THE MAKING AND EVOLUTION OF THEIR CHARACTERS
Michelle, you told The Daily Beast that there was a love triangle between Letty, Dom, and Brian planned for the original film and that you were prepared to leave over that arc if it wasn’t changed. What do you recall about that process? How have you helped shape Letty since to turn her into the character that you’re proud of today?
RODRIGUEZ: At the end of the day, the only leverage I have as an individual is my participation. That’s the only leverage I ever use with anything. It’s like, look, this doesn’t agree with my ethics, morals. My heart doesn’t feel right doing this in front of millions of people, so I can always oblige myself and depart because money, to me, isn’t as important as my lines that you’re not allowed to cross. I can have fun within those boundaries, but it has tagged me like a rough chick because I can’t find an alternative within those boundaries.
But changing Letty, it was tough. I basically had to cry because I didn’t want to get sued because I had agreed to do a feature film and a script. I really didn’t think about it until I was on set. I was like, “Wait a minute. They’re really going to make me do this. I thought that they’d figure out by now that this doesn’t seem logical.” First off, a girl in the ghetto is going to stick with the toughest guy on the block. She would not jeopardize her survival in an urban environment in the name of a good time. It’s just stupid. Imagine if Dominic Toretto found out that blondie boy was messing around with his girl. It’s not logical. You’re not with the most alpha male who will protect you and take a bullet for you and then leave him for a guy who can get beat up by him. So, that was my argument and I put it forth in a very logical way and it made sense. It made sense to Vin, it made sense to the director, and they were able to change things around.
I was very grateful for that, but there are fights every now and then. Like, “Why is she so hard to work with?” I’m not hard to work with. I just demand a certain level of respect for the individual character. Through the years, they’ve realized that the loyalty that fans have for that character is because of those fights because I never fought for anything stupid. It’s not like I’m sitting here, “Oh, I want to drive a car through that!” No, I’m like, “If the boys are fighting and you’re a ride or die b—h, you’re gonna get down, so I need to hit somebody. Whether I fall down or get beat up, I don’t care, but I am gonna go down swinging because that’s what women in this environment do and if we’re trying to keep it real then, you know.”
So, it evolved from there, from being logical and I come from Jersey City. It’s not like I didn’t have truth to what I was saying. I grew up in a pretty rough environment and I knew what it was like, so every time I posed an argument, it was a logical one and people were really cool about it afterward, but it was rough in the beginning.
Letty’s received a ton of love throughout, but since the release of Fate, a handful of stories have come out talking about how Letty’s one of the strongest characters of the series. What’s your reaction to that?
RODRIGUEZ: Aww, I think it’s sweet. I think it’s cool. We worked really, really hard. Sometimes we look back; I was just hanging out with the boys, Tyrese and Vin. I just take a deep breath and I’m really grateful that we kind of are doing the same thing that hip hop did with music, with the music industry. It’s disruptive in a global kind of way and it’s just literally a voice. When people buy tickets, they feel like they are participating in a vote, saying that they are craving more diversity in these entertaining films, that why can’t you throw $150 million at a bunch of [Latino] or [Asian] people? Why does it always have to be lead by the Caucasian superhero?
It’s a voice that’s an outcry, almost a billion dollars in two weeks [Editor’s note: the film passed the billion-dollar mark as of last weekend], that is an outcry. That’s democracy. It’s political. I don’t care what anybody says. So, I feel a sense of pride in the diversity of it all, but what weighs heavy, heavy, heavy on me is, do I want to be a part of something that doesn’t seem to be evolving? That’s the heavy weight on my mind because you’re hitting all of these markets that don’t really have this dream weaving. Like, what kind of movies do they make in Mexico? Do they ever put this kind of money and thought into entertaining people? I never forget what it was like sitting in the movie theater watching my first movie and I’ll tell you, it’s important to have that kind of voice, but with your own culture attached.
How would you describe the evolution of the female characters throughout the series?
BREWSTER: Michelle insisted to [director Rob Cohen] that Letty was not just going to be this girlfriend, because Mia and Letty were a little bit thin on the first one. Michelle was like, “Absolutely not, this is how she’s going to be.” She fleshed her out and made sure she was strong. It was so cool to see her work, so I really credit Michelle with bringing a kickass woman to the screen from the very beginning. Obviously, it evolved from there with the addition of Gina Carano, and now Charlize Theron plays the villain — and the addition of Helen Mirren is beyond. I think it’s amazing to be able to see, I love Michelle and Gina’s fight — that all of that’s not just relegated to the boys was very cool.
[On whether she helped shape Mia in the early days…] No, I had to be pushed by Rob, who was like, “Jordana, you’re like this very hoity-toity Upper East Side girl and this chick is really grounded, and you gotta watch a lot of Anna Magnani movies.” I was like, “Oh, Jesus. What am I in for?” So, it was kind of the opposite with me. I was being pushed toward the grittiness and the earthiness, which was great. I loved it, but I also really liked playing the counterbalance to all the crazy testosterone. If I’ve been asked one thing more than any other question throughout the series it’s like, “Oh, what’s it like to be around all those guys? Does it get exhausting?” It was just so the norm for me. I loved it. It was great.
PATAKY: I think that it’s been great and it goes with the times that we’re living right now. Women are more and more important in movies, in Hollywood. I think the franchise really [shows] how powerful and strong these women are. [Elena’s] a police officer. Even the new [villain] in the movie is a woman. How powerful is that? How strong? It feels like they respect the women in the franchise a lot.
The character of Michelle right now is amazing. She’s a really strong woman. She’s [at] the side of her man and she shows her love. At the same time, she’s a little bit badass. The women of this franchise, they’re all so badass, which is great, and you believe it. It’s not like look, the girlfriend can be tough. No, they are.
EMMANUEL: I think the women have had their own agency more and more and more with each movie. It’d be wrong to say that they didn’t even in the first movie, but I feel like every woman that’s been involved has had her moment where she shows her chops as they would say, just shows what she’s about. And I think with each movie, that’s becoming more and more and more. We’ve got our lovely Michelle, who plays Letty, and we’ve seen, just with her character alone, her evolve from this street-racing kid who’s Dom’s girlfriend to becoming wise and a partner. Also, she’s an amazing driver, an amazing fighter and you realize that she didn’t need this group of men to protect her. She’s more than capable doing it herself. Obviously they do because of the loyalty that they all share.
Would you say, then, that Fate is the strongest yet in terms of dynamic, strong, interesting female characters, if the agency grows with each movie? The introduction of Cipher, for example, as the first lead, female antagonist is a big step.
EMMANUEL: Definitely. Cipher, as much as she’s a complete psychopath, she’s also a genius. As far as my character is concerned, she’s heard of Cipher, but she’s like, “No, that’s an organization.” The scene where we discover that it’s just one woman, Ramsey’s quite visibly impressed because in the hacking community, nobody will mess with her. The fact that it’s a woman is even cooler. It’s really fun, then, when those two characters go head to head at the end. We’ve got all these different battles going on, whether it’s with cars or bullets or explosions, and then there’s this cyber battle, this hacking battle that also takes place and it’s quite sophisticated, really intelligent, and a battle of the smarts as well as skill with these two very strong women. Even though they’re working on opposite sides, there’s something cool about that, to show that to the world.
How do you feel the films have represented women?
KELLEY: I have to admit that I didn’t watch past [the third film], but I watched the first one as soon as it came out when I was 16 and like everybody else remember it being like, “Whoa, what is this? This is so dynamic and different.” I can’t really say that I was excited at all by car racing culture, but that’s the brilliance of the film and the franchise. They are so character heavy and so invested in these storylines that someone like me, I’m actually not an action movie fan at all, but I can still get behind the cool parts and characters. So, when I was, a couple years later, asked to be a part of this huge franchise it was a big honor.
I’m sure looking back with context, if I rewatched the first one I might be like, “Oh, the men are doing all of the tough, exciting stuff” and the women are kind of, I don’t want to say props, but at the time when I was watching it, it seemed like they were equally badass. Maybe that’s just where we were in the ’90s. The franchise has been happening for [more than] 15 years. I’m not surprised that women are taking on bigger roles and meatier parts of the storyline, and are not just accessories to the male-centered drama. I would be shocked if it hadn’t evolved, but I still feel like in the first one, the women were exciting in their own light. They were sexy, but they weren’t like sexy props. I remember Michelle Rodriguez being so badass and so capable and I’m sure that continued.