At 30, the former wild child of Hollywood has done plenty of growing up, she finally concedes. As she returns to the franchise that made her a star, doing a cameo in the new Fast and Furious, the still beautiful;, smart and confident actress has time to reflect on her much discussed past and a future full of promise, as she confessed to PAUL FISCHER in this exclusive chat.
PLEASE NOTE, SPOILERS AHEAD SO READ WITH CAUTION.
Question: The idea of doing a kind of a reunion movie, as it was. Were you kind of attracted to that, simply because it gave you the chance to work again with Vin, and then you read the script and said, “Oh, shit.”
Rodriguez: It’s his fault I’m in the first one. He saw me in Girlfight, and said, “I want her to be my girlfriend in Fast and Furious.
Question: Oh, really?
Rodriguez: Rob Cohen was like, “Okay.” And I became part of the franchise. Then afterwards, it just didn’t feel right if you don’t have all of the elements. It’s not, for me, a continuation of the last. And I feel like a certain connection. The film is just, really, Vin and Paul Walker. It’s really about their interaction together. And, you know, the girls are pretty much the supporting aspects to that relationship. But I feel that it’s necessary for the family element of the whole film, to bring back the whole crew. You know?
Question: You’re also a catalyst for the primary plot of this movie, so when you read the script, you said, “Okay, I’ve read up to page three: Where’s the rest of me?” Did you kind of think, “Oh, why do I want to do this ?”
Rodriguez: Yeah, of course. I brought up many times the idea of testing it with me alive. The problem is, nobody put any real mind into it, so, I mean, you know, you try to keep these strong female characters alive as much as you can. But it’s kind of like a Hollywood legacy, to use the female love interest as a catalyst for somebody’s vengeance. You can’t really fight a system.
Question: What was it like returning to this, and doing a lot of physical stuff that you’re required to do in that opening carjack segment?
Rodriguez: Oh, that was so much fun. Heidi Moneymaker took up most of the really fun stuff, like the back flips, and the actual leap from the truck to the car at 40 miles an hour. I mean, that chick is just extraordinarily talented.
Question: Oh, that wasn’t you?
Rodriguez: Right. Come on. I told you, honesty. I also go to the Stunt Awards every year. They’ll kill me if I don’t mention her. But yeah, I – and the 20 mile-an-hour stuff that I got to do was pretty fun, even though I had 125,000 cables attached to my body. It’s just cool, you know? It’s cool to watch these pros work, you know? To watch Justin bust his bootie and get his vision orchestrated through the DP. And just watching everybody just think fast, and furiously. [LAUGHTER]
Question: Very good.
Rodriguez: No, it’s cool. It’s how a real action movie should be done, and it’s kind of great to be part of one of those productions.
Question: And working with Vin again. Was it really like as if you’d only just finished work on the first movie together yesterday?
Rodriguez: Yeah. It’s like I never left. But you know, he’s like, a really – he’s always been, like, a really advisory system for me. Like – as I said, it’s his fault I was introduced to Hollywood so soon. I mean, otherwise, I would have probably been in the independent film world for a lot longer before launching any kind of career in Hollywood. So, I’ve always looked to him for advice. And it’s just – you know, throughout the years, I’ve grown to have a really cool relationship with him. He’s awesome, you know? He loves me, I love him. He’s just a cool cat. So, anything that he really – you know, would want me to be a part of, that doesn’t get in the way of my priorities in the business, of course I’m sure to do.
Question: You seem to have mellowed a lot since the first time I met you for Girlfight.
Rodriguez: Was I jumping all around, all over the place?
Question: No, it was – you know, you had a colorful use of language. [LAUGHTER] Back in the day.
Rodriguez: Oh, yeah.
Question: You were a bit of a wild girl. We all remember you being a bit of a wild girl. [LAUGHTER] Are you still wild at heart, or do you think you’ve learned to tame yourself? Has Hollywood encouraged you to tame yourself?
Rodriguez: You know what? The attention definitely does encourage you to shut up. There are many times I look at the press, and I’m like, “Oh, why’d I say that? Why’d I stoop to this retard’s level? You know, why do I have to talk like that?” Like – you know, I should be bigger than that. like, I’m an adult now. Like, I actually read books. You know? [LAUGHTER] Let me not be this animal that I used to be. But a lot of it, I think, is part of just growing up. You know, I was 20 years old when I first came into the game. And now I’m 30. It’s been ten years.
Rodriguez: Yeah. Time fuc--ing flies, doesn’t it? There’s that colorful language again. And – yeah. I think that ultimately, it’s really about that. More so than anything, I think that Los Angeles, California, and the Hollywood industry, definitely expedites the process of your growth, just simply because you’re exposed to drugs, you’re exposed to wealth, you’re exposed to all sorts of superficial, vain things that are tempting if you’re stupid.
Question: How were you able to resist that temptation?
Rodriguez: You know, I’ve always been about something. I’ve always been about something, and that helps a lot. It’s not like – you know, I could be loud and obnoxious and crazy, and retardo, and running fast in my car, and sticking my middle finger out at people.
Question: Well, you have been known to run fast in your car.
Rodriguez: Right. [LAUGHTER] I have 11 points on my license. That’s why I drive a Prius. Any more, I’ll lose it.
Question: Oh, really?
Rodriguez: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Question: Well, I take it Hawaii wasn’t particularly beneficial to you.
Rodriguez: Oh, five miles an hour. You know. On a – after a glass of wine.
Question: You know, the press made a big deal out of all of that stuff.
Rodriguez: The press makes a big deal out of everything. It’s whatever’s interesting at the moment, and relevant at the time.
Question: Is that the downside of your success?
Rodriguez: Not at all. Not at all. It was great. You know why? Because I got two years off the first one, and I got two years off the second one, with a little leeway in between to do a job, and make some money, make sure I stayed in the game. And actually, I was thankful. Because I realized how stupid acting can make you. No, seriously. Picture this. You do a movie, right? Takes three months. Let’s say you’re really good, and you do two movies a year. Maybe even three, okay? Your entire three months at the beginning stage is memorizing your lines, getting into the character, and it’s all about this movie, and the film process of growth. The climax, all that stuff. It’s about the story. Three months of your life, dedicated to that. You allocate half of that time to sleeping, you know? Maybe, if you’re lucky, a quarter. [LAUGHTER] And – you know, the rest for your personal life. So, there’s the 100 percent of those three months. Then, you spend another two months – three months, of it’s a big Hollywood production, promoting it. So then, people are sitting there asking you the same exact questions about the project that you just worked on, for the next three months. And you have a schedule where you travel around the world, and you do this. Two movies, six months, six months. That’s a year. Imagine all your time being spent doing that. Where do you find time for intellectual stimulation? Where do you find time to read a newspaper? Where do you find time to care about the world?
Question: So, where do you find that intellectual stimulation?
Rodriguez: Oh, well, I found it after my two years off. [LAUGHTER] Two years off here, two years off there, I got a little taste at the bookstore.
Question: What are you looking for as an actress now, that you might not have been looking for a decade ago?
Rodriguez: I’m looking to get rid of my front camera time, and get behind the damn thing.
Question: Why has it taken you ten years to do that?
Rodriguez: Because, I was busy having fun, silly! [LAUGHTER] I was having fun, being a knucklehead, and growing. I was going through adolescence. I had to – you know, wise up.
Question: What would you like to do behind the camera?
Rodriguez: Oh my God, are you kidding me?
Question: Write? Direct?
Rodriguez: Write, mostly. Write and produce.
Question: Really? Are you writing at the moment?
Rodriguez: Oh, yeah.
Question: What kind of genre?
Rodriguez: Well, right now, I’m fixing a project that I did in Dominican Republic called Tropic of Cancer. And it’s about the life of this woman and her three sisters under the dictatorship of Trujillo. And she basically became a martyr for the cause, after she decided to revolt against the dictator. And she made contacts with the exile. Salma Hayek did a film about the subject. But I wanted to do it in Dominican Republic, with a little Dominican flavor to it.
Question: Could you get access to Dominican Republic without a problem?
Rodriguez: Yeah. Yeah, it’s wonderful. But it is a Third World country. And, you know, it doesn’t have a film industry. And it doesn’t have – you know, the amenities that you would want, or you would need to make a free-flowing, independent production. But, you know, we’re improvising as much as possible. And that whole process – working with a first-time director who’s never directed anything. I come to see all the scenes. We’re in the editing room. Right now, we’re looking.
Question: Oh, so it’s all finished.
Rodriguez: Yeah, yeah. It’s finished, but no. Not really, because we have to go in and re-shoot. But you look in the editing room, and there’s no transitions to the scenes. So I have, like, have to go back, [LAUGHTER] re-structure the scenes, do some re-shoots. It’s fun.
Question: It must have been exciting for you.
Rodriguez: Oh, I’m excited, man. I’m excited.
Question: And you’re in it?
Rodriguez: Yeah, I’m in it. I play Minerva. It’s pretty cool. But, like, if I were to go back to when I was 15 years old, and when I decided that I wanted to be a storyteller, and I wanted to become part of an industry – I didn’t know which one – that would allow me to story tell to massive amounts of people at the same time – I look back, and I say, “Wow. You know, this whole acting career’s just been a catalyst, then.” [LAUGHTER]
Question: Well, so, doing a movie like this obviously does get your name back out there, and does enable you to help sell a movie like this, right? To some degree.
Rodriguez: Not really, because I think that the genre of – the type of film that I’m making in Dominican Republic doesn’t have the same kind of crowd. [LAUGHTER]
Question: Do you hope that it will enable you to revisit something like Sundance, and go back to –
Rodriguez: Yay! Yes. I don’t think that – you know, Fast and Furious would have anything to do with that. But iwhat is amazing about it, though-- I get to talk to really cool journalists around the world. And then, you know, maybe spark somebody’s interest in something that’s a little bit obscure, and not as commercial as what I’m working on at the moment.
Question: It will be presumably gratifying for you, then, to try and divide your professional life between doing these kinds of indie pet projects that you want to do, and the odd mainstream studio movie. Are you looking for both?
Rodriguez: I actually just want to make mainstream films. The kind of stuff that I write from scratch is all mainstream. You know, Kingdom Comes, a project about kids. You know, animals at 2012 end up attacking anything that’s not pure. You know? So the children around the world are protecting their parents. And, you know, that’s think of epic kind of stories that I’d like to tell, you know? I like mythology. I like the idea that you can pass on an emotion that people innately have, exaggerate it, and kind of influence people to remember that. And maybe for the rest of their lives, if you have a really good five seconds in a movie that just impacts somebody at the right time, you know? For me, that’s immense. And my whole thing is, like, why do it at a small scale, when you can do it at a big scale? Those five seconds, to me, are the most important, you know? I’m not looking to, like, win an Oscar or anything. I’m looking to touch people..
Question: How are you able to balance a personal life with this busy career of yours?
Rodriguez: I don’t have one.
Rodriguez: Because you have to make a decision.
Question: And why are all these men out there depressed today?
Rodriguez: Ah, you’re funny. You know, it’s interesting. It’s kind of like a decision that you make. All right. All right, I want to live. Okay? I decided I’m not gonna kill myself. And living on earth may, you know, be a beautiful thing after all. Okay? Once I’ve made this decision, I also look, and I see the typical things that I could do. All right. I can allocate such-and-such amount of time in my life, from this to 20, to – you know, having fun. Partying my butt off. Or to – you know, enjoy myself. Then I’ll allocate this much to educating myself. Then I’m like, “Well, what’s your passion? Now that you’ve educated yourself, and you’ve had fun, and you’ve seen a little bit of what’s out there in the world, what’s the point of your existence now?” And the only thing that keeps coming back, for me personally in my road, in my journey, is the storytelling. Is that same 15-year-old who would sit there with her sister and tell her a story, until she falls asleep. And – you know, sis is, like, so excited to hear the next one. Like – you know, the goof-off that would sit there and entertain all her friends, growing up in Jersey. Like, that meant something. And there’s a purpose for that. And then I compare that to a married life. To having kids. To – you know, living a stable life, where I’m in my house for more than a month at a time out of the year. And it seems relatively agonizing, to me, to think about it. Just to suppress all this kind of energy that was rambunctiously in the wrong places in my youth, and now is centered and focused on something beautiful that I’d like to create. You know? And it all depends on the reception. If I try this out, and my most passionate first project is a flop, and I feel that my timing was right, and everything was right, and it flopped, then I may reconsider, try it one more time – ‘cause I don’t give up very easily. And then – you know, maybe I’ll consider another lifestyle. But as of now, my eye is on that ball, and it’s not moving.
Question: Do you have anything else that you’re planning on doing, as far as acting goes? I mean, are you looking at any other scripts? Are you signed for anything else?
Rodriguez: Well, right now I’m talking to this really cool producer, Billy Gerber, who I met years ago – about four or five years ago. And he just struck me as a really cool, open-minded guy. He just did Gran Torino. He’s an awesome cat. And I just remember reading a project – I’m not going to mention the name now, because we’re all in the birth of the whole process. But I just remember reading this project that was at his studio, at his production company at the time. And how he’s just like, “Wow. Okay. This can go somewhere.” And it’s just four chicks. It’s kick-ass. It’s like – realistic. It’s not sci-fi. You know? And – you know, I’ve been missing that flavor. Ever since I’ve gotten into this game, I’ve always been fighting. I mean, even in the Fast and Furious I, I fought – you know, not to be the slut. I fought to be able to knock somebody out, because most Spanish girls do, who are in that genre of – you know what I mean? Like, I always had to fight for stuff. And I feel like now’s coming a time where we’d be more open-minded to a genre where women are a little bit more independent. Like, Thelma and Louise, where you live at the end, instead of getting killed because you’re independent and free-spirited.