario 2?
Isabela Moner: You have to put so much more acting and character in the unspoken lines. There's all this internal dialogue. I wish there was a script of all the dialogue inside, between the lines. There's so much to be said. I learned to work a lot more with my eyes.
Now lets discuss your future. You've been cast as Dora the Explorer. That's correct?
Isabela Moner: Yes, versatility is important. For Dora, I wasn't sure I wanted to do it. I wanted to go on a serious path. Then I read the script. It's really funny and action-packed. It's almost like a Jumanji type movie. I figure that I'm going to do what the hell I want. Give it my best, I think it's really important not to be pinned as a certain type of actress.
Dora is a Latina icon. You're famous now, but are you ready for the level of fame that Dora will bring? Are you worried about not being able to walk down a street?
Isabela Moner: No, no, that would be horrible. I guess I didn't think about that. But I think we need more Latina heroines in this industry. Marvel hasn't done it yet.
Good point, well said.
Isabela Moner: Yeah, there really isn't any Latina or even Asian people represented. Hopefully we get there. I believe we're on a good path, overall, with representation. I hope that it becomes the norm. And it's not, oh here Latino community, we're doing you a favor so you'll pay us more money.
Sicario 2 is such a dark film. I assume Dora will be the definition of family friendly. Do you think it may detract from getting edgier roles?
Isabela Moner: In general, it's all acting. If people follow my career, they'll see there's variety. Hopefully my performance in this movie is good enough to sell that. I try to put myself in different situations, but I'm not really worried about that. I do have a music career as well. That's picking up. I'm really not worried about my image overall. I want versatility, like J-Lo, or Beyonce. She can do a movie one minute, then sell an album the next. That's the dream.
Let's step away from career and talk about your personal life. You're obviously very busy. What do you do to relax, decompress?
Isabela Moner: I like to watch The Office, over and over and over again. It's great, one of the best shows in the history of television. But also, I like to read. I honestly don't like to socialize, because my job is to socialize.
What have you read recently that you really liked?
Isabela Moner: Currently, I'm on "Less than Zero" by Brett Easton Ellis. Then I have "Like Water for Chocolate" next.
Wow, I'm impressed, both are tremendous books. Our time is running out, but I have to ask you, you're a Cleveland girl. Do you follow Cleveland sports?
Isabela Moner: Yes, I am actually really depressed right now. It's fine. I'll follow LeBron [James] wherever he goes. I'm glad that he's brought us to the finals so many times.
As a Cavs fan, what would you say to LeBron to keep him in Cleveland?
Isabela Moner: I love the note he wrote when he returned to the Cavs. I respect the city that brought me up. I hope to raise it too. I hope he sticks to his words, because I want to do the same thing. I'm tired of flying to LA and New York. I want to be home and do what I love.