From Rey and Finn to Luke and Han Solo, our favorite Star Wars heroes all have one thing in common – they’re always in the thick of the action. They’re legends in the galaxy far, far away, but in The Last Jedi we’re going to meet a new face who’s a bit different, someone who could be any of us.

In the Rian Johnson film, Rose Tico, played by newcomer Kelly Marie Tran, is a mechanic for the Resistance who sets off on a mission to the Las Vegas-esque city of Canto Bight alongside Finn (John Boyega). “She’s a character that works in the background,” Tran said of Rose. “What happens when you take someone who is normally behind the scenes and put them in a position where they have to deal with everything happening in the action of it?” That’s Rose, or at least what Tran is willing to reveal about her new character amid the film’s tight-lipped publicity tour – she did tease that “a lot of surprises” are in store for us.

Tran emerged from the San Diego comedy scene, and you may recognize her from episodes of Adam Ruins Everything, About a Boy, and CollegeHumor sketches. But The Last Jedi marks her biggest role yet, a casting that also makes her the first Asian-American actress to land a major part in a Star Wars film. It’s all still pretty surreal for her. During a phone interview over the weekend, Tran told me about landing the part while working at her desk job, why having never seen a Star Wars film before her audition was a blessing in disguise, and, of course, her thoughts on porgs.

I read that you were working at a temp agency when you auditioned for this and had to sneak out on your lunch break when you heard you got the role.

All true. [Laughs]

What was that like, to go back to a desk job after getting cast in a Star Wars film?

Very, very strange. I will say that I think I was so in shock by getting the role in general that going back to work was maybe the best thing to do, because I couldn’t tell anyone anyway. So I just went back to my normal life. It was almost as if I felt like I was in this weird dream. Reality wasn’t real anymore.

By now, does it actually feel real, or is it still pretty surreal?

Parts of it are going to be surreal forever, I believe. Seeing someone dressed up as your character is incredible. We were doing Jimmy Kimmel last night and this girl was dressed up as my character and that will never feel real to me. It’s truly an out-of-body experience. I am living it, but I still don’t believe that I am. It’s very odd.

Since working on a project like this is so secretive, has it been hard to talk to your friends and family about the movie without letting anything slip?

I just try not to talk to them about it at all, honestly. If I’m being honest, I love not talking about it because it’s so weird. Again, I’m new to this so I’m not used to doing interviews and things like that. I feel like I’m always talking about myself and I love not talking about myself. [Laughs]

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Probably easier to say nothing than accidentally slip.

So much easier. I love changing the subject. Let’s talk about anything else.

I also read you’d never seen a Star Wars movie before you auditioned.

Nope. [Laughs] Which actually freed me up to just create this character without any preconceived ideas of what I thought a character within that universe should be. I think it was the luckiest thing that ever happened to me because I felt free of the pressure of that franchise. It really helped.

Rose sounds like one of the most intriguing new characters. Rian has even said she’s his favorite. What is it about her that you think people are going to love?

I think it’s just that she’s a character that works in the background, someone who’s behind pipes all day. Her older sister is the one who fights alongside Poe. They’re in the forefront of the action, Rose isn’t. So what happens when you take someone who is normally behind the scenes and put them in a position where they have to deal with everything happening in the action of it? I think that’s why she’s so interesting. She’s so different.

Compared to Rey and Finn and these heroic Star Wars characters we all know, she sounds like an everywoman-type character.

Totally.

With that in mind, is there any sort of mystery behind her significance? Should we expect any sort of twist involving who she is?

Um, I think a lot of things in this movie are a mystery just because we can’t talk about them. But I will say, yeah, there are a lot of surprises in terms of what you’ll see from this character, mainly because you haven’t really seen any of her yet.

Considering your background in sketch comedy, do you get to have any comedic or witty moments in the film?

I think that, what can I say ... I think that she is funny when she’s reflecting the truth of the situation. You’re right, I do have a comedic background and I will say that I did use, directly or indirectly, those skills in this role. I do feel like my improv training has helped me throughout my entire audition process only because the idea of “yes and-ing” applies to everything. Like, if someone is giving you something creative as an idea, how can you add to that, how can you accept someone else’s contribution and add to that? And that is something you do all the time when you’re acting, you have to be really listening and reacting to what someone else is giving to you, or else you can’t respond in an authentic way.

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Did Rian give you much room to do any improv, or did you mostly stick to the script?

I think there are a few moments that definitely do feel as if we were just playing around on set. But for the most part, Rian is so specific and had an amazing script to begin with. I think that there are going to be really great moments that he already had in mind.

There’s a new Star Wars tie-in novel coming out soon, The Last Jedi: Cobalt Squadron, and it’s a prequel about Rose and Paige.

Yes.

Did you get to read that at all before or during production? What was your involvement with that story, if any?

No, no. That was something that was completely created after we finished filming. I didn’t even know it was happening really, until very recently because I am lucky enough to, I’m doing the audiobook of it. That’s actually out so I’m allowed to say that. I just thought to myself, “Should I have said that?” But yes, they announced that and I’m very excited. I think it’s a great story, I think it’s interesting to learn more about Rose and Paige.

Well... now that Rian has three prequel spinoffs on the way, is there any potential for a Rose solo movie? Would you want to do one?

I mean I would love that! But I have no idea.

Disney released a new behind-the-scenes training video of you and the rest of the cast. It looked pretty intense. How rigorous was your training process?

[Sighs] I mean, you’re speaking to a very non-athletic person. So I would definitely say that it tested me physically and mentally. The whole process tested me physically, emotionally and mentally, but in a good way. It made me better. But it was very difficult.

Do you get to wield a lightsaber at all?

Oh I can’t say! [Laughs]

I have to ask you about porgs. I’m obsessed with them, everyone’s obsessed with them.

Yes!

Do you like them?

I love them. I am pro-porg. That’s what Oscar [Issac] said, and I agree. I’m going to second that. I love them, I think they’re adorable.

Okay good, because John Boyega just told us he isn’t a porg fan.

Oh yeah, he hates them. Openly.

Have you seen the completed film yet?

Yeah. A lot of the cast, we watched it together last night. It was a very emotional viewing. I think that people are really going to respond to it.

From auditioning for the role to watching the film with the cast, what’s been the biggest surprise for you throughout this whole experience?

Oh God, I think the whole thing has been a surprise. I think I’ve been in a constant state of surprise since November 2015. It just feels like such an unlikely thing. My family’s not from – they don’t have an entertainment background. I feel so honored that I get to be part of this thing. I think everyone involved knows Star Wars is bigger than any individual. And I want to do the whole thing justice. You’ll have to let me know what you think.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi hits theaters December 15.

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