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Actor Camila Mendes on 'Upgraded', a new rom-com about a New York art intern

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, HOST:

Ana Santos is an aspiring art gallerist working as an unpaid intern at a fancy New York auction house. She gets recruited to fly to London with her demanding boss but is sent on a later different plane to fly economy - that is, until the airline desk attendant takes pity on her.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "UPGRADED")

CAMILA MENDES: (As Ana) First class? I've never been in first class. This is incredible. Thank you so much. I don't even know what to say. Just got upgraded.

ELLIOTT: Next thing you know, she upgrades herself by telling a white lie to a wealthy, young Brit she meets on the plane. Ana pretends she runs the auction house's New York office as opposed to just being an intern. As the movie, also called "Upgraded," goes along, it gets harder and harder for Ana to live up to her lie. Camila Mendes is the star of the new rom-com, now streaming on Amazon, and joins us now. Welcome to the program.

MENDES: Thank you so much for having me.

ELLIOTT: Tell us more about the Ana character and what drew you to this role.

MENDES: I think what was most appealing to me about playing Ana is that, you know, she feels more like me than any character that I've played before. You know, she's a little bit more lighthearted and silly and fun. And I tend to play characters that are more, you know, snappier and confident, self-assured, which are all great qualities and qualities I love to play and qualities I think I do possess a little bit of. But I think Ana feels more like how I feel inside, and it was really fun to lean into that side of myself.

ELLIOTT: I hope it's not too much of a spoiler if I say that Ana eventually does get caught in her lie because I want to play something she says when that happens.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "UPGRADED")

MENDES: (As Ana) They fired me because I lied, and I'm realizing that pretending to be more than I am got me further in a week than being myself did in a year.

ELLIOTT: I'm guessing that that line will resonate with a lot of young workers, for sure, who are trying to climb up the ladder in their particular professions. Could you identify with that line as well?

MENDES: It's one of my favorite lines in the movie. I think it's so powerful because it just reminds you that, like, it really is about faking it till you make it in life. And I think there's this element of manifestation that happens when you act like you deserve really great things and you act like you deserve success, then you attract all those things. It's like with relationships. If you're looking for a healthy, happy relationship, then a healthy, happy relationship will come to you. And I think Ana attracts the healthy happy relationship, and she also attracts the success. And in a way, it's all because she gave that little white lie, so, you know, maybe there's a lesson there (laughter).

ELLIOTT: Have you ever told a little white lie that got you what you needed?

MENDES: I mean, I really avoid doing things like that because I'm so afraid of what happened to Ana happening to me (laughter). So I avoid lying even if it's just a little white lie.

ELLIOTT: You know, our audience might know you for playing Veronica in "Riverdale" for seven years. That was a television series. How is it different working on a movie?

MENDES: It's so different because obviously, with Veronica on "Riverdale," I played that character for seven years, 10 months out of the year, and I was playing her over and over again to the point where I really understood her like the back of my hand, and I didn't have to think too hard about my choices 'cause they all just came organically. It was like wearing a second skin. And then with movies, you know, you get to live in that skin for a short period of time. And so it feels like just in the moment that you're getting the groove of things, then it's over. Just when you really feel like you found it, you're like, oh, OK - guess that's a wrap.

ELLIOTT: You, though, did appear to have, like, chemistry as a cast, I think, in this...

MENDES: Yeah.

ELLIOTT: ...Film. Your boss in "Upgraded" is played by Marisa Tomei. Here's a clip that gives listeners a sense of her personality.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "UPGRADED")

MARISA TOMEI: (As Claire) What's that massive oil spill on the back of your shirt?

MENDES: (As Ana) It's nothing.

TOMEI: (As Claire) Are you implying I'm hallucinating?

MENDES: (As Ana) No. No. Sorry. It must have happened on the train.

TOMEI: (As Claire) Which department are you in?

MENDES: (As Ana) You're my new boss.

TOMEI: (As Claire) We'll see how long that lasts.

ELLIOTT: What was it like working with her?

MENDES: It was incredible. I mean, like, there's a reason why she's won an Oscar before. She's such a prepared actress and brought so many interesting choices to the role that I couldn't have even dreamed of if I tried. Obviously, there was a certain amount that was on the page, but the choices she made were so nuanced and unexpected that I was, like, floored. And I realized, you know, she kind of set the bar high for how I want to be as an actor.

ELLIOTT: That accent.

MENDES: It's amazing. It's so funny.

ELLIOTT: Now, you not only played the lead in this. You were also an executive producer on "Upgraded."

MENDES: Yeah.

ELLIOTT: And I read that you and your team tried to sort of modernize the rom-com genre a bit. Can you explain what you tried?

MENDES: Yeah. So when I read the script, the initial script was written by Christine Lenig, and I really loved it. It, you know, had really strong structure and great characters, and I loved the story and kind of where it went.

But I just wanted to come on as executive producer so that I could update the dialogue a little bit and make it feel, you know, more nuanced and give it a little bit more depth between the relationship and just get really specific with how they speak with each other, how they flirt with each other. I wanted that to feel more modern - like, how would two people our age flirt in today's age? - and do it in a way that felt new and exciting.

ELLIOTT: I felt like you also allowed Ana to sort of explore the kinds of different relationships here. It was not only this new...

MENDES: Right, yeah.

ELLIOTT: ...Love interest, but his mother, the demanding boss...

MENDES: Yeah.

ELLIOTT: ...You know, the sister. You had a lot going on.

MENDES: Exactly, which I think everyone can relate to. And one of my favorite relationships in the movie is the relationship between Ana and Catherine, who's Will's mom. I think there's such a importance to that relationship, you know? It's like, the way to your boyfriend is through his mother (laughter). And I think her kind of being so involved in that makes the story so much sweeter.

ELLIOTT: So the movie also sort of pokes fun at the snobbishness of the art world. Is art something that you're interested in?

MENDES: I don't necessarily know a lot about art history, and I'm not as educated as Ana is in that department. But, you know, when I moved into my first home, I was, like, really excited about the process of decorating it with beautiful art, and that process made me fall in love with art so much.

ELLIOTT: So I hear there's a Banksy hidden in the background of some scene of the movie. Is that true?

MENDES: Yes, it is true. It's kind of hidden in plain sight, to be honest. It's right behind Claire for a big scene.

ELLIOTT: I missed it.

MENDES: Oh, well, you better go back and watch it (laughter).

ELLIOTT: Actor Camila Mendes, star of the movie "Upgraded." Thank you so much.

MENDES: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.