This interview by Stephen Whitty appeared in NewJersey.com
Michelle Rodriguez doesn’t just play tough women. She is one.
Growing up – first in San Antonio, then the Dominican Republic, then Puerto Rico, then Jersey City — she got kicked out of five schools. When, a couple of years into her career, someone groped her at a wrap party, she pulled a knife. She considers the speed limit just a suggestion, and hard and fast rules about anything – including her own sexuality – made to be ignored.
“I’ve gone both ways,” she told Entertainment Weekly two years ago. “Men are intriguing. So are chicks.”
Her rebellious life and say-anything stance won her a lot of fans in action movies – but couldn’t quite cover the pain she felt when long-time friend and co-star Paul Walkerdied in 2013, in the midst of filming the latest “Fast and Furious” film, “Furious Seven” (opening Friday). For awhile, she wasn’t sure the movie should even go forward – and,she’s admitted, she went a little to pieces.
“You lose a buddy you had for 14 years…” she says, her voice trailing off.
But the cast found a way to finish the film, and as always Rodriguez, 36, found a way to go on. And go further.
Q: The “Fast and Furious” films have become such a huge franchise, and with a really devoted fan base. What do you think is the reason? Because there are plenty of action movies out there, plenty of car chases.
A: Well, we’re antiheroes being heroes, you know? It’s kind of Robin Hood-esque… But also I think it has a lot to do with the multicultural cast. People in this country – or in Spain, in Africa, in Asia – they can buy a ticket and see somebody who looks like them, and someone who isn’t necessarily a stereotype but an individual, a character who’s kind of blue-collar but also in this heroic position. It’s still pretty rare to have characters like that you can identify with. And after all this time, it’s crossing generations. I have six-year-kids running up to me and talking about Letty, which is really cool.
Q: It seems like the fans are a lot more invested in this than they are in some other franchises.
A: People feel like they’re a part of it, and Vin (Diesel) makes people feel like they’re a part of it on Facebook and social media and everything. And I think the studio being open-minded enough to integrate that into the series makes a hell of a difference. The audience, they wanted me back? They got me. They wanted Jason Statham? They got Jason. Having a studio be open to their input makes them feel they’re a bit of the franchise.
Q: Letty’s athletic, she’s outspoken. She likes to drive a little too fast. Obviously you twohave a few things in common. But what do you like most about her?
A: Letty is kind of like a wild animal, but she’s been tamed by the love of her life, and now she’s found this familiar safe place with him and this crew. They’re a family. They just live a lifestyle where maybe they walk on the other side of the tracks, but they earn their freedom every day… She’s like a lot of the girls I grew up with, living in the city, living in the ghettos of New Jersey – you know, those girls, it’s tribal, it’s territorial, but it’s really all about loyalty. I mean, I knew such great, solid humans growing up – people who’d take a bullet for you. Really, there’s a love to the death there you don’t get outside that world
Q: Growing up in Jersey – is that still a big part of who you are?
A: It’s helped me so much. Jersey is such a melting pot, so many different cultures – we grew up with Indians, Arabs, Puerto Ricans, Italians, you got it all. I wouldn’t have the tools to do what I do, and evolve as I’ve evolved, without that background. And I still come back to see family, but you know what’s so great about freakin’ Jersey? You find Jersey people all over the world. You’ll be in Romania and you’ll find someone from Jersey.
Q: You were still living here the first time I met you. “Girlfight” had just won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.
A: Oh man, that was such a crazy time. I mean, I’d been doing extra work for about two years. I wanted to get a life so bad it hurt, I was dying to get a career going. Or just make some money, and prove myself to my brother that I was going to be all right, you know? That I’d found my place in the world? And then I landed that, my first audition, and that came out. And I did another indie, and then I called my agent and said, ‘They’re making a freakin’ movie out of “Resident Evil,” my favorite video game? I gotta do this!’ And then everything fell into place, thank you, lucky stars.
Q: You were still, though, only 21, 22. Didn’t you get people trying to push your career in a certain way? Coming at you with a lot of well-intentioned advice?
A: Well, I don’t know how well-intentioned it was! But you know, here’s the thing – I have such a strong sense of self, there are certain lines I just won’t cross. I’m really picky about the parts I choose. I can’t be the slut. I cannot be just the girlfriend. I can’t be the girl who gets empowered because she’s been raped. I can’t be the girl who gets empowered and then dies. So I just said to myself, look, you’re going to just have to create your own archetype, doesn’t matter if you go broke doing it. And I almost did go broke, twice! But people finally got it: OK, Michelle is not malleable, you’re not going to influence her by shining fame and money at her, and they stopped offering me that sort of stuff. But you know, it’s a Catch-22. It’s helped me and it’s screwed me. I’ve stuck to my guns and I’m proud and people get it. But I also haven’t carried a movie since “Girlfight.”
Q: You mention the clichés of the woman who gets empowered because she’s been raped, or the woman who gets empowered and then dies. And that’s something writers don’t do with male characters; it’s almost as if there’s something so threatening about a powerful heroine they’ve got to find a way to diminish her, or take her down.
A: I remember this script that came over my desk and it’s – I’m not even going to name it, it’ll just get me in more trouble – but I was reading it and at first I wanted to say no, because she’s Latina and she’s a drug dealer, and that’s like the only time you see Latin-Americans in Hollywood pictures. But I kept reading and I thought, well, some of it is based on truth, and she’s kind of an interesting person. And then I turn the page and they’ve stuck in this rape scene. Which didn’t even happen in real life, they just stuck it in there, this made-up thing and I thought, why? Why it is necessary to take her down like that? I mean, like “Million Dollar Baby” – why’s she got to die at the end, man? I mean, I get the tear-jerking, but would you do that to a male character? … I mean like 80% of the writers out there are men, and of course you’re going to write what you know. But it’s our fault as women for not penetrating that market, you know? I can’t complain about the scripts that are out there until I start writing some myself.
Q: I have to ask you – it’s getting ready to hit theaters, and the early word of mouth is great, but did you ever have second thoughts about finishing “Furious 7”? After Paul died, was there ever a question in your mind about whether to go forward with this movie at all?
A: Well, look, at the end of the day, the powers that be, there’s a big conglomerate, and they have this responsibility to shareholders and everything, and they made the decision. But I tell you, once we went forward, I was really, really surprised at the class that everybody showed, and the dedication that everybody showed, and the way it really became about the maintenance of a legacy. This business can become a machine, you know. But everyone came at this like, ‘This is the last time we’ll see this guy on the screen and this is going to be in every way dedicated to him.’ And when I finally saw the movie, I gave like this big breath of relief, and I was really proud, because it really did turn into this homage. Which is where we all are right now – not trying not to look ahead, or at what the next thing is, but just take a moment to look back and reflect and take all those memories in. And hold on to them.
For the original report go to http://www.nj.com/entertainment/index.ssf/2015/03/michelle_rodriguez_on_furious_7_paul_walker_and_fr.html