– by Nancy Tapia

Sicario: Day of the Soldado has officially hit theaters, and thus far received generally favorable reviews from critics (our own review is forthcoming). In addition to big stars like Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin, it also stars big up-and-coming Latina star Isabela Moner, who made a splash last year with Transformers: The Last Knight.

In Sicario: Day of the Soldado, Moner is tackling a very different character in Isabel. This time around, she plays the daughter of a big drug lord, and enemy of del Toro’s character, Alejandro. She gets caught in the middle of everything, and ends up on the road with Alejandro. Starting out as a bit of a brat, Isabel soon learns the cold, harsh realities of the world.

LRM had a chance to hop on the phone with Moner to discuss her role in the film, where she discusses working with Benicio del Toro, the rough, challenging nature of a shoot like this, and she even talks a bit about her upcoming Dora the Explorer movie.

LRM: Congratulations with “Sicario: Day of The Soldado.” How did you land your role?

Isabela Moner: I went in, I auditioned maybe five times. Two times with the casting director, three times with the director, and then the last, the fifth time was with Benicio [del Toro] in the room. We ran through the scenes a bit, and I didn’t know this at the time, and it wasn’t until a few months ago that I found out, the minute I walked out of the room Benicio was just so happy. He said, “we found her, we found Isabel.”

LRM: Oh, wow! Five times, that’s a lot.

Moner: Well, yeah. I mean, each time that I went in, there were a bunch of girls at first. But then it started narrowing down, each time I entered the room until there were only me and two other girls left. We all were so different. They didn’t know what age they wanted for Isabel. I think there’s a certain vulnerability that they wanted. At the time I was fourteen, and when we shot this movie I was fifteen.

LRM: Oh, wow. Okay, so they just wanted to find someone that was perfect age-wise and all. Well, tell us about Isabel.

Moner: About Isabel? She is the daughter of a drug lord in this film, the enemy of [del Toro’s] Alejandro. It was quite interesting because she obviously is very, she’s a brat at the beginning. She’s very rich and she kind of runs everything in her little bubble of a world.

LRM: Mm-hmm.

Moner: She has her own mansion and everything, and then it goes to the de-throning. She gets pushed off the pedestal and into this crazy world of poverty in Mexico with Benicio’s character. Toward the end of the film, she’s gone through so much, and she’s left with a little bit of PTSD from it all. I wish I would have done more scenes with Josh [Brolin] but the scene with Benicio I had so much fun doing because he was just such a good actor, obviously. He gave me a lot of good advice. It was a collaborative effort, truly. From the first time I saw the first draft of the movie to the final, it’s changed so much. The storyline is still there, but it just changed, the way they get to the ending.

LRM: So it sounds like the dynamic you had with Benicio del Toro from the beginning came very natural, very easy.

Moner: Yeah, it was pretty easy for us to act like father and almost like daughter. He was very paternal towards me, and he plans on staying in my life. He’s been a teacher almost, in a way in his wisdom. He’s not really that mysterious or dark, and in real life, he’s actually quite a happy guy with a big heart. He’s like a teddy bear inside. Same with Josh, he’s just a little bit much of an introvert, I guess.

LRM: Gotcha. Did you at any time feel claustrophobic in the scenes where you’re tied and your head is covered? How was it filming those scenes?

Moner: I don’t know if it was me being younger then, or something, but for some reason I agreed to getting duct taped with real duct tape. It was quite interesting because I don’t know why I did that. Now I wouldn’t want to, but it really helped me get into it in the moment. At one point, he did double tie the duct tape at one point, because I think my teacher complained, for right reasons. I had a hard time breathing. I don’t want to give anything away, but it was the last scene where I lose Alejandro and that look that I give was me just actually running out of breath (laughs). I couldn’t breathe and I was just trying to stand perfectly still for the effect of it.

But yeah, those were some pretty intense scenes out there, not gonna lie. I went home with a few cuts and bruises every day. You’re out there, you’re really doing it. Even the fight scene at the beginning between me and the British girl, we went at it. My stunt double did the wide shots, and I did, obviously, the close-up shots. I think the majority, pretty much all of it, was me that you se there. So that was a lot of fun, to do that. I had two things on my bucket list of things to do in movies, and one of them was that. A fight scene. Another one is shooting an alien blaster.

LRM: Oh I’m sure that will come eventually. (laughs)

Moner: I mean, maybe. I thought it was going to happen in Transformers, but it didn’t. I kept begging Michael.

LRM: Well, you’re getting close! (laughs) So, of all the scenes, you said there were some intense scenes. Which one, of all of them, would you say was the most challenging for you?

Moner: I’m trying to remember.

LRM: I felt for you in the scene under a vehicle.

Moner: Oh, right! I remember that. Sorry, there are so many scenes that were so intense in their own way. But that one, specifically, was intense, because that was improv, as well as another scene that I did. They just had the camera on me and they’re like, “just get out of the car.” And I’m like, “Uh, okay.” So I’m trying to get out of the car, the door was locked, I climbed over. I had this bullet-proof vest on, so it’s really heavy. That scene, hearing all those gunshots, seeing that they’re blanks but they’re still very loud, was enough to get me really in the moment. The rest of the day, even when they said ‘cut’, I would still be crying and so emotionally worked up about it. You can’t just turn it off. Your mind knows it’s not real, but your body has a hard time. Your body doesn’t know. You can’t trick your body into thinking something’s not real. Especially when you want to really do it honestly and truthfully to what would actually happen.

Another thing I’d like to add, really quickly, is Stefano. I’ve got to thank [director] Stefano Sollima because he really did push me in a way that no one really had before, because they tend to think at the time, ‘oh, she’s a little fifteen-year-old girl, we’re going to have her read her lines and that’s it.’ But he really did give me the opportunity to expand my role and really, really give him all that I’ve got. He really had me doing the same things and treating me the same way as the male actors. It’s such a heavily male-dominated movie, you can’t help but feel like a fish out of water, especially with all the crew on set being mostly guys, usually. So I really appreciated that there was no special treatment there, within child labor laws, of course. But other than that…

LRM: Going back to the movie a little. At a given point, Isabel decides to, not giving too much away, run away to the desert. You personally, would you have done the same thing in a scenario like that? Because the desert can be tricky.

Moner: It’s very brave of her to do that, because first of all, I’d be like, why would I go out in the open? I wouldn’t go out in the open like that because I would be afraid of getting shot. I’d probably just hide under the seat or something, climb in the back of the car. You never know the outcome of these scenarios, so I think Isabel was smart to get the hell out of there. At this point, she didn’t know who’s good or bad, and she’s assuming that no one’s good, which is reasonable at this point. She doesn’t know who the hell kidnapped her, or what is going on. So she definitely made a wise decision.

I think Isabel, throughout the movie, she’s almost ridiculed in the beginning. It’s almost sad, it’s really sad what happens to her when they play that manipulative trick on her about who kidnapped her, and all the s**t that she’s put through. And the ending look that I share with Josh in the Black Hawk, where I’m so stunned, and he sees me and he sees the effect all of this has had on me. There was truly a moment after that, Josh and I both cried, so it was really emotional, for sure.

LRM: Is there anything you can share with us that you may be working on, wrapped up, coming up, that we will be seeing you?

Moner: Versatility is a very important thing for me as an actor. So when you see Dora the Explorer on IMDb, don’t be surprised. I read the script, it’s a comedy/ action, Eugenio Derbez is gonna be a part of it. Benicio said he wants to be in it, because his daughter watches Dora. It’s exciting, I’m excited to start in August in Australia.

LRM: That’s great. Have you met Derbez?

Moner: I have. I met him at CinemaCon, when I won the rising star award, and then I saw him again. He literally flew in from the soccer tournament in Russia to present me the award at the Nalip awards, the Latin media awards. He’s just such an angel. He’s another one, him and Octavia Spencer probably have to be my favorite actors, personality-wise, in Hollywood, because they’re not nice for the sake of being nice, they’re just good-hearted people. They want nothing more than to make people happy.

LRM: I’m so excited, I was actually going to ask you about “Dora the Explorer,” thank you for sharing. We definitely look forward to seeing you in “Dora” and all of your other projects in the future.

Moner: Thank you.

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