Oct. 29 belonged to Gabriel Isaac Luna, born and raised in Austin, now of Los Angeles, Calif.
The theater at the Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter Lane was packed with Luna’s family and friends, dozens of them. “Terminator: Dark Fate” — the (extremely fun and cool) movie in which he stars as the titular villain, a virtually indestructible robot from the future disguised as a man — was about to screen. He was being introduced by local hero Robert Rodriguez, who had worked with Luna when both were younger. The dude simply owned this particular evening.
“We had to cancel the premiere in L.A. because of the fires,” Luna says the next day during an interview. “I considered last night to be the premiere. Family was there, friends were there, coaches, my artistic director at St. Ed’s (where Luna studied acting), a high school sweetheart, cousins, my mom's remaining sisters, both grandmothers.”
It’s a big moment for Luna, who is probably best known as Robbie Reyes, aka Ghost Rider, on the ABC superhero series “Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” (A planned Ghost Rider TV show, for which Luna had been in pre-production for months, has been scrapped in the wake of the Disney/Fox merger.)
Unlike, for example, that Matthew McConaughey fellow, Luna, who is 36, is actually from Austin.
He wasn’t much of a theater fan in high school. He “swore off performance forever” in the third grade. “I was the Dodo in ‘Alice in Wonderland,’” he says. “And everybody was laughing at me as I was waddling down the aisle, in long johns stuffed with bedsheets to make me big with the little feathers stuck in the tail.”
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In ninth grade at Crockett High School, his English teacher (“Mr. Kavanaugh was his name; he's a great man”) gave him the balcony speech from “Romeo and Juliet” to do in class. “And I remember my whole body shaking, I could barely get a word out,” he says. “But I did it, and he said, ‘Dude, that was really, really good.’ And that was the first time I had even considered (acting).”
Indeed, he planned on going to school on a football scholarship, but a shoulder injury ended those dreams. While in a required-for-credit theater class, Luna ended up reading for and starring in a one-act play. One thing led to another, and suddenly Luna had an acting scholarship to St. Edward’s University.
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In 2010, he won an Austin Critics Table award for best lead actor for his roles in the plays “Black Snow,” “Orestes” and “Endgame,” the same year of a breakout performance in the film ”Dance With the One.” After TV and film roles here and there, he starred as a “Latino James Bond,” as he put it, in the El Rey Network television series “Matador.”
But “Terminator: Dark Fate” is easily his biggest movie role to date. He stars as the Rev-9, a terminator sent from a future not quite like the one Sarah Connor ended up stopping in “T2.” (Producer James Cameron has said “Dark Fate” is a true sequel to “T2”; the others are no longer official continuity.)
“Working with (’Dark Fate’ director) Tim Miller was amazing,” Luna says. “He's a very enthusiastic filmmaker, he's extremely collaborative, always showing you what you did and always getting input.”
And hanging out with Arnold Schwarzenegger is its own reward. “He's incredibly smart and incredibly funny,” Luna says. “He's a good person to be around. You kind of learn a lot just by listening to his stories.”
With Ghost Rider off the table, Luna’s schedule is a little up in the air. This does not seem to bother him. “Successes and failures happen,” Luna says. “My grandpa used to say, ’Keep moving forward, even if forward means down.’ You just keep going.”