Q+A With Luna Lauren Vélez, Voice of Rio in “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”

Rio and Miles Morales of "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse" (Luna Lauren Vélez)

Luna Lauren Vélez is arguably the heart of Marvel’s Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse – she plays our titular character’s mom, Rio Morales, and has the most heartfelt scene of the film. LatinaMedia.Co caught up with Vélez, discussing her thoughts on her character, mother’s fears and hopes, what it takes for a mother to let go of her child, cultural diversity, and a special question from a first-grader to Spiderman’s mom.

ANA MARÍA ENCISO NOGUERA: During Across the Spider-Verse, we see Rio trying to empathize more with Miles, to let him know he can open up with his mom. And we see she has a lot of fear and hope. How did you relate to those feelings and what did you think were her fears and hopes in trying to know Miles’ secret?

LUNA LAUREN VÉLEZ: In trying to know Miles as a parent, she’s trying to understand if what’s happening with her son is what she thinks is happening, which is just that at a certain age, they have secrets, and they keep things from you, and you hope that they’re okay. But as a mother, she intuits that there’s something much bigger than she knows or can express to him. So, on the one hand, she’s trying to deal with him like he’s still her little boy, but she knows she can’t deal with him anymore that way because he’s growing up. 

Now he’s got this girlfriend who’s older than him. Is she his girlfriend? Who’s this guy? Who is she? And so, I feel like she’s conflicted about what she wants. She wants the best for him. She wants him to grow up, to be happy. But she doesn’t want to let him go; she wants to keep him safe. The world’s a scary place in many ways, and it’s a wondrous place and it’s incredible. But I think any parent can relate to this moment being so full of so many challenging things that you can fear letting your child into the world.

ANA MARÍA ENCISO NOGUERA: The scene of Rio and Miles’ conversation on the terrace is short but has a huge weight in the story. It caught my attention that she asked him to care for Mama’s boy, but deep down, that is to look after his inner child. What did you think about that request Rio made to Miles, to look after his inner child, particularly being a teenager?

LUNA LAUREN VÉLEZ: A teenager, right? And how would she know that he would understand what she meant by that? Because that idea is a very adult one, that we have our inner child and we have to take care of ourselves. And I think about that for myself all the time. So, the fact that the writers put that in speaks to me about their psychological understanding, that I think we all need to take care of ourselves because we’re all children inside… And I thought it was so profound that they gave Rio this language to use with Miles. 

Rio knows that Miles is going to understand what she’s talking about, and he does. There’s never anything like “Let me just give you this suggestion.” She knows he will understand when she says, “Take care of this little boy, and make sure he always feels loved.” It’s a huge thing to say to him, but I think she knows that he’s going to understand it because she knows something about him that no one else does, and it’s not even something that she can put into words. It’s a very beautiful, profound moment.

ANA MARÍA ENCISO NOGUERA: And this knowledge she has about him is related to her hopes.

LUNA LAUREN VÉLEZ: Her hopes for his well-being, for his safety, for the world’s well-being – “I’m sending a human being out into the world. I hope it’s good to him and that he’s good to it.”

Los Angeles, CA – May 22, 2023: Brian Tyree Henry, Hailee Steinfeld, Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson and Luna Lauren Vélez at the Junket Photo Call for Columbia Pictures’ SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills.

ANA MARÍA ENCISO NOGUERA: Another standout of the movie was how relevant cultural diversity is. As we wait for the next movie, which aspects of this cultural richness of the Morales family and their context would you like to see more of, or which aspects of cultural diversity would you like to see more of in the next movie?

LUNA LAUREN VÉLEZ: They covered a lot of ground in this movie. We saw them with their families. We saw this rooftop party in which there were people speaking to Miles in English and Spanish, with Miles having that second-generation thing. 

When I was growing up, my parents spoke to me in Spanish. We responded in English because they were like, “We want you to be part of the world, como los americanos.” But whenever we did something that they hated, they were like, “No, nosotros no somos americanos. Así no se hacen las cosas.” So, I love [portraying] that sort of interesting thing I grew up with. And I feel that it’s the same for Rio. 

There’s always this question about what the right thing to do is. And I think they covered this really well in the film, in this monologue that she has with him, in the way that Rio always talks to him about respect. This is very strong cultural stuff that I grew up with: there’s just a certain way you are with people, a certain way you speak to people, and just more of that, more of them being part of Rio’s world and that Latinidad, that Afro Latinidad, and having just even more fun with it.

ANA MARÍA ENCISO NOGUERA: Finally, I have a question for Rio from a Colombian first grader. This kid wants to know if Miles’ bedroom is covered in spider webs and Rio has to clean them.

LUNA LAUREN VÉLEZ: Thankfully, no. Because it’s still a secret that he’s Spiderman, so he doesn’t leave a Spiderman mess. He just leaves normal-Miles mess. But that, Rio does have to clean up. 

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