When Kelly Marie Tran finally landed her very first part in a film after eight years as a struggling actor, it was the role of a lifetime: fan favorite Rose Tico in “Stars Wars: The Last Jedi.” All at once, after almost a decade, she had made it — and making it meant, among other things, paying off her student loans.
Before the offer came to make her cinema debut with director Rian Johnson, the 28-year-old UCLA grad had gotten used to grinding, supporting herself by working odd jobs and at a temp agency while also trying her best to put herself out there to get cast in projects. “She’d wake up at 5 a.m., answer phones and grab coffee, leave for two or three auditions in the afternoon, then come back to the office and stay until 8 or 9 at night,” reports Buzzfeed.
Gigs were scant, and she was weary. Her acting experience consisted of a few appearances in CollegeHumor skits, a web series she shot with her friends, and some improv shows. Tran told Entertainment Weekly she thought about quitting.
“I remember thinking, ‘This could be my life forever,'” she said. “Like, I could just never make it. I could work this hard for the next 20 years of my life and still be struggling.”
Then, when the world-changing news came, she couldn’t even share it with her parents, refugees from Vietnam who had brought their children to America in search of a better life. Because of her contract and the secrecy of the shoot, she explained to Buzzfeed, Tran had to tell her family that she was off to Canada to shoot some indie film.
Tran chose acting. But it wasn’t easy. Like many minority actors, Tran was frequently offered roles that just played on her ethnicity. She stars in one CollegeHumor video entitled, “Are You Asian Enough?”
“I had resigned myself to thinking that one day I would be just the weird side character who always talks about being Asian and brings kimchi to the party,” she told the Detroit Free Press.
Now, she is the first Asian-American lead in “Star Wars,” the highest-grossing film franchise of all time, and has become the first Asian-American featured on the cover of Vanity Fair.