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Michelle Rodriguez has literally fought her way to stardom, starting with Karyn Kusama's boxing drama Girlfight. Rodriguez came away with an Independent Spirit Award for Best Debut Performance and the start of a unique career as one of Hollywood's action heroines. In the past ten years, Rodriguez has driven with The Fast and the Furious, fought zombies in Resident Evil, rode the waves in Blue Crush, got Lost, and piloted one of James Cameron's futuristic ships in Avatar.
Rodriguez's latest role as Luz in Robert Rodriguez's Machete takes the action star to a whole new level of kicking ass. Deep in the heart of Texas, Luz runs a taco truck that feeds the local day laborers home-style food, comfort, and hope for a better future -- as well information about jobs, how to get papers, or even cash in a pinch. Luz's alter ego is Shé, a revolutionary, gun-totin' mama who runs an underground network that helps immigrants once they've crossed the border into the Texas. Luz ends up being a much-needed friend to Machete (Danny Trejo), a former Federales who escaped a Mexican drug lord by the skin of his teeth and keeps finding himself in increasingly messy situations on the Texan side of the border. He's got a machete, but Luz has got, well, a lot more than a taco truck on her side.
Rodriguez took some time out of her busy day to talk to Cinematical about self-stereotyping, playing with politics in Machete, and the outer space kind of aliens she'll be fighting in Battle: Los Angeles.
io9.com got a great quote from you at Comic-Con about being killed off in big action movies. You said that's what happened "because I don't take my clothes off, and I'm nobody's girlfriend. The writers are new to the whole tough girl thing, and they don't know what to do with [me]. We've got the dude who's strong, so what do we do with the chick who's strong? We kill her. Eventually they'll get used to it, and maybe Salt will change a thing or two."
Robert Rodriguez isn't really that type of writer or director because he always writes these fun, cool female characters, but did you ever feel kind of uncomfortable being in some of the outfits? Or was it fun to dress up?
[laughing] No, no, no! Because I was [working] hand-in-hand with Nina, the woman who designs most of the clothes, all of the clothes, actually -- he's been working with her for, what, 15, almost 20 years? She's been there forever. And I get to play. I go to his studio, and I have a say in everything. You know, it's a collaboration.
I personally am not that impressed by the imaginations of most men. Most dudes really do not imagine that cool of a chick, [and] if they do make her sexy, what's sexy to them isn't sexy to me, and I'm just like, that's just corny. So we just have different tastes the grand majority of the time, but I don't have that problem when I'm working with Robert, so it's kind of cool.
You mentioned Salt, and I think some very strong, cool action heroines like you and Angelina Jolie and Sigourney Weaver are very -- there's something about them that's very attractive to men and women, and it's a very interesting thing because it's like, they don't fit the mold but they're also really sexy.
There's an ambiguity there... Just as you see the character being really butch-y, you see this kind of like sexy undertone in the eyes and you're just like, "Wow, wait, I was just turned on by that, but wait, it's weird because she's dressed like a dude!" Or you look at somebody like Angelina who's like the best of both worlds; her attitude is very masculine, but her face is just so feminine. So it's really strange. I think -- I always call it the alchemical balance between man and woman, and we're just getting used to it in our generation. [We're] getting used to that independent-thinking, non-conformist, take-no-nonsense kind of woman, and I think that writers are just starting to get used to it as well.
What's your favorite action scene in Machete?
I gotta say, there's a part of me that's always dreamed of the moment when you can kill somebody with a stiletto. You know, between that and cutting somebody open and swinging through a window using their intestines, I'm sold.
Machete slips in a lot of politics, which are especially relevant today. It really toys with these stereotypes that are playing into the fears of right-wingers. Like, oh, there's an underground network run out of a taco truck.
[laughs] I love it, because, in a way, it's the same thing that people who are comfortable with their own race do... There's a certain environment where it's safe to really let loose what those connecting kind of anchors are. I call them anchors. They're like words that connect certain pictures, images, and social belief systems, and it's amazing that Robert can do that. He can. Just like the boys who make South Park do what they do. God knows they get away with murder sometimes with some of their jokes!
But it's in the environment; it's in the context and the tone of it. The tonality is playful; the context is relevant, but it's a freaking exploitation film. There's a guy swinging from intestines, for Christ's sake. If anybody tries to say anything about this movie and be taken seriously, like [a] political statement, I would laugh at them.
What is it about Danny Trejo? He's just so cool. Everyone knows who he is, even if they don't know his name. They know his face.
Danny, man, he is a wonderful guy. You look at him -- and I was scared at first. I was like, really? Because I just remember him from all of the gang movies like Blood In Blood Out and stuff like that. I'd seen him in Desperado and Spy Kids where he's a little bit friendlier, but his film history is mostly very violent... And then I met Danny, and I looked in his eyes, and there's this kind of childlike innocence and purity about him, kind of like, "I came here to live my life, and I'm doing it with an open heart and full of joy. What are you doing?" vibe... He's so easy to work with. I feel so safe around him.
Do you ever feel like you're being stereotyped as this tough chick?
I stereotype myself. I do it to myself. Let's say my main factors for being in a film are I need to have some action -- I don't like sitting around talking about stuff. [laughs] I get bored. I figure I'm young, I have a physical body, let's use it. The thing is, if you're going to put me in a character-driven film, I need to be stimulated. And let me tell you something, this brain of mine, you've got to be in it for one day to understand... It's kind of hard for me to ever find a script where the female character is intriguing enough for me to want to play in some serious dramatic type of film. Most of the time I feel like the females are just counterparts to a male-driven story, and in that process, in that story, I find no place for myself. I just feel bored... So I don't work a lot. But I do make sure that when I do work, I have fun. It might work economically all the time, but I make do with what I got.
Your character in Battle: Los Angeles, she's not a Marine, right? She's kind of more of a techie?
[I play an] Air Force Tech Sergeant... I had an opportunity to work with Jonathan Liebesman, and he said there was a big opportunity with the tech sergeant to switch it up a little bit. I mean, it's not that far from what I'm used to, but I'll tell you, I am itching to do something different. I'm just -- there are many realms I think that could be explored, but I think for the most part I'd stick to the lighter notes. Comedy and action, just because I feel comfortable there. I don't like feeling uncomfortable. I don't see the point. [laughs] You know what I mean? Make me proud. Give me something inspirational... That's why I started writing myself. I just got fed up with it all. And it's not every day that you've got Jim Cameron knocking at your door, or Robert Rodriguez, so you know what I mean? You gotta make do on your own.
James Cameron has created some of the most iconic female action characters in film.
I love Jim Cameron. He's amazing because he understands. He understands that the female requires respect as well. She's not just there to supply a guy with ammunition or a baby. You know what I mean? She's not -- and there are a few guys that get it. There are. And I love them for it. Robert's definitely one. And Jim, I mean he's been doing it for ages... There are some cool guys out there, [but] it's a handful, and we need more. So more chicks I think need to get out there and start writing stuff, because otherwise it's going to be left to the men, and I think that those days are over. It's time to balance the energy out.
What scenes in Avatar are you most excited about that they're adding back in for the rerelease?
I don't know exactly what's incorporated. I was just given a brief notice that a couple of action sequences are going to be added; they weren't specific as to which ones that we shot were going to be added, because there's a lot of stuff, honey. There's at least another two hours there, and there's nine minutes that they're going to be showing. I'm sure he's saving stuff for DVD, 'cause he's got a lot to play with. You will see some alien foreplay, I was told. You're going to see some Na'vi's going at it, because people were complaining that the scenes were too short. He was like, "Well, I've got more for you if you're interested in how the Na'vi get it on." [laughs] I was excited about that because... I mean, talk about detail.
Do you have any cool action scenes in Battle: Los Angeles like with aliens? What's your character like?
Oh, my God! Are you kidding me? Yeah, for sure!
[My character is] a little bit quirkier than most of the characters I play because I just wanted to do something a little different at least... Me and the boys, we had a really amazing time. I'm still friends with all of them. They're a really cool group of kids, and the military training came in handy. You know what, it's shot very documentary-like, and I think that that is going to be like a good incentive for somebody to watch something refreshing, just because it's just not your typical alien movie. We're full throttle. It's an LA invasion, and you feel it top to bottom. So it should be a fun popcorn movie to watch, and the action is nonstop. Literally, you will hear those guns going off, and if you get up to go use the bathroom, you'll know what theater to walk back into if you forgot, just through the sound of M4's going off... and grenades being launched. [laughs] You'll know what theater to walk into, for sure, when you start hearing the noise.
So it's a lot of up close and personal?
Oh, hell yeah. And there's an ambiguity about the aliens, as well. They're not straight up in your face all the time. There's a high level of mystery that escalates throughout the movie, and eventually you're given the full [revelation] of what these aliens look like by the second act, but I love the reveal. I think it's really cool, and it's shot in a very interesting way. The kind of way that reminds you of when you're a kid and you're scared of stuff just because you don't know what it is; that innate mystery that [creates] fear in people, I think he captured that pretty well.
Machete opens September 3rd.