“Some days I’m so hyped, it feels like my body could explode,” actress Eiza González professes, exhaling with the force of her whole upper body. “And there are days I cannot take it anymore.”
Here we are, seated at a bistro table by the big picture window at West Hollywood’s iconic Sunset Tower—me, 29-year-old cinema vixen González, and her chicken salad. “I’m sorry,” she says, midbite, as soon as I sit down. “I got here early—I was starving.” She tightens her ponytail, straightens the neckline of her ivory off-the-shoulder top, and reaches out a hand to shake. “So nice to meet you.”
González and I have actually met once before. “At that crystal shop,” I remind her, to which she responds, “Oh, of course.” Two years ago, I profiled González just after America came to know her in 2017’s big-screen action hit Baby Driver. González played Monica “Darling” Costello, the sultry she-villain on a team of all-male bandits. She and I spent half a day together, chatting newfound American fame while browsing for rose quartz at a New Age boutique on Melrose (my editor suggested crystal shopping as an icebreaker… only in L.A.). I remember González sashaying un-self-consciously around the store, admiring the glittering geodes and enthusiastically conversing with the shop’s owners, who’d moved here from González’s native Mexico. They admitted they’d never seen her work, but González wasn’t offended. A former telenovela superstar who couldn’t so much as pick up a bag of groceries in her home country without a throng of admirers clamoring for a selfie, González was almost intoxicated by her unrecognizableness. Hollywood seemed electrifyingly fresh and full of possibility then—a new market to conquer. But now, two years later, González admits that the relationship she’s developed with the U.S. entertainment industry has been a love-hate one.
It’s not as if González has been hard-up for work. Her next year is stacked with roles in big-budget action flicks like the Fast and the Furious spin-off Hobbs & Shaw (set for an August 2 release) and 2020’s Godzilla vs. King Kong. They’re similar to her Baby Driver character: gorgeous, fit, weapon-slinging. González accepts that an actor’s first big role determines how audiences and casting directors will see them in the future, and she’s grateful that American cinema has embraced her at all: “I do enjoy these types of roles, I like training for them,” she says. “But I know I’m stereotyped as this ‘sexy’ character consistently.” Over the next year, González hopes to change that.
The period since González and I last saw each other has been, shall we say… interesting for women in Hollywood: The #MeToo and Time’s Up movements challenged the industry to own up to its problematic treatment of female entertainment workers, and a second coming of #OscarsSoWhite illuminated how troublingly homogenous cinema continues to be. UCLA’s most recent Hollywood diversity report found that despite representing almost 40% of the American population, people of color still only made up 19.8% of 2017 film leads, and women made up just under 33%. This number is even lower for women of color. Even though González has received more opportunities to go up for major roles since our crystal shopping date (“Whether that’s because of my work or [the desire for] inclusivity, I don’t know,” she says), she doesn’t think Hollywood is going about its push for diversity quite right.
According to González, for every conversation she’s now a part of because of her Latina heritage, she’s excluded from several more for failing to meet the precise ethnic requirements. To my shock, González tells me she’s been asked for DNA test results proving she has at least 2% of one ethnicity or another, or else she won’t be allowed to audition for a certain role. Instead of diversifying casts so audiences can feel better represented, it seems like Hollywood higher-ups are simply covering their asses, attempting to avoid “whitewashing” controversies like that of the 2015 romantic comedy Aloha (in which Emma Stone played someone of Hawaiian and Asian descent), or 2016’s Nina (where Zoe Saldana’s portrayal of the late jazz musician Nina Simone was criticized as an example of blackface).
Now, actresses like González, who aren’t white enough to enjoy the privilege of whiteness in Hollywood or (evidently) ethnic enough for loads of other roles, find themselves in a perplexing position. González puts it to me like this: “If [an actor] gets a chance, but they’re not representing who they’re supposed to, then they’re canceled, or they’re taking jobs from someone else. Cancel culture is brutal. So, I’m not going to lie, I get confused. Because art is subjective. It’s not politically correct. But I also want people to feel included. How do we get to that point? It’s complicated.”
By Gonzalez’s measure, Hollywood’s current attempts at solving its inclusivity problem have actively limited her—cornered her into playing only Mexican characters. But then (cruel irony), because scripts with complex Latina figures are in short supply, she winds up playing the stereotype: the token “sexy” female, who may get to hold a gun like her male co-stars, but her skin-tight outfits and minimal dialogue make it crystal clear that her role is still to be looked at. “I’m Mexican, I was born in Mexico, and I’m absolutely proud of who I am,” González says, “but when it’s used against me [say, by forcing her into only one type of role], I enter an identity crisis. Who am I supposed to be?” González says the stress of having jobs she desperately wanted slip through her fingers because of her heritage has taken a toll on her mental health. “I actually had to go to therapy over this,” she tells me. “It’s hard to be so vulnerable, to open yourself up to a room, only to have them hold something against you that you can’t change.” As long as whiteness enjoys its default status in Hollywood, then most of the “diversity” we see on screen will come in the form of these problematic clichés.
Playing the feisty siren that all the girls want to be and all the boys want to be with is something that González has even carried into real life. In a way, she’s always auditioning for this role; that’s clear as soon as I sit down with González at Sunset Tower, when she answers my opening question, a simple query about how she’d describe her personal style, with a response that sounds as if it came from one of her action movie scripts: “I’m like a tomboy meets feminine,” she says with a performative side smile. “I’m that girl where if I’m at a party and there’s a ball, I’ll probably go play with my boys.”
If I were a big studio casting director, I might eat that up. But fortunately, by the end of our conversation, González seems to have let her guard down enough to pause the song and dance. “I can be soft. I can do soft characters,” she admits. “And comedy! But those are just sides of myself that people don’t usually get to see.” González hopes the touches of humor she got to do in Godzilla (coming March 2020) will open up more opportunities for her. “The next eight months are going to be interesting,” she says.
González is clearly in a moment of transition. This lunch quite literally serves as a transition from her morning Pilates class in Santa Monica to a tattoo shop farther east. After our interview, González has an appointment to get a cover-up tattoo to conceal a matching design she procured with an ex last year (possibly her famous former paramour Josh Duhamel? I can’t bring myself to ask). “I thought it’d be like Angelina Jolie’s Billy Bob Thornton tattoo—like I wouldn’t care and keep it even if we broke up,” she says. “But… yeah, no. I’m over it.” In life as in career, for González, it’s out with the old and in with the radically new.
Don’t miss last month’s cover feature with Allison Williams.