On a recent sunny Tuesday, Michelle Rodriguez wheeled up to a popular Abbot Kinney lunch spot on her electric bicycle looking trim and relaxed -- none the worse for wear for someone recently resurrected from moviedom’s sweet hereafter.
In the 2009 worldwide action smash “Fast & Furious,” Rodriguez’s outlaw driver character Leticia “Letty” Ortiz was seemingly murdered by the notorious heroin dealer Braga (John Ortiz) while posing undercover as a drug runner for the FBI.
And yet Letty resurfaces as a prime plot motivator in “Fast & Furious 6,” the latest installment of Universal’s blockbuster franchise, which screeched into theaters last weekend to take the checkered flag at the box office, clocking the second-strongest opening of the year after “Iron Man 3.” Except, unlike previous “Fast” films, Rodriguez’s character is no longer Vin Diesel’s “ride or die” girlfriend, part of a posse of highly revved road hogs. In the new film, she’s mysteriously pledged her allegiance to ruthless paramilitary mercenary Owen Shaw (British actor Luke Evans) who’s out to realign the balance of global military power with Letty as his prime wheelperson.
Asked why the character returned from the giant auto graveyard in the sky for “Fast 6,” Rodriguez explained she’d been brought back by popular demand.
“The fans, yo!” Rodriguez exclaimed between bites of kale salad. “They made noise!”
In Venice to discuss her knock-down-drag-out brawl against Gina Carano in “Fast 6” -- arguably the grittiest, most realistic woman-on-woman fight in cinema history -- profanity-prone, New Jersey-raised Rodriguez used a lunch date with a reporter as an opportunity to vent spleen and to peer down the career turnpike to a time when she’s not driving over the speed limit, talking tough or punching people out in such films as “Avatar,” “Machete” and “Resident Evil.”
Chief among the outspoken actress’ discontents: the paucity of good roles for women.
“The drive behind the majority of female characters is, ‘Let’s have the girl let the bad guys in.’ Or, ‘Let’s give the lead guy something to save,’ ” she said. “It’s typical of Hollywood decisions that don’t work anymore. You can be kickass and a sexy woman. You can’t just write the female off with wackness. It’s hard for a woman in this business. I always have to redevelop the script for my character to be involved. It sucks!”
Rodriguez, 34, pondered the coming day when she will cross over from in front of the camera to behind the scenes as a writer and producer. She described three movie projects already registered with the Writers Guild of America that are in various stages of completion.
“One is about a secret society of women that’s been around since the 1400s. Today, it’s really, really powerful. So it’s like 007 meets, like, ‘Confessions of an Economic Hitman,’ ” said Rodriguez, name-checking John Perkins’ bestselling 2006 corporate espionage tell-all.
“And I got another, a kids’ project, about how people are destroying the planet and the rainforest is totally decimated,” she said. “So these rival tribes get together to protect their home. They do a séance to Mother Gaia and it basically makes all the animals on the planet attack anything that’s not pure. So the fate of the world is in the hands of these little hacktivists.”
Pausing for a sip of her Arnold Palmer -- as well as a little added emphasis -- Rodriguez detailed her third project. “The other one I have in mind is about drugs.”
“The kid’s a med student, a biochemist,” she said. “He decides to quit school after his friend gets kicked out for selling designer drugs. This is what he decides he wants to do. He doesn’t want to work for a pharmaceutical company. He’d rather take a couple of bathtubs in Brooklyn and make gummy bear drugs. It’s about that lifestyle.”
Asked if she relished the opportunity to shock action fans, Rodriguez demurred in her own inimitable way. She made oblique reference to becoming a tabloid subject of interest thanks to her run-ins with the law -- including reckless driving and assault -- having served several short jail stints for driving under the influence and probation violations in the mid-‘00s.
“All the [stuff] I been through, man? People attacking me and people hating on me and me sticking my own foot in my own loud mouth? There comes a point when you stop caring,” Rodriguez said. “You start caring more about being true to yourself. That’s kind of where I am now. I’m too old to give a ...!”
So, considering she is slated only to appear in the upcoming “Machete Kills,” with no other movie roles on the horizon, will Rodriguez be portraying Letty in the recently green-lighted “Fast & Furious 7”? Is she quitting acting to write?
The actress answered with a rhetorical question: “Do you think they’d kill me right after bringing Letty back?” Breaking into a wide smile she added: “I try not to kill my chickens until they’re hatched.”