Action star Michelle Rodriguez is known for portraying tough, independent women in blockbuster films such as “Avatar,” “The Fast and the Furious,” “Resident Evil,” and TV shows such as “Lost.” Entertainment Weekly described her as “arguably the most iconic actress in the action genre, as well as one of the most visible Latinas in Hollywood.” We talked with her about the Oscars, her current producing projects, as well as advice she has for young people in show business.
Do you have any favorite Oscar picks?
Oh my god, I watched so many amazing movies. My favorites of 2016, so far, are “Arrival,” “Lion,” “Doctor Strange,” “Hidden Figures,” and “Rogue One,” but my favorite Awards films are “Handmaiden,” “Fences,” “Lion,” “Nocturnal Animals,” and “Manchester by the Sea.” “Handmaiden” was the most Oscar-worthy, but it’s a foreign film delegated to the foreign feature category.
The documentaries were nuts too. Did you see “13th“? It was amazing and hit the nail on the head. The documentary goes through the entire judicial system in the United States and how it took the place of slavery. For many years when I was a kid growing up in the ghettos of Jersey City, I saw that firsthand.
Do you think, given the controversy last year, that Hollywood is trying harder to integrate actors of color into leading roles?
Absolutely. I think just the mere fact that I was invited into the Academy to vote is a form of affirmative action. You need to evolve with the times, and if you have a majority of people judging who are from another generation, who respect other things, then it’s doing an injustice to the system. I can’t wait for younger individuals to take power in the country. We’re in a changing place, and I feel like it was a good idea on their behalf to bring in more women and people of color, and start to get some other opinions.
When I think of filmmaking, I think of inclusion. It’s about showing different cultures like Latinos, African Americans, and Asian Americans in a light which they have not been seen before. For instance, the TV show that I’m producing is about gifted hackers, and they’re from all walks of life. For me, it’s about finding those windows of opportunity where I can bring a fresh perspective and try to include this new generation.
The global penetration of foreign markets by Hollywood features is unrivaled. I love the fact that an institution like the Academy can gauge the importance of diversity in Hollywood due to market penetration. Movies are the dream machine for a lot of people seeking out different views of the world and having Caucasian dominance prevail in every field is not healthy. The fact that various studies have shown young girls dreaming big at age seven and becoming pessimists by 13 is a sign to me of the influence of culture on girls. Boys don’t show these symptoms of low self-esteem when equally tested. I feel that culture in our generation is driven by popular content, and minorities and women in America lack quality outlets for expression. This inevitably sets the trends for global markets to follow. I like today’s push for diversity, I like the results so far.
J.J. Abrams’ “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” proved that people don’t really care if you’re a white guy or a girl; they just want good content and a great production. If we keep up with these new, innovative color-blind & gender-blind choices, a whole new global excitement will inevitably build. In my opinion, global markets and multiculturalism are the sole reason for the “Fast and the Furious” success.
You went to the Women’s March in Washington. Do you hope to change the way people perceive women in entertainment through your work?
I’m a late bloomer. I didn’t start voting until last year, at 37. The trust thing wasn’t there, and I thought, “What change can I actually make with a measly, little vote?” I never really thought that I had a voice. I don’t know what the hell crawled into me last year. As a woman, you wake up one day and you don’t care about doing stuff for yourself anymore. Now, I care about my neighborhood, I care about the people around me, I care about the homeless people. Now I realize: oh my gosh, I’m an adult!
As far as film projects go, I’ve been working with a fund in China to greenlight a writer for a franchise about a secret society of women that has been around for 600 years. They’re trying to protect the inventor of an alternative energy source from getting killed. My idea was to bring women together—get the older women in the same movie as the younger women—all united by this one cause. A secret society of women, that’s dope!
At the end of the day, you have examples that have worked. “Frozen” was amazing, “Brave” was amazing—Disney is on a roll with it. They get it. This is a market that is unfulfilled. Women make up 51 percent of the United States population, we can make money off of this.
When I went to the Women’s March, the most beautiful thing I noticed was the men and the women and the kids. You didn’t see any violence. I must have heard the words “I’m sorry” and “excuse me” more than I’ve ever heard those terms in my life. It was love; people who genuinely and unconditionally love.
I’ll tell you, whenever I get depressed about what’s going on in the world and about how women are looked at in this country as second-class citizens, I remember that. It’s time to get down, girls; we’ve got to fight for our rights, or we’re going to be stepped on for another 100 years.
What kind of advice would you have for a younger person to find themselves?
Don’t settle. To all my friends who are younger than me, who are out there hustling and making a life for themselves in this business, I say that when you settle, you’re giving it up, and that right there is the beginning of slavery. You don’t know how many times I’ve been without work—for two years, almost three—and then these roles come up where the girl takes off her clothes for absolutely no reason and people are trying to force me to do the project because it’s a great director. I don’t care if the director has won a thousand Academy Awards, what is this doing for me? You’re not the one who’s showing your body for millions of people around the world.
If you feel uncomfortable in a position you’ve been placed and you think that you’re doing this because it’s the only way to get there, you’re wrong and you don’t know how many women fall for this.
My only advice to anybody coming in to the game is to stand up for what you believe in and be true to yourself. If people around you don’t fit that strength, if they don’t fit that respect for who you are, then you don’t need to be working with those people, trust me. The relationships that I have in this business, I can count them with one hand. I did go through my phases where I almost went broke when I was younger, but my friends are really my friends. That’s real—a director friend who hires me once every two, three years, whatever. That’s a real friendship; I can look that guy in the eye, and I know that he respects me for who I am, and vice versa. Those are the kinds of relationships that are worth it. Even though I don’t have as many relationships as what most people have in Hollywood, they’re quality relationships.
How do you stay true to yourself when you’re constantly in the limelight?
You get older and you start realizing what’s important in life. I just said to myself, “Okay, I don’t care about money, I don’t care about power, what do I care about?” Then those things started to clarify themselves as I got older.
I started to find what my voice was, and when you do have that, it’s almost impossible for some schmuck to come at you at a party with drugs and change your mind about who you are. For me to fall off the rails, it would take a Mack truck and a couple individuals with AK-47’s! I’m willing to die for what I do. Everybody can dance around me all they want, and scream whatever they want at me and try to brainwash me with whatever ideas they’ve got, but in the end all I need to do is take a deep breath and go inside myself. It’s over, you can’t push me around.