By: Stephen RebelloThe deadliest weapon in S.W.A.T. star MichelleRodriguez’s possession may not be the one in her holster, butthe one below her nose and above her chin
If the casting sheet for your next movie demands a leading lady who is docile and soft-spoken, perhaps you should scratch Michelle Rodriguez from your wish list. When the 25-year-old actress found herself the lone female amid a cast of guy’s guys, including Samuel L. Jackson, Colin Farrell, and LL Cool J, in this month’s action-palooza S.W.A.T., she had no trouble holding her own against the jockstrap camaraderie. “When they started pulling that fraternity-hazing stuff on me,” says Rodriguez, “I was like, ‘Whatever-I’m used to it.’ I finally said, ‘You know what, guys? I just farted.’ That usually scared them away.”
Since sucker-punching audiences three years ago in her indie debut, Girlfight, Rodriguez, with her rock’n’roll sneer and up-all-night eyes, hascornered the market on tough-girl edginess in films like The Fast and the Furious and Blue Crush. There’s something just right about her costarring in a big-screen update of the 1970s TV series S.W.A.T., about an elite, heavily armed law-enforcement team. But the Jersey City, New Jersey, native says her incentive to take the role wasn’t the source material. “Who even remembers the old show?” says Rodriguez. “Before I agreed to do it, I said to the director [Clark Johnson], ‘Find somebody else if you want me to be the girl who ends up getting killed. I don’t want to do it if I can’t kick some ass.'”
First, she had to endure a schooling by her real-life counterparts. “We met with actual S.W.A.T. officers who put us in check about how to hold our guns and took us to the shooting range,” she recalls. “It was like being in the videogame Rainbow Six.” She also had to submit herself to an intense workout regimen once a week-“but only once a week,” she says, “because I’m just too damned lazy. I can’t even wake up at a consistent time of day unless I’m working, and that’s only consistent because it’s at the risk of lawsuits.” Then there were the after-hours training sessions with hard-partying costar Farrell. “I threw up on him one time at [the Hollywood burlesque club] Forty Deuce,” says Rodriguez. “I just drank too much, but Colin laughed it off, like, ‘Aw, the poor little thing couldn’t handle her liquor.’ He can handle it because he’s Irish.”
Once her preparation was complete, Rodriguez found it equally challenging to get out of character. “We were shooting a scene at an old hotel where the team was supposed to break in,” says director Johnson. “People were walking in the front door, and I said, ‘Where’s Michelle?’ and I heard, ‘I’m up here.’ She had climbed up the downspout and into the balcony window. That’s how Michelle goes into a building.”
Though she’s willing to shed pounds and gain muscle when a performance requires it, there’s one quality Rodriguez simply will not alter for any role: her candor. “My [handlers] keep saying, ‘Michelle, you need to change your persona,'” she laments. “They want people to see a more feminine side of me. Okay, so the public doesn’t see me running topless on the beach in Puerto Rico, and I haven’t cried in a movie since Girlfight.” But if her work has displayed only one side of her personality, she says, it’s a reflection of the films she’s been offered. “I need the proper vehicle, and I haven’t found it yet. So far, I’ve been driving putt-putts, and I need me a Porsche so you can really see how I drive.”
Already sounding like a street-smart veteran officer, Rodriguez acknowledges that stardom is a job with many perks-but it’s still a job. “Hollywood is like one big office,” she says with a grin. “Sure, it can be a bad office with banging background music, tons of people hanging out, and maybe a couple of naked dancers-but it’s still an office. Everybody knows everybody. Everybody fucks everybody.” Merchant Ivory, have we got a girl for you!