Michelle Rodriguez’s title immediately conjures the picture of a hard-charging brunette, normally dressed in black leather-based, with a gun strapped someplace to her physique. The star of 5 Fast and the Furious movies doesn’t undergo fools—she’s attractive, however by no means in a manner that conveys weak point. In the course of her 18-year profession, which additionally contains movies like S.W.A.T., Machete, and Avatar, she’s cemented her persona as an emblem of a sure sort of feminine empowerment.
So it was a shock to Rodriguez—who sees herself just about the identical manner the general public does—when Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) got here to her with an unlikely function, that of a weak mom of two, who prefers espadrilles over fight boots, and should fend for herself after her husband dies in a theft gone unsuitable. As Linda in the heist drama Widows due out November 16, Rodriguez finally dons black tactical garb, however first she needed to reveal a black gap of sorrow and longing.
Faced with such a possibility, Rodriguez really stated no at first. Sure, she was tired of the roles she had been taking part in. And sure, she was in love with the script from McQueen and Gillian Flynn—which, in her phrases, “examined males and their quest for energy, all advised by way of [these very specific] ladies on a quest for survival.” Rodriguez was additionally depressed after the 2016 presidential election, and was saying no to a bunch of roles individuals in Hollywood thought can be good for her. How might she tackle one which left her so unmoored?
“It was my ego, principally,” Rodriguez stated throughout a latest interview close to her dwelling in Venice, California. “My thought of power is a demonstrative exaggeration of male qualities: assertive, impartial, all the time making the fitting selections, by no means letting anyone swindle you. I didn’t see the power in these ladies. I used to be like, ‘Why would I wish to play a weak bitch? Why would I wish to play the truth of poverty in the ghetto?’ I grew up like that.”
Rodriguez was born in Texas to a Dominican mom and Puerto Rican father, however was raised in each of her dad and mom’ international locations of origin earlier than transferring to New Jersey as a youngster, the place she was immersed in a tradition she felt de-valued ladies—one she vowed to flee. “I grew up backwards to most ladies,” Rodriguez stated. “Pounding my chest, incomes my preserve, incomes my respect. I didn’t wish to get pregnant earlier than 17, like all my buddies. I used to be avoiding a bullet.” Her resolution to signal onto Widows, in different phrases, marked a deep departure for a girl who’s spent her complete life channeling her alpha-male aspect.
“In essence, Steve [McQueen] wished me to go to a scary place,” she stated. “He thought that I might pull this off for him, and I had no thought. I’m taking a look at this girl, and I’m seeing my mom. I’m seeing all these women that had children very younger. I’m seeing all these ladies make the unsuitable selections. And I really feel sorry for them. In my thoughts, I believed, ‘What might I do by taking part in this statistic?’”
Still, Rodriguez agreed to satisfy with McQueen. He was in Los Angeles. It was the start of 2017, and the actress, who was closing in on 40, was changing into extra introspective. She was studying lots, touring, and looking for a manner out of her profession stagnation. “Talk about beating a useless horse,” she stated with amusing. “I can do an motion film with my fingers tied behind my again.”
Rodriguez was sure there was nothing McQueen might say to her that will persuade her to do his film. “It’s referred to as Widows, and also you’re speaking about feminine empowerment? The complete title is a couple of man,” she stated. But with Widows, McQueen stated, he wished to place actual ladies on-screen, so he talked to Rodriguez about poverty and what feminine power actually appears like in neighborhoods the place it persists.
“I had this large self-reflective second,” Rodriguez stated of their conversations. “I checked out myself, and I noticed this floor layer, papier-mâché creature with no dimension, and I stated, ‘I want to do that film.’ It will assist me see the wonder in my mom, the wonder of all these ladies that I felt sorry for rising up. Nobody talks about mushy energy. In these poverty-stricken areas, the place this machismo is thru the roof, to see the power in these ladies, elevating these children by themselves. It all the time introduced me such deep sorrow, which is why I by no means wished to go close to that.”
Rodriguez started working with performing coach Greta Seacat, the primary time Rodriguez acquired performing classes since her movie debut in Karyn Kusama’s 2000 Sundance darling, Girlfight. She hadn’t been challenged since that first movie, Rodriguez stated. Seacat labored with the actress on one of her more durable emotional scenes in the movie, in which her character has to confront a person who can be mourning the loss of a partner. In a second of mutual vulnerability, they kiss.
“I can think about breaking down, crying,” Rodriguez says. “But to go and make out with an ideal stranger that you just don’t know, aren’t drawn to—like, I didn’t get it. It was onerous,” she stated.
McQueen by no means thought Rodriguez wanted the coach, however was inspired by her dedication. “What was commendable was she wished to go there,” he advised me not too long ago. “She did all of the heavy lifting.”
Widows flipped a change in Rodriguez, and opened her up. It began with the chance to work with Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, and Cynthia Erivo, and ended with the concept she might be greater than only a robust woman. “It was extremely uncomfortable,” she stated. “For any person who’s been carrying armor her complete life, it’s not one thing that I can simply soar into and begin operating with. I’m gonna need to go slowly.”
Rodriguez stated she is aware of she has a repute for being troublesome in Hollywood. She doesn’t learn effectively in auditions, she stated, and attributes her success to such administrators as Kusama, McQueen, James Cameron, and Robert Rodriguez, who all noticed one thing in her.
“The solely factor that’s troublesome [about her] is she asks questions,” McQueen stated. “But that’s my bread and butter: individuals asking questions. That’s how we work. I’ve by no means discovered probably the most fascinating individuals to be those who say sure each 5 minutes. I like those that ask questions.”
Rodriguez has all the time been one to problem the pondering behind her characters. Back on 2001’s The Fast and the Furious, “They wished my character to be with [both] the Paul Walker character and the Vin Diesel character,” she stated. “And I used to be like, ‘Dude, why are you turning her right into a slut? I’m not taking part in a slut in entrance of hundreds of thousands of individuals.’ By the way in which, that’s not the dynamic of the ghetto. You stick with the strongest man, and also you don’t get with the Barbie doll-looking dude—as a result of that’s non permanent, honey. Survival in the streets is totally different.”
On Widows, Rodriguez realized she’d by no means been on a set with that many different ladies. Her expertise historically was of the lone woman hanging with a bunch of guys—“heaps of protein shakes and fuel,” she stated with amusing. Now she craves a special surroundings on set, one the place ladies are creating the characters and are in cost.
“I’m formally bored of males’s opinions about ladies,” she stated. “Talk to me about science, speak to me about physics, speak to me concerning the financial system, however do me a favor and shut the fuck up with regards to ladies.”
This awakening has prompted her to put in writing extra. Rodriguez has been writing tales since she was 15; she simply by no means completed them. And she admits to all the time re-writing her strains on the Fast and the Furious movies. Now, although, she’s doing it for actual, and simply landed her first re-write job on a movie challenge she took on underneath a pseudonym for worry of exposing herself. If the work is sweet sufficient, she is going to star in it.
It’s a giant step for Rodriguez, who was so steeped in the tough-girl picture of herself she was placing on the market, she hadn’t let herself be human.
“My want is to take a sledgehammer to that persona,” she stated.
What would she put in its place?
“Something extra mature, one thing grown-up, one thing that has a deeper cause [to exist] than survival,” she stated. ”And I’m not saying that one takes away from the opposite, that one’s increased than the opposite. It’s simply that I’m searching for a special sort of problem, creatively—and, actually, in each fucking sector of my existence.”