Michelle Rodriguez knows there’s a reason she always ends up on listicles with titles like “10 Actors Who Always Play The Same Characters.” In roles ranging from “Avatar” to “Resident Evil,” from “Lost” to “Machete Kills” to “Battle: Los Angeles,” she tends to play similar characters: ones who look tough, talk tougher, and know how to fight. Oh, and you best believe they know their way around a gun. Or two.
But she doesn’t mind. “I’m here to entertain people and make a statement about female empowerment and strength and that’s what I’ve done for the last 10 years,” she told The Playlist in 2010. “And people can call it typecast, but I pigeonholed myself and I put myself in that box for saying no to everything else that came on my plate.” Furthermore, she said she isn’t actually doing this out of a love of acting. “I only wanna be someone I respect or someone that I consider interesting or fun,” she clarified.
Still, though, after all these years in the industry, Rodriguez has indeed gone through a transformation, even if her characters are all coming from a similar place. Read on for a look back at some pivotal milestones in the life and career of the star who once told Interview,, “I do what I want, when I want, how I want.”
She grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness
Mayte Michelle Rodriguez was born in Texas to a Dominican mother and a Puerto Rican father. Per Interview, their family spent some time in the Dominican Republic before ultimately putting down roots in Jersey City.
Rodriguez was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness for a time, which she has since spoken out about; the hardscrabble actor knew even then that she didn’t fit in. “I went to church every day, and I’d go knocking on people’s doors with my grandma trying to save their souls,” she told the Daily Mail, recalling that this sometimes led to awkward situations. “Sometimes the person who answered the door would be a friend from school who knew that I cursed and swore — and there I was in a dress holding a Bible. I’d say, ‘Grandma, please not this house.'”
Rodriguez is now openly bisexual, and she said on “Red Table Talk: The Estefans” that coming out was difficult considering the strict household she was raised in, and it still affects their relationship to some degree. “My family, I think at the end of the day, they set aside the differences. But as far as spending lots of time with that side of the family? I just won’t, no,” she said. “I grew up knowing that you’re in this alone.”
Her breakout role in Girlfight
Michelle Rodriguez was just 20 years old when she landed her first starring role, in Karyn Kusama’s 2000 flick “Girlfight.” She won the part as a boxer after attending an open-call she almost didn’t go to. “Two days before going on that ‘Girlfight’ audition, which was my first real audition, I decided I didn’t want to do it anymore,” she told her eventual “Resident Evil” co-star Milla Jovovich for Interview, explaining that she didn’t understand how people could get to know her abilities after only interacting for a few moments in the audition room. “I felt like it was a f***ed-up system,” she concluded. Rodriguez did try out, and she got the role, kicking off her career.
She appeared in the film with her hair in braids, which was evidently a controversial decision on the set. “Karyn wanted to cut my hair. I was like ‘Please, she needs some balance,'” Rodriguez told Hollywood.com. “I said, ‘Please don’t cut my hair.’ It was the only feminine thing I was able to do to protect myself from psychologically going crazy.”
Rodriguez received critical raves for her performance, and she picked up a number of awards for the film, including an Independent Spirit Award for Best Debut Performance. “I was very happy that people compared me to a young Marlon Brando when they saw my performance in ‘Girlfight,'” Rodriguez later reflected in an interview with the Daily Mail. “I guess they saw the fire in my eyes.”
Michelle Rodriguez joined The Fast and the Furious
“Girlfight” was an independent sensation, but it was “The Fast and the Furious” that launched Michelle Rodriguez to mainstream stardom the following year. As Rodriguez recounted later recalled to Female.com.au, Vin Diesel wanted to bring her aboard after seeing her in “Girlfight,” and he let the director know. “Rob Cohen was like, ‘Okay.’ And I became part of the franchise,” she shared.
Letty is a streetwise racer, the girlfriend of Diesel’s Dom Toretto. However, Rodriguez told Entertainment Weekly that she made it clear early on that she wouldn’t do the movie if they didn’t let the character of Letty get some punches in, too. “I felt like you don’t sit around and let your boys throw down without getting your hands dirty,” she said. “That doesn’t work where I come from.” As she told the Daily Beast, she also wasn’t interested in playing the character if she was put in a love triangle. “Is it realistic for a Latin girl who’s with the alpha-est of the alpha males to cheat on him with the cute boy? had to put my foot down,” she said. Again, Rodriguez was ready to refuse to film.
The character adjustments worked out in her favor, and “The Fast and the Furious” helped cement Rodriguez’s star image as a tough-talking, badass action star. She would go on to reprise the character numerous times throughout the franchise, and the role would help her secure parts in other action films such as “Resident Evil” and “S.W.A.T.”
She rocked board shorts in Blue Crush
The year after mainstream audiences met Michelle Rodriguez in “The Fast and the Furious,” she turned heads and became a bona fide sex symbol in another movie about an underground subculture, after leading films about boxing and racing. In 2002, Rodriguez starred as Eden in “Blue Crush,” a feature about women who surf in Hawaii. Producer Brian Grazer was particularly impressed with the actor’s ability to ride a jet ski, telling IGN, “Michelle likes motors. She likes power. The motor is closer to the urban hip-hop vibe that she’s about. She gets on that jet ski and kicks a**.”
Unlike the other surfers in the film, played by Kate Bosworth and Sanoe Lake, Rodriguez’s character pairs her American flag bikini top with more sensible board shorts. She spoke frankly about the character’s look and her own unwillingness to wear bikini bottoms on film in an interview with Australian publication The Age. “I don’t need to wax for some d**n movie and get a bunch of ingrowns,” Rodriguez protested.
In 2020, the stars of the film reunited online, and Rodriguez told her former castmates she’d be very into appearing in a sequel. “I would totally, man. I love you girls, and I love Hawaii. You don’t have to ask me twice,” she said.
She joined the cast of Lost in 2005
By the mid-2000s, Michelle Rodriguez had become Hollywood’s go-to when they needed a bada** actor to kick some on-screen a**. In 2005, she joined the second season of ABC mega hit “Lost.” Her character was named Ana Lucia Cortez, the de facto leader of the group of survivors of the tail section of the plane crash.
The character was in line with a number of her other roles, a strong woman comfortable in action sequences. However, Ana Lucia’s overbearing nature attracted a number of detractors, and she was far from a fan favorite. In a defense of the character, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s Melanie McFarland wrote (via Entertainment Weekly), “Somehow Ana Lucia is less worthy of redemption because she’s the most thoroughly unredeemable of women: a tomboy, and a b***h.”
She was killed off in a shocker at the end of the season, and Rodriguez insisted that she only ever intended to play the role for one season. “I’m blossoming and becoming a woman, and if I stay on the show, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to become a woman. I’m not done playing chicks who kick a**, but I’m evolving from warrior princess to Cleopatra,” she told ABC News. Rodriguez would go on to reprise the character in several episodes of the show’s final season, which dealt with an alternate reality.
Michelle Rodriguez got into trouble with the law
While filming “Lost” in Hawaii, Michelle Rodriguez was arrested for drunk driving in December 2005. According to People, she reportedly told the arresting officer, “I don’t (expletive) belong here! Why don’t you just put a gun to my head and shoot me!”
Rodriguez voluntarily spent several days in jail rather than completing community service. She told ABC News that she didn’t exactly fly under her fellow inmates’ radars. “They knew of [Lost] and they weren’t necessarily fans of it. They were more fans of what I represent to them,” she said. “I was the hard-knock-life girl. The girl who made it somewhere.” She said she told herself, “It’s like, ‘Time to grow up, kiddo. You’re not a little rug rat anymore.” Though both ABC and Rodriguez denied that her DUI had anything to do with her exit from “Lost,” both she and fellow castmate Cynthia Watros — who was coincidentally arrested for an unrelated DUI on the very same night Rodriguez had been — were killed off the show on the same shocker episode.
The arrest, which was not her first DUI, kicked off a string of repeated jail time for probation violations, in 2006 (where she was released in a matter of hours) and again in 2007, when she served six months behind bars.
Michelle Rodriguez stayed human in Avatar
After her legal trouble, Michelle Rodriguez’s career hit a slump. She told PR.com that she felt like the general public had misconceptions about her and why she’d gotten into trouble. “After ‘Lost’ I got lost!” she said. “People thought, ‘She’s like all those little girls who go around partying all the time.’ Are you kidding me?! I went to jail for a glass and a half of wine… on a holiday! Relax people!”
For a comeback, she traveled to Pandora. After almost a decade in the industry, Rodriguez was aware of the fact that she had carved out a niche for herself; when she starred in James Cameron’s mega hit “Avatar,” she was open about the fact that Trudy was like her other roles. “With that character I keep playing, if you notice, the grand majority of the time she’s very similar,” she said. “Every character I play has that one little thing that is pretty notable.” That is, Trudy is a tomboy, and like many of Rodriguez’s characters, she wears either a military uniform or a plain white tank top, toting a hefty gun. She also gets to sport futuristic-looking white and blue face paint during the film’s climax.
Unlike some of her co-stars, Rodriguez remained human, but as she noted to NJ.com, she didn’t mind working with the CGI and motion capture. “It was all tangible. I got to see how the aliens move, where they were looking. It was a whole different ballgame with Jim,” she said.
Letty came back from the dead
After her character appeared to have been killed off in the fourth installment of “The Fast and the Furious” franchise, Michelle Rodriguez returned to playing Letty in 2013’s “Fast & Furious 6,” which was a surprise to the actor herself. The character’s comeback was teased in a credits scene in “Fast Five,” and Rodriguez told Yahoo! no one even gave her a heads up that it was happening. “I didn’t find out until I actually went to the theater and saw it myself,” she said.
This time around, Rodriguez acknowledged that she was a little more grown up. “I was 21 years old and was launched into Hollywood with the first one,” she told Vulture. “I’m 34 now. It’s surreal. I’ve watched all these guys grow, watch them go from studs out there doing their thing and partying to having families, settling down.” Rodriguez also noted that, with this film, her own life had become significantly more settled than it used to be. In an interview with ScreenSlam, she shared that she enjoyed being in her 30s because now she understood herself better. “I tested every single limit in my twenties, and now I know what they are. There’s a certain confidence and a sassiness, a swagger, about me now. There’s a confidence there that I didn’t have before,” she said.
The action star and the supermodel
Although rumors had swirled about her sexuality throughout her career, Michelle Rodriguez officially came out in an interview with Entertainment Weekly in late 2013. “I play a butchy girl all the time, so they assume I’m a lesbo,” she joked, before clarifying with her trademark candor, “I’ve gone both ways. I do as I please. I am too f***ing curious to sit here and not try when I can. Men are intriguing. So are chicks.”
Several months after going public with her bisexuality, Rodriguez set the entertainment press alight by getting into her first public relationship: with model and actor Cara Delevingne, more than a decade her junior. Page Six reported that the twosome got drunk at a basketball game and kissed in front of paparazzi cameras, setting off a storm of speculation thanks to the instantly-viral pics. Rodriguez confirmed her relationship with Delevingne in an interview with The Mirror, telling the UK outlet, “It’s going really well. She’s so cool. When we started hanging out I just thought she was awesome, and we have the best time together.”
The relationship was not to last, and by early the following year, Page Six reported that the two were dodging one another at industry events at Cannes.
Michelle Rodriguez starred in a Demi Lovato video
In 2015, Michelle Rodriguez made an appearance in the music video for Demi Lovato’s hit single “Confident,” playing a rival to Lovato’s leather-clad spy. In the video, Rodriguez is outfitted in a skin-tight crop top complete with shoulder-baring cutouts. An ammunition belt is slung around her hips, and as in many of her films, she looks like a bada**. She also sports a marking crucial to the video’s storyline: a red, painful-looking barcode-tattoo brand. The clip was directed by Robert Rodriguez, who had previously directed Michelle in “Machete.” The video also stars “Machete” actor Jeff Fahey, who was also on “Lost,” though at a different time than Michelle was.
“Demi’s song is so cool,” Michelle grinned in a behind-the-scenes featurette. “I love the message behind it, about girls believing in themselves.” She added that she was particularly impressed with the music video’s storyline, which sees her team up with Lovato after fighting in order to take down the men who pitted them against one another. “To have Michelle, who’s a strong, confident woman, is very exciting for me,” Lovato said. “I’m very grateful to have such talented actors in this music video.”
Two years later, the two would team up once more, both voicing animated blue characters in “Smurfs: The Lost Village.”
She took on a controversial role
Michelle Rodriguez signed on for a role in 2016’s “The Assignment,” which saw the actor play a man. More specifically, she starred as an assassin who wakes up one day to find that he has had gender reassignment surgery performed on him involuntarily, and he now appears to be a woman. The male part of the role required significant prosthetics for Rodriguez, including a fake penis, which she told The Hollywood Reporter she chose herself. “Playing a naked man was really hard,” she recalled. “It’s a good four hours of prep, two for the chin and nose implants alone,” she said, admitting that she had some fun with her transformation. “I made a Tinder account for myself [as a man] and it was so funny. Got some matches!” she recalled.
The film, which was initially titled “Tomboy,” received a significant amount of pushback from critics who described the premise as transphobic. In a since-deleted Instagram post containing transphobic clichés to describe the storyline (via Pride.com), Rodriguez called it a “culture shock pic.” She later went even further; the BBC quoted the actor at the film’s premiere as saying, “You can’t really argue with me because I’m you. I’d never do a movie with the intention of offending anybody in the LGBT community because I’m a part of it.”
She broke the fourth wall in The Limit VR
As an actor, Michelle Rodriguez often pushes into new forms of storytelling. She spoke highly of James Cameron’s new approaches to directing in “Avatar,” telling NJ.com, “Here’s a guy who is going to go down in the history books as an amazing filmmaker who’s pioneered in a direction that most people thought impossible.”
It makes sense, then, that she would happily sign on for a project like “The Limit VR,” a 2018 short film that also features “The Walking Dead” star Norman Reedus and is described as an “‘immersive cinema’ experience.” After starring in “Machete,” “Machete Kills,” and the “Confident” music video, the film marked her fourth team-up with director Robert Rodriguez. In “The Limit VR,” the viewer is placed right into the action through the help of virtual reality, with Michelle directing her lines straight to the camera; that way, it appears she’s talking to the person wearing the headset. The viewer and the actor fight, run, and even skydive alongside one another.
In an interview with Fansided, Michelle said the filmmaker can always count on her to sign up for whatever he needs. “I’m one of his soldiers man,” she said. Robert added, “She’s always down! you can call her and be like, ‘It sounds kind of weird. I know the camera for it doesn’t even really exist yet, but I think it might,’ and she’s like ‘I’m there!'”
Michelle Rodriguez tends to dress down in her films, often wearing military uniforms or costumes that are easy to fight in. Though she does get gussied up for red carpets, the “Machete Kills” isn’t usually one to throw on a glitzy, feathery ballgown for a premiere.
However, as Red Carpet Fashion Awards noted, Rodriguez went for a full-on glam moment at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019, turning heads in a stunning, voluminous Rami Kadi Spring 2019 Couture feathered gown. Rodriguez was at the film festival in part to attend the premiere of Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood,” which is where she wore the jaw-dropping fashion. She shared a video of herself posing in the flowy look on the red carpet to Instagram, and in the caption, she wrote, “congrats Tarantino” alongside four purple heart emojis.
Rodriguez also shared some still photos on Instagram where she’s seen posing alongside film producer Mohammed Al Turki and supermodel Sara Sampaio. Al Turki produced the crime thriller “Crisis,” which filmed that summer; Rodriguez starred in the movie opposite her former “Lost” colleague Evangeline Lilly.
She’s still kicking butt in the Fast franchise
In 2017, Michelle Rodriguez shared a snap to Instagram of herself and Jordana Brewster at the MTV Movie Awards, captioning the pic, “Crazy how time flies we were kids now we’re woman. Miss you in the franchise sis. Looking forward to an on set reunion.” A few years later, in 2021, both actors got their wish when Brewster rejoined the family in the ninth “Fast & Furious” film, “F9: The Fast Saga.”
This time, Rodriguez’s character Letty sported a much shorter haircut than in the past, and Rodriguez paired the short chop with diamond-shaped shades at the film’s premiere. She told Entertainment Weekly that she didn’t care about the character’s look, however, preferring instead to concentrate on her action sequences. “I think most women are more concerned with how good they look than how bada** they can really come across on the screen and what crazy or chaotic action they could pull off,” she said. “And for me, that’s more important than looking good. I could give two rats’ a**es what I look like. I want to kick some serious a** — or at least get my a** kicked really seriously!”
Letty gets to do both in “F9,” and Brewster’s character, who had typically been sidelined by her romance with the late Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner, got to join in on the fighting. Both actors got down and dirty in one of the film’s more memorable sequences, a close-quarters apartment brawl.