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Diego Luna never thought his breakout role in Alfonso Cuarón’s 2001 coming-of-age road film “Y tu Mamá También” (And Your Mother Too) would lead him to a starring role within the “Star Wars” franchise — as well as Hollywood awards buzz 22 years later.
As voting for Emmy nominations ends this weekend, the Mexican actor may be on the verge of making history with his acting performance as “Star Wars” revolutionary Cassian Andor in the Disney+ TV series “Andor.”
The internationally acclaimed actor could become the first Latino nominated for best lead actor in a drama series since 1999 and just the second one ever to be recognized in the category.
Jimmy Smits, who is of Puerto Rican heritage, is the only Latino actor who has received Emmy nominations for best lead actor in a drama series. Smits was nominated five consecutive times for his role as Det. Bobby Simone on ABC’s “NYPD Blue” from 1995 to 1999.
If Emmy-nominated, Luna could also be the first-ever lead actor in a “Star Wars” series to do so.
“Andor,” which is currently eligible for awards, follows Cassian Andor’s personal journey to becoming a revolutionary during the early stages of a burgeoning rebellion against the oppressive regime of a fictitious Empire.
His role as Cassian Andor already earned Luna a Golden Globe nomination earlier this year — the first of his career — for best performance by an actor in a TV drama series. He was also the first actor from a “Star Wars” TV series to be nominated at the Golden Globes.
In a conversation with NBC News, Luna reflected on how an unlikely project can serve as a launching pad for bigger opportunities and why it was important to deglamorize the heroic Cassian Andor that audiences first met seven years ago.
His character was introduced into the “Star Wars” galaxy in the 2016 film “Rogue One,” making him the franchise’s first Latino lead. Last fall, fans got to see Luna peel back the layers of this rebel-hero-in-the-making during the prequel series, “Andor.”
When approached to do “Rogue One,” director Gareth Edwards told Luna he wanted Cassian Andor to exude the same kind of realism and “everyday feeling” Luna brought to his character in “Y tu mamá también,” Luna said in a recent Actors on Actors conversation.
“What I have learned about it is that it’s about getting the most you can from the moment you’re living,” Luna told NBC News. “It’s more about making sure that whatever you’re doing with the tools you have, you’re getting the most out of that — and that’s going to propel you somewhere else. That’s always going to take you somewhere interesting.”
Even within a science fiction context, “Andor” is an examination of loss, sacrifice and morality. The genre-bending series has elements of war drama and even political thriller.
Luna’s performance as the titular character brought a much-needed sense of humanity into a cinematic universe that often focuses on big action sequences and building a world around fictional technology.
“We find ourselves living in this galaxy far, far away and interacting with these creatures, these different planets, these different tools, vehicles — everything belongs to a reality that is not mine,” Luna said.
Against this background, Luna sought to ensure the fantastical universe of “Star Wars” would not overshadow “what the actual scenes are about,” he said. “It’s about human relations.”
It would be easy to idealize and romanticize a character that is capable of “risking everything and sacrificing all for a cause.” But for Luna, “that would be a mistake,” he said.
“It was really important always to keep Cassian grounded, to keep this character in a reality I could share and I could connect with,” Luna said. “I wanted always to do a complex person that would have contrast and that would have kind of a constant contradiction going on.”
When getting ready to reprise his role as Cassian Andor in the prequel, Luna’s goal was to figure out “how far away can he be” from the man audiences first meet in 2017.
For the actor, that was the best way to give his character a complex path toward redemption. Throughout the course of 12 episodes, Cassian Andor goes from “thinking about himself as the center of everything” to understanding “ he is part of a community,” Luna said.
“When you understand the power of community, then you can become part of change,” he added.
Luna said he sought out references from characters found in literature and in Latin American history to inform his portrayal of Cassian Andor.
But according to Luna, his most influential references came from “people I actually have interacted with, people that I have a real memory of, such as teachers, mentors and friends,” he said. “They have been great examples of what you and I can do, what regular people are capable of.”
Betting on the unique characteristics of the series, Disney+ hosted an Emmys “for your consideration” event in Los Angeles last month featuring a screening of “Andor’s” final episode from season 1 followed by a Q&A with the show’s cast and crew.
The second season of “Andor” is currently in production.
Set to premiere next year, the series will return with an additional 12 episodes that promise to take audiences through the events that led to “Rogue One.”
A few other Latinos could join Luna in making Emmy history this year. Chilean actor Pedro Pascal could also be nominated for best lead actor in a drama series for his lead performance in HBO’s “The Last Of Us.”
Latina actors Selena Gomez and Jenna Ortega could also face each other in the lead comedy actress category; Gomez for her performance in Hulu’s “Only Murders in the Building” and Ortega for portraying the titular character in Netflix’s “Wednesday.”
It could be the first time two Latinas have been recognized in the same acting category. Rita Moreno and America Ferrera are the only two Latinas to ever be nominated for an Emmy in the lead comedy actress category. Moreno was nominated in 1983 for ABC’s “9 to 5” and Ferrera in 2007 and 2008 for ABC’s “Ugly Betty.” Ferrera won in 2007.
Nicole Acevedo is a reporter for NBC News Digital. She reports, writes and produces stories for NBC Latino and NBCNews.com.
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