Ariana DeBose's new movie, I.S.S., is a high-concept, sci-fi thriller that presented itself at an interesting point in the Oscar winner's career. "At that time, I'd made The Prom and West Side Story, but the latter hadn't come out yet," she says of the back-to-back movie musicals that marked her breakthrough on-screen roles. (By that point, DeBose was an original ensemble member in Hamilton and had earned a Tony nomination starring in Summer: The Donna Summer Musical.)
"I.S.S. was the next film I took on after those two movies, and we made it during the pandemic," DeBose explains. "I didn't have an Oscar statue to my name yet. Nobody was sending me thrillers or sci-fi movies."
Steven Spielberg's take on West Side Story arrived in theaters in 2021, and at the 94th Oscars, DeBose won Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her performance as Anita. "Now you see why that Anita says, 'I want to be in America,'" she said onstage, "because even in this weary world that we live in dreams do come true."
In the meantime, DeBose knew that she wanted to star in I.S.S. after reading the first 10 pages of the script. "It felt different than any sci-fi film or thriller that I had ever seen or read." Set aboard the International Space Station, the movie centers on a group of American and Russian astronauts, including DeBose's Dr. Kira Foster, whose mission is upended when nuclear war breaks out on Earth below.
"While it takes place in space, it asks big questions about us as people," she observes. "It tells a very human story. It felt like a chance to achieve real intimacy and nuance on-screen, and I thought it'd be a great challenge for me as an actor."
I.S.S. hits theaters following Disney's animated musical, Wish, for which DeBose lent her voice to the heroine Asha, and ahead of Matthew Vaughn's action flick, Argylle, in which she pops up alongside Henry Cavill, John Cena and Dua Lipa. Later this year, she will star in Kraven the Hunter, playing the Marvel comic book character, Calypso.
Below, DeBose shares with A.frame her five favorite films, including her own go-to movie musical.
Directed by: Leo McCarey | Written by: Delmer Daves, Leo McCarey and Donald Ogden Stewart
My favorite movie of all time is An Affair to Remember with Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant. I love them in that movie. I love their love. I love that their relationship is a little bit messy and that Deborah Kerr has so much gumption. She is the definition of spicy in that movie, and she's got that great Mid-Atlantic accent. She's starring opposite one of the spiciest movie stars of that era, and it's a great example of making sure that you give as good as you get. I think it's interesting that we never really see them sleep together, either. They barely kiss. I love that, because in movies these days, we tend to just get right to it! But I like how their attraction is hinted at and eluded to throughout the film.
Directed by: Garry Marshall | Written by: Gina Wendkos
When I was a kid, The Princess Diaries was very influential for me. I'm an only child, I was raised by a single mom, and when The Princess Diaries came out, it felt like it came at the right time for me. What young person doesn't want to wake up and find out that they're a princess? Even more than that, the character of Mia Thermopolis was nerdy, but she was also creative and a leader. She just needed a chance to find herself and shine. I felt like that growing up, like I had more to offer but it just wasn't showing yet.
Also, who wouldn't want Julie Andrews to be their grandma?
Directed by: Mike Nichols | Written by: Elaine May
I love Primary Colors. There's a scene in it where Emma Thompson's character comes into a room and she throws a fit, and when I saw that, I knew I wanted to be an actor. I don't know why, but I was like, 'Yep. I want to figure out how to do that. What does it take? How raw do you have to be?' Emma Thompson's so amazing. I don't think there's anything she can't do.
Directed by: Brian Gibson | Written by: Kate Lanier
I have to mention What's Love Got to Do with It and specifically, Angela Bassett's performance in it, which made a lasting impression on me. Everything she does in the film is just amazing. I think her physicality is incredible, and how she showcases Tina Turner's strength and perseverance on-screen is extraordinary.
Directed by: Phyllida Lloyd | Written by: Catherine Johnson
On a bad day, when I just need to sing along with a movie, I watch Mamma Mia! Some people judge me for saying that, but the respect, love, friendship, and chemistry that is present between Christine Baranski, Julie Walters and Meryl Streep in that movie is not to be rivaled or trifled with, in my opinion. I will always sing "Super Trouper" at the top of my lungs. Every time.