Fast & Furious: Here’s to the franchise’s complex, intelligent, badass women
Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Helen Mirren, Nathalie Emmanuel, Elsa Pataky, and Nathalie Kelley speak frankly about their characters, the series, and the industry
Spoilers from The Fate of the Furious below!
When you think of the Fast & Furious franchise, what comes to mind?
The wild action, the sleek cars, and the macho men taking the lead? That’s all relevant and great, but you should also be thinking (if you weren’t already) about the series’ ride-or-die female characters and the actresses behind them.
Those women include Michelle Rodriguez (Letty), Jordana Brewster (Mia), Nathalie Emmanuel (Ramsey), Elsa Pataky (Elena), Nathalie Kelley (Neela), and Helen Mirren (Magdalene), who spoke with EW about their characters, how those roles evolved over the years, the state of women in action films today, why representation in the genre matters, and how the Fast films (and Hollywood) can improve on that representation.
(Special shoutout to Charlize Theron, Gal Gadot, Gina Carano, Eva Mendes, and Devon Aoki, who were not available to chat — but also rock.)
Start your engines…
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How would you characterize your respective characters, and what do you think they mean within the context of women in the series?
MICHELLE RODRIGUEZ: Letty’s a strong woman. She’s a kid who grew up with a socio-economic background that makes you a little bit rough around the edges, I guess. I knew girls like Letty growing up. They’re attracted and loyal to guys like Dominic Toretto because it’s the only way to survive in a place that gets violent — Chicago, New York, Los Angeles. When people are poor, there’s a lot of crime and when there’s lots of crime, you have to watch your back. It gets physical and that’s why it seems like we’ve been stuck in the ’90s for the last [however] many years that we’ve been doing the franchise, because of the macho bravado involved, but that truly is the voice of the urban ghetto. I was hoping that at some point we’d evolve out of that vibe. We made some money — kind of like the rapper who starts reading books and next thing you know, you don’t have to worry about survival anymore, so you stop being so physical and start becoming more intelligent — but it seems that just as we start growing up as individuals, you have countries around the world who are still stuck in that mindset.
So, that’s why it’s perpetuated and so successful around the world. You got a place like China that just discovered the enjoyment of movies, of action movies — not Chinese action movies, but international ones — and they’re starting to get a good taste for that vibe and I don’t blame them. The grand majority of the population is boys and as they discover what they want in the global markets, they start to realize that that 1990s vibe is resonating with them, and it resonates with people in South America and in Africa. Two places that really amazed the hell out of me, I was at an eagle hunting festival in Mongolia, so the desert, and they knew the Fast & Furious franchise. It wasn’t tourists that came to visit that I was taking photos with. It was actual eagle hunters, guys who lived like bedouins in tents in the middle of the desert in Mongolia.
At some point I do hope — knowing a lot of these countries where this franchise is uber successful and that for the first time in recorded history, there are less women on the planet than men — maybe the studios starts to take a look at what the female voice is, because there are less women than men around the world today. Not in America; America has 51 percent female population, but that’s because of violence. It’s because of violence against women and it’s because of a lack of evolution in men in society. I do feel that heavy weight. I’m a complete, sheer, utter feminist. On day one, I [changed] the character from being something that I could not do in front of millions of people into a character that I’m actually proud of, but at the end of the day, what message are we sending out there for women? It does weigh heavy on my head — especially in the male-dominated environment that I work in.
JORDANA BREWSTER: In the fourth, fifth, and sixth [films], Mia was always this lighthouse. She was the one who was always like, “I’m going to be here, here’s what you guys have to do.” She’s always there when they get back from their missions. She’s the very sane, level-headed one. I had the most fun with Fast Five because that was the one where Mia was on the mission with the team and I got to be a part of the action, but I would definitely say she’s the voice of reason amidst all the chaos and in that sense she’s very maternal.
It was very cool to bring [motherhood] to the series once I was a mom myself. I actually played a mom before becoming a mom and I kind of got it, but not really. Then, the minute I had Julian I really understood. When I shot the scene with Jack and he’s in the car and there’s this massive explosion, everything became so much more visceral, the stakes became so much higher, so it’s really fun to bring that element to the series. Now, she’s a mom of two because in Furious 7 Mia told Brian she’s pregnant with a little girl.
[Editor’s Note: Brewster hadn’t seen Fate of the Furious at the time of the interview, but heard that Dom becomes a father. “It’ll be interesting to see Dom in that role.” As for naming his child Brian, a tribute to the late Paul Walker’s character, “I think it’s a beautiful way of continuing it.”]
NATHALIE EMMANUEL: The thing I like about Ramsey is that she’s an extremely talented hacker and she’s very intelligent and a problem solver. There’s a stigma about women in [technological] types of industries or in those types of jobs and I think that it’s really cool that Ramsey is so good at what she does. In a way, that character breaks certain stereotypes and also how you might perceive somebody who is into that kind of thing might look or how they might dress or how they might be as a person. I think that she is a normal girl who just so happens to be quite skilled at computers, hacking, coding, and all of that fun stuff. I think that’s a really cool thing that she represents within the franchise, and I also like that she’s sort of independent of this family that’s been established for so long. She’s come in purely on her own merit and her own specific skillset and it’s useful to this group and what they do. As much as she’s become a part of the group, she’s come in independently and I quite enjoy that.
What’s sort of fun about Ramsey joining that group is that she’s not a car girl, just the dynamic of that within these very high-action, car-racing, death-defying movies. She’s like, “This is crazy” and is always freaking out. Even though she’s doing it for the greater good, she’s still like, “Oh my God, I might die.” I enjoy that she’s that and not another car girl because it means that, in a small way, the audience lives through her eyes. In fact, in a car sequence — like what we’ve seen in all of the movies and especially in this one — most of us would be freaking out. Ramsey often is and I think she sort of represents the everyday person, who isn’t used to this lifestyle. I like that I’m the person who gets to do that.
NATHALIE KELLEY: I did [The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift] now over 10 years ago and people still come up to me and are like “Neela!” I ask myself, what is it about, not just my character, but her in the context of the third film that still resonates with people? I think the movie in itself was an outsider. It took place in a separate world in a separate storyline and Neela herself was an outsider within that outsider world. Who her father was was not really certain and she had this hazy background in this dark, underground Japanese world. [Japan has] a pretty homogenous society and she’s mixed race, so there’s something about this outsider status that she had, within the outsider movie in the franchise, that I think people who are a little bit on the outside looking in resonate with.
HELEN MIRREN: I’m a little [hazy on] the subject of women in Fast and the Furious. I just loved being in a movie where cars are driven because I love driving cars in movies. Ironically, I didn’t get to drive a car in this one, but hopefully, maybe in the future I will. In terms of the character, I met Jason [Statham]. He was in a film that my husband directed. I really loved him as a person, as an actor. His work ethic is spectacular and he’s a great guy. I loved that I would be playing a scene with him. Then, with [Statham’s character Deckard’s] background, we constructed this character, who’s a character I kind of know. She’s a very tough, London woman who’s strong, a little bit vulgar, and self-interested.
As this matriarch, how would you describe the role of parenthood in Fate?
MIRREN: One of the strong themes in the Fast and the Furious [movies] has always been family, that family is important. I think that’s one of the reasons they’re popular films, because that is the one element that everybody all over the world can identify with simply, easily, and directly, so it’s great to see this other level being brought in with the different generations of the family, the fact that family actually goes on through many generations over long periods of time. I thought that that was a nice thing to introduce into the storyline.
Elsa, what does it mean to you to play a woman within this major action franchise who’s very career driven and capable, as well as maternal? We find out in Fate that Elena and Dom have a son and see her, basically, sacrifice herself for the sake of their child.
ELSA PATAKY: It’s beautiful and really sad because I’m a mom too and it’s so difficult to see that story, how it started and how it ends. I think any mom in the world would sacrifice her life for the life of her son. It’s such a big love, and it’s so intense, all the scenes that she has with Dom. She’s a police officer, so knows the power of this woman that Charlize plays, how dangerous the situation is. She’s suffering and thinking about that helped me a lot with the scene because it breaks my heart. She knew something would happen to [their son] if [Dom] wouldn’t do whatever [Cipher] wanted. That’s what she focused on — just save our son.
It’s sad, but moving to see your character meet her end.
PATAKY: Yeah that’s what everybody was telling me, how sad it is that the character just leaves the franchise like that, but I was like, “No, it’s amazing.” It’s good because the movies are about that situation, how strong the love is between the three of them, so it was a really good way of ending. At the end of the movie, there’s that moment of Dom saying, “Elena, I’ll take care of our kid.” It makes me cry just thinking about it. Her purpose in the whole movie was to defend the son, which the most important thing for Dom is family. I think the moment they shoot her, she realizes that they’re killing her instead of the kid. She dies in a relaxed way, like okay, it’s not him, it’s me — just happy that it’s not him. Again, the whole story of her character is to have that kid in the movie, which will last forever, so that’s really beautiful in a way.
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.
WOMEN IN ACTION FILMS TODAY
Beyond Fast, how would you characterize the state of women in action movies today?
BREWSTER: Milla Jovovich’s [Resident Evil] franchise does so well, and now super well worldwide especially. It seems like they either do extremely well or not at all. Scarlett Johansson’s so kickass, so I’m happy that the audience is going to see them because then there’s the greater demand, which is amazing. I think it’s the kind of thing where audiences just have to keep demanding it because there has to be a realistic portrayal, there has to be great role models out there for women as well as men. My 3-and-a-half year old is obsessed with Wonder Woman. He can’t wait for that movie. I’m like, “Mommy knows Gal.”
MIRREN: I think they’re pretty good actually, I have to say. I guess I’m seeing it from my perspective, my generation, what I’ve seen, and how much it’s been a battle, and a frustrating battle, my whole professional life. To me, the change is so drastic and obviously here we have a crew of spectacular people, like in the character that Charlize plays and I loved Charlize’s character also in [Mad Max: Fury Road]. It’s changed so, so much. It doesn’t mean it can’t continue changing. Sometimes you think, “Oh my God, they’re slipping back again,” but I think it’s pretty good. It just should continue in the trajectory that it’s going in.
EMMANUEL: My opinion is that there is often this tendency to, like the women who are tough must also be sexy and often overly sexualized. As much as I don’t have a problem with that because women can be tough, they can be vulnerable, they can be smart, they can be sexy, they can be all of those things, I think we, in all genres of movies, should always strive to show the complexity of a woman and not just the badass and the sex symbol. You have to see the human being as well and the other aspects and that is what I would love to see more of in action films.
KELLEY: I think we’re coming along. It’s definitely not a genre that I tend to be like, I need to go see the latest action film, but I was just reading about Atomic Blonde and watching the trailer and thinking, “Holy s—. How far have we come?” We’ve come a long way. There’s still a lot of work to do. We still have all these internalized ideas on gender and what women do and what men do and I’ve witnessed it. In the 10 years that I’ve been in the industry I’ve witnessed those ideas dissolving and shifting, which is really exciting. I think writers are writing more badass roles for women and realizing that that has a lot of appeal and that people are coming around to that idea. Whether that translates to equality in pay is a whole other issue, but I feel like at least the content is racing ahead. I couldn’t have envisioned an Atomic Blonde 10 years ago, so, we’re getting there.
[Charlize is] so good and Mad Max was exciting too, and it was mostly women doing that badass action. I think each one of these movies kind of puts a dent in that glass ceiling and we’re working toward it, but so much of it is just where society is at. These movies are a reflection of ourselves and where we’re at. So as a society, as we begin to deconstruct these roles that have been taught to us, then slowly the writing and the content itself will follow suit. It felt like Fast and the Furious was groundbreaking for women when it came out because that’s where we were at. It’s going to continue to reflect where we’re at.
WHY REPRESENTATION IN THE GENRE MATTERS
Why do you think it’s important to not only include, but put women at the forefront of action films?
BREWSTER: Because, why not? We’ve been watching male-driven action movies forever, so why shouldn’t we watch female-driven action movies? There’s so many amazing Greek myths with females of before. Women are more multifaceted and more complicated and I think it’s more interesting. That’s why TV is so rich right now, frankly. That’s why Big Little Lies did so well. There were all these female protagonists that were so complicated and horrible, yet good. It was just the most delicious show to watch and I think that the same should be available in film.
EMMANUEL: It’s really important because in the past, it was like you’ve got the damsel in distress and then the man will come and save the day or the knight in shining armor on the white horse. I think it’s important that women are shown to be able and capable and tough and fighters when they need to be. Not just in the physical aspects, but also showing the fight that women have every day, whether it’s raising children or going to work and doing all these things that women do that really keep a lot of people going. I think showing women in that light, as people who are firmly independent and firmly capable when they have to be — and not just like, as I said, the damsel in distress and the men sort of come together and save the day — I think you need to see that dynamic change. I think we have been seeing that for a long time, but I think it can always be done more in films, action movies.
PATAKY: It’s real life. There’s so many women who have been amazing in history, such strong women. It’s beautiful to put it in movies so people can watch. It’s interesting to see that other side, all these women of history that have amazing stories, really strong women that maybe before people were not that interested in. To put it out and to watch them is very good — the ones in real life, and the ones being created right now.
KELLEY: This is hard for me because it’s just so funny that I did this action film that people still remember, thankfully, because it is so not my genre. It was never my dream to grow up and do action, but I’m aware of how that is the dream of so many girls. The culture informs where our girls are going to go in the next generation. We’re only limited by the way we limit ourselves and the movies we write and the roles we write for women, we’re subconsciously teaching the next generation. I think it’s important for girls who are not like me, who do maybe want to grow up and race with men. I understand in the Olympics men and women being separate because body structure, although even that is starting to change now too and how we define gender, but a woman and a man should be able to race. Women should be respected as men in the racing world because it’s not your body on the line; it’s the vehicle and how you drive that vehicle is not dependent on whether you’re a man or woman, but there’s this internalized misogyny we have that a woman couldn’t possibly do that.
So, action movies are important to break down these internalized gender roles that we have in our head: “Women should do this and just be sexy and watch while the men do all the badass stuff.” I think that these are important lessons to teach the next generation, to not be limited by the restraints of the past that we have put on ourselves. We participate in the making of these movies and we participate in the culture around us and we’re having to break down these preconceived notions about what we can and can’t do.
I just finished the reboot of Dynasty for The CW and it’s really cool. It’s really centered on the female relationships. I’m reprising Linda Evans’ role and then Liz Gillies is playing the role of Fallon, who is the daughter of the guy I’m marrying. It’s kind of going to be like Joan Collins-Linda Evans, their dynamic where they were always fighting on the show. People loved to tune in to see their fights and so me and Liz are kind of rehashing that for the audience. There was a fight scene and I was so against it because I was…having a really hard time with fighting with girls. Why am I fighting her? I understand the conflict is central to the show, but do I have to lay hands on her? Are we really promoting this in this day and age? Then we did the fight scene and it was so much fun. They were like “Girls cut, cut, cut,” like “Girls, stop” and I realized, I kind of do like action.
It’s so fun and I get why boys love doing fight scenes. I realized this is something I put on myself, like “Well, I can’t do this” or “I shouldn’t want to do this because it’s not feminine” and it’s like, who am I to say what’s right for any other woman? As feminists, we’re fighting for equality. Instead of putting another woman down when she wants to physically engage another woman, shouldn’t we fight for her right to do that, if that’s what she wants? If we want to drive like men and compete like men and earn like men — not like men because we’re obviously different but have the same respect in the field — shouldn’t we demand respect in the way we choose to fight? I realized this whole other slant on it. It was funny from somebody who’s normally like [quiet, soft voice] “No, I’m a woman’s woman.” Both of us were so enjoying pounding each other.
Does that mean there’s the chance you’ll want to get back into action?
KELLEY: Yeah, it made me realize I am only limiting myself, which is so funny because you’d think after doing this one action film I would know. “Well, I can really do anything,” but this is that thing I’m talking about, that internal dialogue that we all have with ourselves about what we should do as women, what we can do, what is expected of us. I think women in action are shattering those constraints. If that’s what you want to do, do it!
HOW THE FAST FILMS, AND INDUSTRY, CAN BE MORE INCLUSIVE OF WOMEN
Where would you like to see the Fast films go from here? How can they be more inclusive of women?
RODRIGUEZ: First and foremost, bringing some more women on the good team, not just bringing an amazing actress to play the bad guy, and having more female camaraderie, having women do things independently outside of what the boys are doing — that is truly the voice of female independence. Now, having girls run around and do a bunch of really cool stuff, that’s great, it’s wonderful, but we never talk to each other. It’s very rare that they even look at each other. I’ve been making movies with Jordana, who plays the sister of Dom Toretto, for 16 years and I can count on one hand how many lines I’ve had to her. I think that’s pathetic and it’s lack of creativity. Guys don’t know what girls talk about. They think that girls just sit around talking about guys and it’s a sad truth of men being the dominant writers in Hollywood.
You’re going to see a bunch of really bad movies written by men about women and it’s because they realized, finally, that it makes money, so hopefully, it’s a call to arms. It’s a call to arms to the women to step up and step into fields that they never really considered before, like action. What I would do is I would have a guy write the franchise because it’s a very big, highly-paced, action-adventure ride. I would have a guy lay that out, but with intentions of leaving slots for female camaraderie. Then, I’d have a girl come in and write out that dialogue because the guys suck at it. I’ve been rewriting my lines forever. I think the only one I never had to do that with was Jim Cameron and the film Girlfight as well…and Robert [Rodriguez is] really cool; he’s always very collaborative, but you know there aren’t a lot of guys out there who really understand that the female voice is independent.
There’s really nobody training for the women, so they don’t really have examples. Guys are like “Ah, she can’t do that.” How the f— do you know? Have you studied female history? Do you know who’s a scientist? Who’s not a scientist? Do you know that women like taking apart motors sometime? It happens. My assistant used to do it with her dad. She knows motor parts and I had absolutely no clue, but people just don’t know until they put it out there. I feel there’s a dire need for that. That’s what I’m imploring with the studio because these franchise films go to the hardest markets on women. What I mean by hardest markets on women, I’m talking about territories where women, culturally, are treated like trash. I do not feel comfortable not sending an opposing message to that kind of thing. When you are benefiting so much from all this money that’s coming at you, I think you should be sending out some subliminal messaging to balance out that energy between man and woman in these territories, where culturally they’re not evolving out of it.
I think it’s sad, but until you see it on the big screen and it feels real — honestly, that is a powerful thing. I think people really underestimate how powerful Hollywood feature films are to inspire the mind. It inspired me. Look at me. This is my life.
Jordana, what’s your response to Michelle’s thoughts on female camaraderie and how little the two of you have interacted on screen in these films?
BREWSTER: I love Michelle for that. I adore her. I agree with that. Even in the first one, Rob would talk about the fact that we’re close because my brother is everything to me and Letty is one of the most important women in Dom’s life, so there was all this backstory, but we never, ever got to explore it on screen. I agree that that would be great to be able to see and now that I’m a mom of two and she’s this mom by chance, it’d be interesting to explore that. I’d love to see that because it is a shame that we’ve never seen that on screen.
You told Fox News that the door might not be closed on you coming back. Is exploring motherhood with Letty, like you were saying, something that you think could bring you back, or what do you imagine the circumstances could be?
BREWSTER: It’s obviously difficult to reintroduce me, but I’d love to be able to come back. We’ll see if that’s able to happen, but it would be great if it involved Letty and if we could connect somehow or if we could be on the road together for a little bit, because you don’t get to see that either. That would be really cool.
What else would you like to see more of in terms of women in these movies?
BREWSTER: I think the franchise has continued evolving and growing — so far, so good. Equal screen time is always good. That’s something to aim for, but not as far as different storylines.
MIRREN: Just more [women], with bigger, longer scenes, with a more direct, intrinsic story. It’s something that I’ve been battling with my whole life. I did a film called The Long Good Friday where I really fought to get the character into the storyline as opposed to being on the side of the storyline kind of watching it all, occasionally making sympathetic noises. That is what I would ask of feature films in general, let alone Fast and the Furious. I mean, it’s happened enormously. Things have changed so dramatically and drastically in the last 10 years and that change has continued to come. It’s like a dam has broken. People have been banging, the flood has been trying to break the dam for a long time — finally the dam’s cracking — but put them behind the wheel [laughs]. I know they have been behind the wheel, but put them behind the wheel more, including hopefully my character.
The Fast movies have yet to have a female director. Do you think a female director could bring a bit of what you’re talking about?
MIRREN: A female director doesn’t necessarily change things like that. What changes things is the audience, is the audience responding to something and going with it. We all know that the movie industry is a financial industry above all. We make what sells. Yes, of course, a woman director quite possibly could bring her own sensibility to it. What I’m really excited about as much as women directing is seeing women behind the camera in the camera department — cinematography and the sound department — and that change is happening, which is really great. It’s a sort of pronged thing. It’s behind the camera and in the audience.
BREWSTER: That would be really interesting. I worked with Angela Robinson ages ago on D.E.B.S. I don’t know why she popped in my head. I think it would be fun to have a female director. That would shake it up for sure. A female writer would be really cool to bring a different perspective, different flavor to it.”
Where would you like to see the series go next as far as female representation? Is there an area where you think there’s room for improvement?
EMMANUEL: I think we can always improve on these things all the time, but at the end of the day these characters, all of the characters, have evolved and really developed over a number of films. I think giving the women more of a platform to be independent will always be an improvement. I would love it if there was some sort of mission where they could only send the girls in or something, that would be really fun. I think as long as they continue to give women platforms to have their own stories within the movies, the opportunity for them to show their own individuality and agency, and learn more about them and the people they are, as complicated people as we all are, that would be amazing. Also, other than sort of Jordana’s character, these women becoming mothers and that sort of thing that most explore — a lot of women will experience eventually, maybe not everyone. That evolution and how that then changes, and how we would operate within that dynamic of that group.
What steps do you think the industry should take to make a more equal landscape for women, in the genre or more broadly? How can Hollywood as a whole do better?
BREWSTER: I think it’s amazing that more and more actresses are being brave and speaking out. I think it’s great every once and awhile to say no. If something’s not fair, you gotta say no.
EMMANUEL: I guess the first thing would be to write more parts for women because it’s often a very male-dominated genre, so like in any production, even in Fast and the Furious, there’s majority men and a few women, so even just creating a more equal number of roles for men and women within a movie I guess would be a start, or even just creating moments or scenes where women get to show what they’re made of independently of men, but I feel like that happens within these films and has been — especially where Michelle is concerned and Gal is concerned. They have their moments to shine, essentially, and to take initiative. Other ways of improving this sort of thing, I guess, is giving female characters a story that runs alongside other stories, that everyone has their story within it — their journey and you explore that as much as you explore other things.
PATAKY: In conflict and war now, women and men are equal in almost every way, which is amazing…Those [are] amazing, really strong women, as strong men, so we have to start believing in movies that women can be like that and can do every action movie…In the CIA, spies now are amazing women. It’s in reality. I love to see, in a movie, a woman who has power, is strong and intelligent, and can beat any of the men. I think that’s what men have to realize, and I think they are. The beginning was like no, I don’t believe that, but you have to. It’s now real, so give that power, give that opportunity to women to do a lot of action movies. I love it. I love watching it. I love seeing these strong women [playing] these characters, and I think we should give them more and more.