Has there ever been an actress who has played more tough characters that hold their own with the guys on-screen than Michelle Rodriguez? Ever since the 32-year-old actress made an impression in 2000's gritty Girlfight, she has consistently kicked ass in movies like The Fast and the Furious, Resident Evil, S.W.A.T., BloodRayne, Avatar, Machete and many more.
In Battle: Los Angeles, Rodriguez returns to her comfort zone as a tech sergeant who teams up with a Marines squad as aliens attack the City of Angels. We sat down with the tell-it-like-it-is actress as she chatted frankly about her niche in movies, how the definition of a strong woman has changed in cinema, what it's like reacting to green screens and what she thinks the MPAA would rate her.
Movies.com: You kick ass in Battle: Los Angeles as Elena Santos like you do in all of your films. Do you feel like Hollywood's go-to tough girl in movies?
Michelle Rodriguez: I made the bed, I'm just laying in it. It's all good—it's a comfortable bed. I don't have a problem with the place I made for myself. My main goal is female empowerment, and I think I've done 10 good years of it. There is a kind of looming anxiety about when is there going to be a strong woman in an action flick who exudes this kind of strength that isn't so masculine. Most of the action film writers are dudes, and I guess they don't really see or understand other types of feminine energy. Until they understand the different layers of being a strong woman and what she could possibly bring to the table that's exciting and fun to watch, it's going to be pretty much this one-dimensional tomboy. But she's pretty cool…I like her.
Movies.com: All of the actors in Battle: Los Angeles were required to go to boot camp. Which actor was the toughest?
Rodriguez: That's just wrong! You know what? Neil Brown Jr. was pretty awesome. I think it's because he has a black belt background. He's pretty insane with running the two miles flawlessly, the pushups, sit-ups and PT in the morning like nothing, as well as unloading about 20 clips a day. Sorry—clips are for girls' hair—I meant magazines. We also had to learn how to shoot a rocket launcher, but that doesn't mean we got to actually shoot it. I love the tactical training, and I looked forward to boot camp when I signed on for this role.
Movies.com: As an actress who works with a lot of CG characters, how do you learn to react to green screens and enemies that might not be visible to you while shooting?
Rodriguez: What's amazing about my luck with sci-fi films is, in Avatar, I was human and got to be on the most amazing sets. It's not a stretch of the imagination, and in Battle: Los Angeles, [director] Jonathan Liebesman was so adamant about it being realistic that we would constantly have to stop shooting, special effects would have to beef up explosions and the amount of smoke and ash falling on the ground, and the amount of dead bodies made up of extras lying on the ground in 110-degree weather in Louisiana. The cars were so destroyed not even a pound would want them! Even in the dissection of the alien, Jonathan was adamant about there being lights, moving parts, guts, and tons of K-Y gooey jelly. The cinematographer—whom I called Superman—would get in the most obscure positions with the actors and shoot like one of us. It was like being in a reality TV show—the green screens were more in the background.
Movies.com: You play a tech sergeant who must earn the Marines' respect in Battle: Los Angeles. As a woman working in Hollywood, do you feel like you've had to prove yourself in business largely controlled by men?
Rodriguez: Not necessarily prove myself, but more express myself. You have to put your foot down a lot of the times, or the male perspective of what a woman should be will be the perspective that the world sees women in. In the action movie realm, which is where I'm prominent, it's tough because there's this idea that if a woman is in a movie, she has to f**k somebody or she's got to be somebody's partner. Somebody's got to be sticking it, or what's the purpose of having her there? This idea has taken many years to dismiss. My generation has had to deal with the brunt of it. I'm sure the generation before mine opened doors that made me able to make movies and they felt it worse, but it has been hardcore. I do a lot of action movies and I always have to say no to the sex scenes and have scenes cut off because you make the dude look weak if you're kicking so much ass. That's not the case anymore, but it's taken a long time to get there. I think I put a stamp on that thing.
Movies.com: Did you put your foot down in Machete when your character, Luz, is about to have sex with Danny Trejo?
Rodriguez: Yes. You know Robert [Rodriguez] is wild and crazy. I said, "I ain't making out with him and I'm not taking off my top." Robert is cool like that. I would be open to playing Luz again.
Movies.com: You returned in the final season of Lost as Ana Lucia to wrap up your character's storyline. How do you feel about how the writers ended the series in a type of purgatory?
Rodriguez: You know, the limbo thing is kind of cool. My techie side was like, "C'mon, they're talking about other dimensions. Can we get more scientific?" But the limbo thing is alright, I guess.
Movies.com: If you never got your breakout role in Girlfight, what do you think you might be doing for work?
Rodriguez: Writing. That's what I got into the business for initially—maybe for a magazine or maybe for a screenplay or books.
Movies.com: Would you ever like to write and direct strong roles for women?
Rodriguez: That's the goal that I am already starting. I'm 50 pages into the first one.
Movies.com: Think about your day-to-day routine. If the MPAA had to assign you a rating, what would it be and why?
Rodriguez: [Laughs] Yeah, they would rate me R. I'm very free and that may involve nudity, harsh language, a lot of music and sometimes sex and drugs. It's all good.