Everyone Thought Ana de la Reguera’s Army Of The Dead Role Was For A Man. She Kicks Zombie Ass Just Fine, Thanks
When Ana de la Reguera arrived on set for Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead, some people were surprised to see her. Her character Maria Cruz, had been billed simply as “Cruz” in the script. A mechanic and veteran of the zombie wars who downs beers with relish and feels most comfortable with a gun in hand? They assumed she was a man. But that ambiguity is part of what drew de la Reguera to the project in the first place. Gender, race, nationality — none of it matters when your opponents are flesh-eating monsters.
“With this movie — and I think all the women agreed — we’re exactly equal to the men,” de la Reguera told Refinery29 over the phone ahead of Army of the Dead’s May 21 Netflix release. “We all have different personalities, but it never felt like someone is weaker than another. It’s a very diverse cast — but they’re not stereotypes. [My character has] an accent and is a war veteran — and a lot of Latinos are, but we’re not used to seeing them in these stories.”
In Army of the Dead, Cruz makes up one-eighth of a crew sent in to retrieve a $200 million dollar from the vault of a Vegas casino on the eve of nuclear apocalypse. Oh, and the city happens to be infested with millions of zombies. It’s been a few years since Las Vegas was overrun by the undead after an army mishap accidentally set one loose, and the new president of the United States has vowed to drop a nuclear bomb on the city to eradicate zombies once and for all.
With just over 48 hours to go, Scott Ward (Dave Bautista), a veteran of the deadly outbreak turned short order cook, is approached by billionaire Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) to put together a reliable group to retrieve his money from a safe. Their end of the bargain? $50 million to be divided as they see fit. That’s how old friends Ward, Cruz, and Vanderohe (Omari Hardwicke) end up joining forces with newcomers including safecracker Ludwig Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer); Tanaka right-hand man Martin (Garrett Dillahunt); sharpshooter Mikey Guzman (Raul Castillo); his partner Chambers (Samantha Win); helicopter pilot Marianne Peters (Tig Notaro, who was famously brought in to replace Chris D’Elia after he was accused of sexual misconduct — allegations he denies); Lily, known in the refugee camps surrounding Vegas as “Coyote” for her ability to sneak in and out (Nora Arnezeder), and Ward’s daughter Kate (Ella Purnell). Think Ocean’s 11, but with more dead people.
A zombie heist film is a big change for de la Reguera, who started out in Mexican telenovelas and has since starred in Netflix’s Narcos, Eastbound and Down, Capadocia on HBO, and Power on Starz. In 2018, she was cast as mayoral candidate Marisol Silva on season 2 of Goliath alongside Billy Bob Thornton, and became a recurring character through season 3.
“I never thought of myself as an action star,” she joked. “I’m a terrible driver, I have no interest in guns. I don’t like war; I don’t like to risk my life for others.”
Yet, that’s exactly what summer 2021 has ushered in. On the heels of Army of the Dead, de la Reguera will star in The Forever Purge, the fifth installment in the Purge franchise that hits theaters in July. Next up, she’ll be reprising her role as Cruz in a Netflix animated series prequel called Army of the Dead: Lost Vegas. It’s a shift that she couldn’t have imagined even just two years ago, when, frustrated by the lack of opportunities and roles for Latinx women in Hollywood, she decided to create her own.
In 2020, de la Reguera wrote, produced, and starred in her own comedy series, Ana, loosely based on her own experiences in Hollywood, struggling to break out while balancing expectations, family, and sex. The show, now streaming on Pantaya, was a runaway hit, and suddenly, de la Reguera found herself in a place where she didn’t need to hustle for work. The offers started pouring in.
“My energy changed,” she said, “and things started to happen to me. As soon as I created Ana, I grew a lot as an artist. It gave me a lot of confidence, and I started to book more roles. I just let go and started focusing on working, and being creative. Instead of thinking about, Oh my god, they haven’t called me, I don’t have any auditions, how am I going to pay my mortgage, did I make a good decision about coming to the US, should I go back to Mexico? My energy now is like, Oh I didn’t get this role. Doesn’t matter.”
Producing her own series has also shifted the way she approaches roles as an actor. On Army of the Dead for example, she noticed that they wrapped shooting a climactic scene (I won’t spoil it here) without a shot she thought would be needed for the final edit. She didn’t say anything, but then was called back a few weeks later to redo the scene to include the missing piece.
“I would not have known that if I didn’t do Ana before Army of the Dead. I created the show, I wrote it, I knew exactly what I wanted. So now, when I read scenes, I read them in a different way. I think about editing. I think about how the scene is going to be cut.”
That acknowledgement, however implicit, of her skills behind the camera was empowering, she said. Lately, she’s been toying with the idea of directing, especially in light of the depressing statistics around Latinx directors in Hollywood. (Per a 2019 study by USC Annenberg’s Inclusion Initiative, of 1,200 top-grossing films released from 2007 to 2018, only one — 2016’s Miracles From Heaven, helmed by Patricia Riggen — was directed by a Latina.)
Simultaneously, de la Reguera has noticed a slow but increasingly noticeable difference in how the industry thinks of Latinx talent on-screen. “It’s been really interesting to watch,” she said. “I did have a lot of those moments where they thought I had too much of an accent. They liked me, but it was always about my accent. Or I didn’t look ‘Latina enough.’ It was always something. Right now, it’s the opposite. I have a lot of friends who are actresses and we all look different, and we’re all getting jobs and getting cast. That’s incredible to watch.”
De la Reguera credits streaming services — and their slew of popular global releases — with forcing the industry to confront their own blind spots. “The U.S. had to come more aware of the rest of the world. Shows like [Spain’s] Casa de Papel started to be as successful as their shows in America. And they were like, Oh, we’re losing a lot of audience because we’re not including them in conversations, in our stories.”
Seeing someone who looks like her kicking ass in a huge mainstream blockbuster project like Army of the Dead is important, she says. But don’t expect de la Reguera to grab a gun and fight off zombies IRL.
“I would lock myself in my bedroom with a lot of food, good movies, and wait for the best. If the zombies come and kill me, Okay just take me.”