Known for playing tough woman, action star Michelle Rodríguez talks about strong mothers, inner calm and discovering her earnest side.
Ms. Rodríguez, Moviegoers associate you with action movies such as Avatar, Machete Kills and the series of The Fast and the Furious films, not complex dramas like your new film, Widows. Why haven’t you made movies like that before?
I felt there was never truly an openness to understanding what a woman was really feeling, even in independent productions. This girl would get her heart broken, that one would be really sad because she had cancer or a boy didn’t like her anymore, and it was just all these male views of what a woman was going through. So I didn’t want to do that, my ego was too big.
What do you mean?
I didn’t want to sit around crying in a film that insists on misunderstanding what it means to be a woman. I wanted to do stuff where I get to have fun. There was nothing that really intrigued me, nothing I would go back to the independent world for. Even when Steve McQueen approached me with the Widows project, I hesitated.
Because the role was the epitome of what I find uncomfortable about this kind of femininity, a woman who has kids very young and relies on a guy who is completely unreliable. I thought to myself: She’s a schmuck! How stupid could you be to put yourself in that situation! But then I realized this was what happened to my mother and I can’t very well call her a schmuck, so I started asking myself why it felt so uncomfortable and saying to myself, you need to discover this. Who better to do this with than Steve, an artist who is in tune with both his masculine and feminine side?
Wouldn’t you have preferred a woman director?
No, because I could tell that he was the kind of guy who valued the psychological process of finding yourself and figuring things out. That’s the beginning of understanding the feminine experience. I say that from the perspective of a tomboy, a girl who has pretty much been masculine most of her life, which is why I started doing action films. I found freedom in that space because I felt it was a place where nobody tries to manipulate or own you. With the exception of the strong women who raised me, I have spent most of my life surrounded by guys.
You often mention them, your mother and grandmother. What did you learn from them?
The ability to take pain. To just take it and move on, knowing what was important in a given situation. I wouldn’t say that’s a male quality. Being able to take the storm of unreliable men and the storm of unpredictable situations and fight for what’s important, the kids, the family, the home unit, that’s the true force of femininity.
Why are women better at this than men?
Because what drives them is community. It’s not about me, me, me. And that is, I think, the strength that I have always appreciated in women, but the reason that I have always gravitated toward men is that my ego wanted to be free. It was very selfish and I lived it most of my life, but now I am ready for and open to other things.
Well, I think I opened myself up to understanding that femininity isn’t a weakness. That loving unconditionally isn’t weak, it’s beautiful, and you can find a comfort zone where you draw your lines of respect and integrity gracefully, instead of having this kind of shut-down, macho attitude. I think I no longer have to defend myself with all the armor I have been wearing for so many years. I’m done with the swords, I’ve put them down.
I think there’s an animal inside of me that sometimes wants to come out
That sounds very conciliatory, even spiritual …
I pretty much raised myself, came from nothing. It’s tough to survive in this world without an education if you don’t have a spiritual backbone, I think. The conviction that I will never stop growing, that I always want to keep learning, will always stay curious and never think that I have found the answer to anything, has kept me open-hearted and open-minded and jovial enough to survive without becoming bitter.
So, is this the end of a wild, partygirl era?
Let’s put it this way: I think there’s an animal inside of me that sometimes wants to come out. And I think that I shouldn’t be embarrassed about this but should embrace her and just realize that she can’t be there all the time. Now that I am getting older, I am trying to take command of the ship without all those animalistic, crazy aspects of myself pretty much taking over my life.
It’s not just you that have changed, Hollywood is changing too. Are you optimistic about the future with regard to diversity and equal rights?
For me, the good thing is to be able to find solidarity with other women. Going out there and marching with over 250,000 women in Washington was just one of the most powerful things that I have ever felt in my life. Seeing a bunch of amazing, open-minded men at the sides of most of those women, old and young, I felt that here’s a generation that understands that teamwork is going to be necessary to solve a lot of the issues facing us because otherwise, no one is going to survive. It’s going to be the rich in space if that’s the case.
You sometimes make music videos. Do you have a favorite?
I like the Lenny Kravitz song “If I Could Fall in Love” from the movie Blue Crush. That was fun to make. I love the beach and I loved that film. There should be more girl beach movies, just saying. Maybe I should write one.