■ The Venezuelan star, 43, on filming in Cuba for new spy thriller Wasp Network, his love of Instagram and meeting ET
Your new Netflix film Wasp Network, with Penélope Cruz, is about five real-life Cuban intelligence officers who got arrested in the US. Was it hard to film in Cuba?
The shoot was difficult. For any Latin American, Cuba is one of the craziest places in the world. There’s a scarcity of everything. The resources are very limited. Things change all the time -the rules. So permits were suddenly taken away. The whole bureaucracy, it’s not surprising and it’s not foreign to me. I come from Venezuela! But it’s a very complicated place. The crew was so open and warm but it’s a place full of contradictions. I asked a lot of questions. I was a journalist, after all, and some people were willing to answer and some people weren’t, which tells you a lot about the state of things.
Indeed, you started as a political journalist. Does this background help you as an actor?
Sure. For example, when I played fashion designer Versace in American Crime Story, I was able to track down one of Gianni Versace’s best friends, who’s now a good friend of mine, whose name I cannot reveal! But he opened up to talk to me and gave me the best insights I could ever get on Gianni. He was his best friend. And, of course, it took four months for this guy to open up and to trust me and talk to me. So it was pretty journalistic right there. I found him through a friend of a friend of a friend — so yeah, I keep doing it.
How did you switch into acting?
I would be lying if I said I was the kid who grew up dreaming of being an actor. A friend of mine invited me to do his short film. It was an experimental video about this girl and this guy that would have virtual sex. We’re talking about the end of the ’90s and the explosion of the internet. So we would wear these latex suits, like Demolition Man! It will come to light one day. I don’t know where it is but that’s gonna haunt me, that’s gonna bite me on the ass! I’m sure you’ll find it now!
Wasp Network marks your first reunion with director Olivier Assayas since your 2010 breakthrough role as Carlos the Jackal. Do you owe him a beer or two?
Olivier is a very, very, very influential person in my life! He changed my life through Carlos. I mean, there’s definitely a before and after Carlos in my career and in my life because of the opportunity I had to go through such an intense experience… therefore I’m very grateful. And actually, when Olivier told me about this movie, I said, ‘OK, yes! Now send me the script.’ Because I totally trust him. There’s a real, real close connection.
What was it like working with Penélope Cruz?
I love her — we have a great respect for each other and a great understanding when we’re working.
Your dad was a diplomat. How did that shape you growing up?
We moved around a lot and in every city and every school you created a new character because it was a new culture — basically like a spy! I was clearly meant to play a spy since I was a kid because it’s basically what you do.
You’ve worked with amazing directors like Ridley Scott and David O Russell. Has it been a case of Hollywood allowing you in the door?
Well, nobody allows you to do anything. You choose to do it. I don’t see it that way. I mean, it’s mutually beneficial. I’m very lucky that I’m able to choose my work but I don’t put things in those terms. I remember there was a time when I needed to audition and I did it. And it was a process and now I’m very privileged that I have the opportunity to choose my work.
Your next blockbuster is Disney’s Jungle Cruise. What made you choose that?
I know exactly why I did Jungle Cruise — I love Emily Blunt! I’ve worked with her before. Also, The Rock couldn’t be a more spectacular person. He’s such an incredible force of nature. And the story is great and I wanted to go through the experience — to do crazy stuff! I went to [visual effects house] Industrial, Light And Magic in San Francisco. It was like entering the Stranger Things facility. I saw the real ET and I took a picture next to it! I was like a kid. I grew up with those movies. I mean, ET was the first movie I ever saw.
Are you addicted to Instagram? You are on it a lot…
If you really look at it I’m not posting every day! I may disappear for long periods. The thing is that when I’m working it is the perfect occasion to post and, yes, I’m very excited about Wasp Network. Actually I haven’t posted today but I do my own social media. I’m behind every word and behind every picture and nobody does it for me. And that’s because it is my own outlet, it’s my own channel. If someone wants to know how I think and what I think about the world and politics, then go there.
■ Wasp Network is available on Netflix