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Puerto Rico Profile: Michelle Rodriguez

October 5, 2001
Copyright © 2001 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

Michelle Rodriguez, the incandescent dark eyed bombshell from Jersey City, has been handing in knock-out performances this year proving herself to be one of today’s sexiest and most talented Latina newcomers to the big screen.

This feisty 23-year-old, of Puerto Rican and Dominican descent, was born in Brexar County Texas. In order for her older brother to receive a culturally diverse education, her family moved throughout her childhood to the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and finally settled in New Jersey.

This former Toys-R-Us employee, who dropped out of high school in the ninth grade and later received a secondary level diploma, says, "I don’t like working at anything I don’t like to do. I figured, why not become an actress so I can see what it’s all about and meet people."

In 1999, Rodriguez was an extra in Summer of Sam and Cradle Will Rock. As she was ready to quit the thankless and monotonous job of being a film extra, she was reading an issue of Backstage Magazine where she saw an ad for a "female Latina boxer chick." This intriguing ad sent Rodriguez, who had no previous acting experience and had never auditioned for a speaking role in a movie, to her first casting call. At the end of the call, Rodriguez and two other women had been chosen for the role of Diana Guzman, a street fighter who takes her anger into the ring. Rodriguez’s street-wise attitude must have paid off because, after four auditions and one week of training, she was selected for the role in the independent film, Girlfight. Director Karyn Kusama says that in casting the role of Diana, "I needed a Marlon Brando as a teenage girl. I really lucked out when I found Michelle Rodriguez." For five grueling months, Rodriguez learned to box, spending five to six days a week training in the ring. "I like taking my body to the limits," Rodriguez says. "It’s a beautiful thing to do."

With the movies release in September 2000, Kusama’s selection and Rodriguez’s perseverance paid off with them both winning numerous awards at various Film Festivals. Rodriguez won the Best Actress Award at the Deaxville Festival of American Cinema and the Female Breakthrough Performance Award of the Las Vegas Film Critics Society. Kusama tied with You Can Count on Me director Kenneth Lonergan for the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize and also won the Dramatic Directing Award at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.

Rodriguez’s second audition, ever, was for the role of Letty in the current summer blockbuster, The Fast and The Furious. Rodriguez teams up with Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster and Rick Yune in this street-racing story about a rookie cop who goes undercover as a racing team member to investigate a jewelry heist. He manages to win over the teams leaders at first, but soon finds himself in jeopardy when other members suspect an imposter in their ranks, setting the stage for an exciting, climactic showdown. Rodriguez’s character becomes a hijacker who targets trucks carrying electronics, commandeering them at full speed.

When Rodriguez was approached to play a love interest to a street racer, she had only been driving cars for a couple of years and didn’t even have a license. Since fast and fancy driving was a prerequisite for the role, Rodriguez joined her fellow cast members at the Las Vegas School for Racing. Even though there were stunt drivers for the movie, it was essential that she learn how to do "doughnuts" (360° spins) so she could recreate crucial scenes in the movie. Rodriguez was disappointed with her stint at the racing academy because, "they wouldn’t let me go over 80 miles and hour," she says. "The guys got to drive much faster."

The Fast and The Furious may not have won Rodriguez any awards yet, but it has given her more recognition. In an Entertainment Weekly poll which rated the Best and Worst of 2001’s Summer Movies, with the stiff competition of Halle Berry for Swordfish and Nicole Kidman for Moulin Rouge, Rodriguez was named the sexiest actress. (You can see a complete list of the best and the worst at Her role was even nominated for an award on the Teen Choice Award program that aired August 20th. Unfortunately for Rodriguez, Sandra Bullock took home the Teen Choice SurfBoard.

The Fast and The Furious may have given Rodriguez more than just recognition. It seems she may have also found a real life love interest. She is currently dating her costar, Vin Diesel.

After being turned down for the role of Lara Croft in Tomb Raider, Rodriguez will still get to be a video game action heroine. She has just completed filming Resident Evil in which she teams up with former fashion model Milla Jovovich as part of an elite futuristic team of crusaders fighting a rogue computer and its minions. As for getting turned down for the role of Lara Croft, Rodriguez says, "Resident Evil is the top video game in Japan. I consider getting Resident Evil as a karmic consolation. I think Tomb Raider was meant to be Angelina’s (Jolie) movie."

Whether as an angry female boxer, an interstate hijacker, a futuristic crusader, or whatever role she takes on next, there is no doubt that Michelle Rodriguez puts the "pow" in Girl Power.

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