Úrsula Corberó was at a New Year’s Eve party in Uruguay when a handful of strangers approached the then little-known actor to proclaim her “a goddess.” “What a coincidence—the only four people who’ve seen La Casa de Papel are at this party,” Corberó, who at that point had only ever worked on small projects in her native Spain, recalls telling her boyfriend.
Technically, Corberó’s admirers hadn’t seen La Casa de Papel, but Money Heist—Netflix’s re-edited version of the show that came and went without any fanfare on Antena 3, a local Spanish network, in 2017. After she wrapped shooting Money Heist, Corberó barely gave the series another thought. Meanwhile, it had become an overnight sensation. Forget Spain—the show was suddenly a full-on hit across the globe. Within four months, Money Heist was the most-watched non-English series in Netflix history—a “cultural phenomenon,” as the streaming giant put it in a 2020 documentary about the craze. And Corberó was a key part of it: Her beloved character Tokyo is a fan favorite among the motley crew of bank robbers at its center, and narrator of all the action.
And yet, if you’re American, there’s a good chance you won’t recognize the face currently front and center at the top of the Netflix homepage, signaling the long-awaited arrival of the first part of Money Heist’s fifth and final season. (Antena 3’s plans to call it quits after two seasons, citing lack of audience and interest, remain a distant memory.) Corberó only recently began making a splash among English-speaking audiences, having learned the language herself about two years ago. Not that you’d be able to tell from her Hollywood debut alongside Henry Golding in the action-hero movie Snake Eyes earlier this summer. Corberó had even herself fooled. Speaking over Zoom from her apartment in Madrid, she recalls her reaction upon seeing her final performance: “Who is this person? You liar!”
Corberó, who grew up near Barcelona, was just six years old when she realized acting was her “trade.” At least, that’s what her mom tells her; as a child, she was evidently so convinced that her mom and dad, a fishmonger and carpenter, set off on a daunting quest to track down a child talent agency. In 2002, at age 13, Corberó finally made the leap from advertising to acting. It took a number of years and small Spanish-language TV shows, but she finally made a splash as a troubled adolescent in the racy teen drama series Física o Química in 2011. More increasingly high-profile series followed, including the period drama Isabel and the sitcom Anclados, costarring Rossy de Palma. (Still, apart from Money Heist, her highest-profile role to many Americans is the music video she self-shot for “Un Día,” J. Balvin’s collab with Tainy, Dua Lipa, and Bad Bunny, while in lockdown last summer.)
Corberó has always stayed booked and busy, but until recently, only ever in Spain. (Netflix baffled the Money Heist cast and crew with the news that they would begin shooting season 3 in actual Thailand, not the makeshift version they’d previously created in Madrid.) The changes in location and production level felt monumental, but were nothing compared to what the actor found when she stepped onto the Snake Eyes set in Vancouver. She literally couldn’t understand what was going on. “I had, like, two sentences: ‘Yeah, sure, of course,’ or ‘Oh, yeah,’” she recalls with a laugh. If those failed, she’d simply smile and nod.
Naturally, that made for quite the challenge when it came to filming—especially because Corberó plays the Baroness, the terrorist group Cobra’s resident badass who rightfully gets to use the PG-13 film’s single allotted F-word. Unfortunately, Corberó had the most difficulty understanding the film’s director, Robert Schwentke. Ever mystified by his feedback after each take, she’d simply try something different each time. “I was like, I don’t know what he wants exactly, so I’m just going to try something else.”
Her efforts paid off. Snake Eyes ends perfectly poised for just what producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura has told Corberó he has in mind: a Baroness spin-off. “It’s not a fact, but a lot of people are talking about it,” the actor says, clearly thrilled. The Baroness is not, as Corberó put it, “a huge character” in the reboot of the G.I. Joe franchise (Sienna Miller played her in the original), but the demand is clearly there: When I saw the film in theaters, for example, the audience full-on cheered each time she pulled a move like digging her towering stilettos into the body of a man she’d just knocked unconscious. “I still want to go a little bit more deeply with her,” along the lines of a Black Widow, Cruella, or Harley Quinn, Corberó says. “I think it’s really nice to see the human parts of these villains, and these female characters with such powerful attitudes.” Corberó is grateful to have already had experience with such a role in the form of Tokyo, whom she describes as “a little bit more chill, more mature” in the show’s final chapter. (But her character is still impulsive enough that fans post questions on Reddit like “Why is Tokyo so fucking stupid?“)
There is, however, one thing Corberó won’t miss about playing Tokyo: her weekly visits to the physical therapist. “The [Money Heist] characters are always in this constant violent behavior, and that’s not good for your neck or your head or your back,” she says with a laugh. “The producers, the creators—they’re rock n’ roll. They just want to do as much as possible, as risky as possible, and sometimes you just want to cry.” Despite having actually feared for her life on occasion, Corberó, for her part, has no regrets: “You know that you are taking the risk, but that’s part of its magic.”
The role of the Baroness hasn’t been without its own physical demands: Those stilettos may look glamorous, but took such a toll on Corberó’s back that she soon had trouble simply getting out of a chair. The actor is ready to take the Baroness’s action scenes to Tokyo level, but first up, she’s tackling something just as, if not even more, difficult: “My goal is to speak English without getting tired,” she says with a laugh. “That is my goal in life right now.”