Girlfight won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival, critically lauded for its gritty dramatic realism, but mostly beloved because of the spirited performance of New Jersey newcomer Michelle Rodriguez, who is as endearingly in-your-face in person as the female boxer she plays in the film.
With a Bandaid covering a pimple on her forehead, a red blemish growing on her nose, a tank top and sweats, Michelle was as for real as you can get in Hollywood. Albeit disillusioned by the system, Michelle was still full of piss and vinegar. Sandwiching promotion of the theatrical release of Girlfight into the filming schedule of her latest endeavor, Rob Cohen’s Redline, the beautiful young actress spoke about Girlfight, how the film has changed her life and the guys from South Park.
You’ve made a pretty big splash on your first film out. How have you been treated by the press?
It’s pretty hardcore, you know. I met a lot of great journalists that I really do believe deep down in my soul got bashed by their editors. A lot of times what I say is put out of context. But I guess that’s a part of doing publicity.
You know what’s so weird about me? I complain about my words being altered and this and that, but constantly, every time I’m interviewed, I’m me. It doesn’t get much more realer than this unless I drink a Diet Coke and burp in your face or something. I’m pretty real and comfortable with myself, you know? I don’t care if I have a pimple on my nose or if I pop the one on my head. It’s like, I’m human for chrissake, and it’s like I’m not scared to be a human in Tinsel Town. That’s why I think a lot of people here are intimidated by me.
Do you think Hollywood is intimated by you because you’re real or because what’s “real” is a strong-willed, opinionated young woman?
It’s hard to be a strong female in this world, I think because there’s so many of us. And because of the fact that there are so many of us, it’s hard to be different when everyone’s trying to fit in or be noticed for doing something outstanding. Usually it’s your sexuality. It’s hard to battle because that’s what guys like.
But you can be strong and you can be sexy. There’s a balance between there. And I think (director) Karyn (Kusama) really depicted that balance between masculinity and femininity. Because we do come from an ovary and we do come from sperm. People don’t realize sometimes one outweighs the other and it doesn’t matter if you’ve got boobs or a vagina or you’ve got a schlong. Whatever hormones are outweighing in your brain, that’s what counts. People just need to accept it and get over it, because I’m gonna come here and I’m gonna die and it’s like, “Why are you getting in my way?” I don’t get it. Why are you against what I’m doing? Why don’t you focus on your own thing? Some things I just can’t comprehend about people. I just accept it and move on.
Has the experience of actually making the movie and of enduring all this press hubbub taught you unexpected things about yourself?
The experiences have been pretty crazy. A lot of doors have been opened for me since Sundance. So I felt really good about it. But what have I learned about my own character? I think I’ve always been fairly sure of who I am. I’ve always been considered the butch or the tomboy, but it’s like, “Whatever!” People need to label things and put them on a shelf in order just to not bother with the research. And I think that strong women are just so complex that people just are intimidated by… what was the question? (laughter)
“What has this experience taught you about yourself?”
I learned I’m very irresponsible. I learned I’m very lazy. I’ve learned I need to get over it. And I realized that I need to start loving life a little more, because a lot of things bring me down you know. The way people think, the way people act, it’s just like, I know you’re supposed to pity ignorance, but it just pisses me off sometimes. I just get like, “Why am I here?” You know, “Dad, Mom, why’d you have to f*ck?” I don’t know, some things just really bug me. But I learned that I have strong views on life and personalities. But I’m very open-minded and diplomatic, I think. And I just think that I need to focus on what I want to do which is express myself to the fullest before I die and that’s what I want to do, so I’ve learned to focus. I’ve learned to discipline -- especially with the boxing.
Have you been able to maintain that focus and discipline now that you’re not boxing?
You know, I really do try, but it’s hard. A lot of times when you’re trying to be just strong and outspoken and you’re doing a sport that’s mostly dominated by a male, even I found myself being biased. I was looking at these chicks at the WBA -- it was one of those Liberty chicks -- and I was like, “Man, they can’t dunk.” And I caught myself and I was like, “Yo, what am I doing?” I was like really bugged out about it, and I sat down, and I opened my mind, and I watched and I was like, “Man, they’re good.”
I realized what my focus was -- it isn’t me fighting a guy. It isn’t me against men in any way. I love you guys. I really have a passion. I’ve modeled a lot of my life surrounded by guys. I grew up a tomboy. It’s not a war against you. It’s just me wanting to be heard as a female and as a voice for other females that just want to be themselves, who don’t want to suppress any more of their aggressions. There’s a lot of people that are just more animalisticly driven than other people. It doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female. It’s just like you need to let that beast out in whatever way. And if it’s in a physical way that floats your boat, then people should be more open to that. I just want to throw it in people’s faces so much that they just have to accept it. Just like gays in New York. Just like, “We’re here!”
The film definitely says that, loud and clear.
I’m very fricken’ proud because it’s about time. I think if you throw things in people’s faces long enough, you know, they start to accept things, and I just think it’s important for them to open their minds to different types of women. I just think its important to let strong women shine. I think it’s a good message for kids out there. There’s too many women out there getting raped; there’s too many girls out there worried about whether their teeth get bashed in, you know, more than defending themselves. I’m not telling all girls out there to go out there and box, but just be more physical, let out all those aggressions that you’ve been taught to suppress since you were a kid. I’m very proud that I’m getting through to people and people are liking it and understanding it and accepting it.
Not only are people understanding, accepting and liking it, I’ve heard whispers of dark horse Oscar nomination.
I don’t think that’s gonna happen, dude. (laughter)
Is winning an Oscar a goal?
That’s the thing. I really haven’t looked at the long term. I look by the day; whatever comes in front of me, I face. I face it then and there, and that’s how it is. When I was a kid, I used to watch the Academy’s and imitate Jim Carrey’s move, talking out the ass. But, to me, all that awards are is recognition. I’m the type of person that would have been late for an honor roll award. That’s just recognition for what you’ve done. It’s a beautiful thing, and I guess it would be great to have so many people really believing in you, but I’ve never had that experience. I don’t know what it’s like. Right now, I’m wondering if I should go to the Gotham Awards or go do this scene in Redline that might get cut anyway. It’s like either recognition for what you’ve done that you know was powerful and you want people to know you’re behind it all the way or what you’re working on now. And the chances of that making into the film (intact) are slim. I’m being torn in different directions -- Hollywood? Independent film? Not only just an independent film, but something that I worked on that was really good and strong and powerful, and I’m behind it all the way. I’m being torn between going forward with my career and what I’ve done.
Why can’t you do both?
Because I’m not famous enough for people to work around me.
Go to the Gotham Awards.
Anyone other suggestions? (laughter)
What’s Redline all about?
This is like my first Hollywood film. I’m getting a taste of it. It’s hard because your creativity is always being altered and filtered by somebody else. Everyone says it’s always like this. It’s a film about illegal drag racers, and it’s a testosterone-enhanced set. It’s all about cars and women, and I’m trying to gear people in a different direction. Because it’s just like, “When have you seen a female race a car?” When she’s not stealing it in 60 seconds and looking really hot at it? It’s like, “Let’s be real for once in Hollywood..” I just read this stuff about these illegal drag racing chicks who are like, “It’s not my boyfriend’s car, you know.” Basically who like kick ass all the time. It’s just like I’m trying to portray that in this film, and it’s hard when a lot of the time they just want to see me make out with Vin Diesel. You don’t need a cock to speed shift, you know what I mean?
Earlier you had said you wanted to “express yourself to the fullest before you die.” Are you seeking to express yourself through avenues other than acting?
Right now, I think acting is my primary focus, but that’s because I don’t have time for anything else. I don’t even have time to find serenity in my writing. I don’t have time to practice, so all I can do is absorb what I see and watch people’s creativity be altered and just see the process, find out how much power I need to be able to be seen raw and uncut.
You’re always coming across a lot of people who are trying to get their word heard. But the thing is that the word they’re trying to express the majority of the time is monotonous. It’s just a story to make money. And I’ve seen a lot of that in the scripts that have been sent to me. There’s no passion there and when you can’t see it in the script, imagine working on it. I’m not really impressed. A lot of people are like, “Wow, man, I just met this guy…” and it’s just like, “He’s human, he takes a dump, it smells just like yours -- if not worse because he fills his body with vegetables.” It’s like, “Come on!” People are just very superficial around here.
I love real people, I like Margaret Cho. I love the makers of South Park. It’s like these people are real and they express themselves politically and they’re able to do it through comedy. That’s a beautiful thing. Those are just great people who really get their point across. And it’s people like that that I’m looking at. And it’s just like, “Yeah, alright, I see your style.”
Margaret Cho and Matt and Trey are people who take control of the reigns and do it themselves, in their own way. Matt and Trey, in particular, stood up to the studio and refused to back down. Do you think you have to do it yourself to have it come out the right way?
If you want something done right in your eyes, you have to do it yourself. I’ve realized that, and I noticed that I have a lot of shaping up to do, and I have to really start smacking myself in the head and stop getting pissed off at what’s going on around me and focus on what I gotta do -- and that is to learn, absorb and then create. And I have a lot of learning and absorbing to do, so you won’t see any of my writing for awhile. Maybe I’ll go to a writer’s colony somewhere and just write for awhile.