Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the second in my series of onset interviews for Battle: Los Angeles. Today’s interview is an odd one. In fact, it’s one that I’m not even sure a lot of you will like. It’s extremely conversational and in many ways it’s outdated. At the time of the chat, November 2009, Michelle Rodriguez hadn’t even seen Avatar yet.
I debated editing the Avatar stuff out of the interview, but I ultimately chose to keep the interview intact. Much like the other tangents we go on in the chat, I feel the Avatar talk gives an impression of Michelle as a person that is quite shockingly different than the image she portrays on the screen.
In person, Rodriguez’s tough chick persona is much softer and, dare I say, geekier than one would expect. She’s still very forthright, isn’t afraid to take a strong stance and speak her mind, but her sense of humor was a pleasant surprise.
So, I made the decision to keep the interview whole, even the outdated elements and the random conversation that the chat evolved into. Now it’s a portrait of Michelle Rodriguez’s personality and I believe it’s an accurate portrait.
Below we geek out about the (then) newly released Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, talk about our love of New Zealand, go into why she is typecast as the “tough chick” and, yes, some stuff about her role in Battle: Los Angeles. And on her day off, no less. She came in when she wasn’t working to sit down with me, something that doesn’t usually happen on these kinds of visits.
You’ve been warned. If you want to get to know Michelle Rodriguez a little bit better and don’t mind some outdated info along with the relevant chat you should really enjoy this talk.
Quint: Doing these interviews on set are always a little weird because I don’t know much at all about the movie or your character, so I guess that’s where we have to start out. Who are you playing? The easy, boring question first! (laughs)
Michelle Rodriguez: My character’s name is Elena Santos and she’s an Air Force Tech Sergeant and basically during the invasion she was sent out by her wing unit to go and find out where the command and control asset for this invasion is located. So, how to track it mobile because upon entry of these creatures they screwed up our communications network, our global system communications network, and basically she had to go out on foot and with a Humvee and with some technology and see if maybe she could tag what their defense mechanisms were, where the massive signals were coming from and all of that. The next thing you know her unit is gone and she meets the Marines and that’s where my character’s story truly begins.
Quint: The Marines are obviously going to have their own family unit going on, so you are the…
Michelle Rodriguez: I’m the outsider, the pogue.
Quint: You are playing kind of a string of military types, is there a reason?
Michelle Rodriguez: That’s what happens when you don’t rip your clothes off, you get stuck with the tom boy roles. (Laughs)
Quint: Oh yeah? In your defense though, you also make a good tough chick. Even on LOST Ana Lucia was very much…
Michelle Rodriguez: She was a cop.
Quint: Yeah, she was a tough chick.
Michelle Rodriguez: I guess you have to be either a cop or a military chick to be given a gun and be allowed to kill people, so I guess it’s the best option for somebody. (Laughs)
Quint: Now you just need to find the role where you get to be the Sheriff’s daughter or something, the sweet girl with a gun.
Michelle Rodriguez: (laughs) Completely disassociated from these groups of like the Knights or the protectors of society.
Quint: I take it then you are with the group from an early point, so you are there for the movie.
Michelle Rodriguez: Yeah.
Quint: So, what’s the camaraderie like? Obviously you have that element where you are kind of the outsider, but what is it like working with the team?
Michelle Rodriguez: You mean really working with the team or how does it work in the story?
Quint: In real life.
Michelle Rodriguez: Oh, this is awesome. Those guys are great. They are so cool and you know it helps out a lot because I’m older than a lot of them and a lot of the guys are really cool and respectful because of that. So it’s weird. For the first time in my life I’m like “Oh yeah… why are you going so nice?” “I like your vibe. I like what you’ve done and I respect you.” I’m like “Whoa, this is weird. I feel old!”
Quint: “I grew up with GIRLFIGHT.” “Whaaaat?”
Michelle Rodriguez: (Whistles the TWILIGHT ZONE theme) No, but its cool, man. They are really a respectful group.
Quint: I’ve been doing a lot of guest spots on blogger podcasts recently. Since Ain’t It Cool has been around since the mid 90’s I keep getting introduced as “And one of the Grandfathers of internet movie coverage…” I’m just like “Whaaaat? Guys, I’m 29 years old, I’m not anything’s Grandfather…”
Michelle Rodriguez: I think you’ve got to remember a lot of breakthroughs happened in our era of upbringing that I think a lot of people don’t really give the credit where it’s due. It’s kind of like we skipped to Generation Me before giving the credit due to Generation Y, which introduced the cell phones, the internet… There are so many things that came out.
Quint: There’s a lot of trailblazing that happened.
Michelle Rodriguez: True female liberation occurred in our generation. You’re 29? I’m 30 years old. I’m older than you… (Laughs) We got to see a lot of shit happen and I think a lot of credit is just not… I guess it does feel weird, but we saw the birth of a lot of things.
Quint: It was the new frontier.
Michelle Rodriguez: Atari… NES… In the 90’s it was like Sega Genesis, computer games just started coming out. I was playing freaking DOOM on my brother’s computer and now all of a sudden its like freaking CALL OF DUTY is about to rip HALO’s head off.
Quint: If I wasn’t here right now, I would be at home playing CALL OF DUTY.
Michelle Rodriguez: (Laughs) Me, too. Too bad I’ve got a lot of work to do.
Quint: See that would have been a fun interview, just sit and play one of the multiplayer maps and scream out “Fuckin’ noob tube!” as we discuss the movie.
Michelle Rodriguez: I have it at my hotel, dude. You know what I’m saying?
Quint: I should have brought my X-Box memory card, so I could have loaded up my profile and everything.
Michelle Rodriguez: Stop playing! What level?
Quint: I beat the campaign on Modern Warfare 2…
Michelle Rodriguez: Part 2 already?
Quint: On Part 2. I beat the campaign on regular and now I’m going through on “veteran,” so I can get those achievements.
Michelle Rodriguez: Jesus Christ! (laughs)
Quint: I’m not good at it…
Michelle Rodriguez: Do you play online ever?
Quint: Oh, yeah.
Michelle Rodriguez: What’s your tagname?
Quint: “Quint AICN.”
Michelle Rodriguez: You know Neil Brown Jr.? One of the guys who is playing in the beginning portion of the film, this guy is just retarded with it.
Quint: I’m so bad at it, I’m getting my ass kicked all of the time.
Michelle Rodriguez: He’ll rip an asshole or two, like he’s really good. When I play with him, I just spend most of my time going “Argh!” and gritting my teeth.
Quint: (Laughs) And breaking the controller?
Michelle Rodriguez: Right. All right, let’s stop geeking out.
Quint: Why? I love geeking out. Okay, let’s talk about Liebesman. We’ve got to talk about Jonathan.
Michelle Rodriguez: Yes.
Quint: I met him… My funny introduction to Mr. Jonathan Liebesman… I reviewed a horror movie on my site that wasn’t a good movie and in the review I’m like “Well this is bad, but it’s not the abortion that DARKNESS FALLS was.”
Quint: I had just seen that movie and I really didn’t like it. About twelve hours later I got an email from Jonathan Liebesman subject line “DARKNESS FALLS.” It was like “Dude, I totally agree with you. I should know, I directed it. I tried, but it was taken away from me and wasn’t the movie that I wanted it to be.” We exchanged a few emails and I live in Austin and he shot the CHAINSAW prequel there and so we ended up meeting for the first time there and he always struck me as a very humble and earnest guy and I’m really glad to see that he’s taking on a big epic war movie like this.
Michelle Rodriguez: Yeah, he’s pretty cool, man.
Quint: What’s he like to work with? What kind of a director is he? You’ve obviously worked with people like James Cameron…
Michelle Rodriguez: He’s a team player and he likes to play. I think he has a really good idea of what he wants and he allows himself the room to acquire it and give people around him the creative opportunity to make it original and I like that about him. That’s my favorite quality that I’ve seen so far in his direction. He’s got a lot on his plate, man. This is an ambitious project.
So as far as product goes I can’t really judge off of the little that I have seen because a director directing is different than a director cutting, so we’ve got to see what the full product is, but as a person he gets an A+ in my book. The guy is a really cool, genuine, like you said humble guy and he is not scared to tell you how it is and I love that. That’s all you need to be my best friend. (Laughs) You know what I’m saying? He’s definitely a winner in my book.
Quint: Obviously you have AVATAR coming out in a matter of weeks.
Michelle Rodriguez: I can’t fucking wait. Do you know that I haven’t seen a 3D movie since like a special that came out on believe it or not, but NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET… They had like a 3-D special where his head pops out. Nobody remembers this but me. Am I the only freaking…
Quint: In FREDDY’S DEAD, the sixth movie, the very end of the movie is in 3-D.
Michelle Rodriguez: Exactly!
Quint: And then he blows up and his head comes out of his mouth.
Michelle Rodriguez: Exactly! Whoohoo! Yeah, that’s the last time I saw something in 3-D, because nothing’s really attracted me. Cartoons and stuff I’m like “Eh, whatever.” Then you know Universal Studios when you go and you watch THE TERMINATOR 3-D stuff yeah I’ve seen that, that’s cool and I take my nieces and nephews to go check it out, but a full scale movie? For me, if I’m going to go and watch something and feel like I’m in it, I want it to bet he coolest thing ever and I think that this definitely will match my standards.
Quint: You haven’t seen anything from Avatar?
Michelle Rodriguez: 15 minutes of it, yeah and every day that we were shooting you’ve got to remember it’s live, so like you are sitting there and you are shooting something and you got the first year of work that was spent on creating the digital backgrounds, the computer realm to this world that is your green screen being played back to you when you go into this trailer to go see what you just shot, so you can fix whatever is missing. It’s like you have every element right there and it’s not like you are playing with a golf ball and you don’t know what that golf ball is going to look like, you are very well aware of everything that you are doing.
Quint: Was the 3-D live like between takes as well?
Michelle Rodriguez: Yes! So, alright you are done shooting something, we are done talking here, and we are done jumping around and doing what we are going to do and then we go into a trailer four minutes afterwards and we see what we have done in 3-D with the digital background in post.
Quint: That’s awesome.
Michelle Rodriguez: It’s beyond.
Quint: I had a great experience with that kind of technology on the set of Spy Kids 3-D. The studio botched the release (it was shot polarized, but released anaglyph), but on set they had it set up so the feed from the camera, even when it wasn’t rolling, was going to the 3-D monitor. They would get a take and then the crew would go in and you would see them setting up the next shot… in 3-D. It was just the coolest thing.
Michelle Rodriguez: I’ve got to check it out. I think I have that movie because I got a couple of DVDs when I went to go work on MACHETE and I got a couple of DVDs from Elizabeth [Avellan] and I haven’t checked them out yet because I’ve been so busy.
Quint: Elizabeth is such a sweetheart. I love Elizabeth so much.
Michelle Rodriguez: She rocks.
Quint: That team over there is fantastic.
Michelle Rodriguez: He’s got a family over there, man. There is nothing like it. I have never met anybody who works like that. Well, I’m sure AVATAR is very similar, because for three years these guys have been busting their asses… They are so psyched just to see what they have reaped in three years worth of working, but working with Robert is the same way. It’s like he has a whole family of people that have always been there from the beginning, you know what I mean? It’s like the mafia. (laughs)
Quint: “Robert’s Mafia.”
Michelle Rodriguez: “Mafia Playhouse” I’d like to call it.
Quint: Elizabeth is the glue, though. She’s the smartest, nicest people I’ve ever met.
Michelle Rodriguez: Yeah dude, keep it real. Those are the kind of people who I want around me.
Quint: There’s not a whole lot of them like it in the business.
Michelle Rodriguez: No nonsense. No bullshit…
Quint: So, you got to then, I take it, live in Wellington for the AVATAR shooting, right?
Michelle Rodriguez: Yes, I did.
Quint: If I weren’t living in Austin, I would live in Wellington.
Michelle Rodriguez: Really? You love New Zealand?
Quint: I love New Zealand. Did you enjoy it?
Michelle Rodriguez: I loved it. I thought it was cool.
Quint: The people were just so amazingly nice there.
Michelle Rodriguez: There are a lot of active people in New Zealand. Queenstown, I didn’t really get much of an opportunity to party out there or to do sports because their sports are big. I did go to Rotorua an visited that area there and did a bit of… They have their own version of boarding, but like race boarding on a skateboard that… What do they call it? “Scatting?”
Quint: Oh yeah, I’ve heard of this.
Michelle Rodriguez: That was fun and then the ball thing, the zorb. I did that…
Quint: Is that the thing where they slingshot you up into the air in?
Michelle Rodriguez: That was cool, too. No, the zorb is a ball that you just roll down a hill in. Yeah, that place is interesting and you know what, the land is amazing; it’s so beautiful. The goats, the hairy mountains… Yeah, it’s definitely a sight for sore eyes.
It’s extraordinarily beautiful. I would live there if it wasn’t dead center on top of a fault like. I’m like “Well, let’s see…”
Quint: “I’ll buy a cheap house there.”
Michelle Rodriguez: Yeah, I don’t know… All of the top of pressure plates and movement and temperature rising and falling effecting plates… I’m like “I don’t want to take a chance…” (laughs)
Quint: Yeah, the beehive in Wellington, the parliament there’s actually… It’s built…
Michelle Rodriguez: I love how they call it a beehive. It’s built on what?
Quint: It’s built on essentially these giant shock absorbers for earthquakes.
Michelle Rodriguez: Just in case?
Quint: Just in case, but apparently it’s like the whole foundation of it is built on these giant shock absorbers, so even if it’s like a 9.5 or something hit, the building would still not topple.
Michelle Rodriguez: That would be awesome. There’s a lot of interesting architecture in New Zealand as well. Just going over where they filmed the Hobbit stories you look up on those mountains and it’s almost like a bunch of really cool artistic rebellious architects decided to move to New Zealand and live there, because the world shunned them or something.
Quint: Well I’m sure you’ve got plenty of things to do, but I really appreciate you taking the time to sit and bullshit with me.
Michelle Rodriguez: Cheers!
There it is. Hope you enjoyed it! We have one more set visit interview to run sometime Friday, a frank chat with director Jonathan Liebesman. See ya’ then.