Michelle Rodriguez feels more like 'an activist than actress'
Widows star Michelle Rodriguez talks about fighting for what's right
Michelle Rodriguez did not want one of the lead roles in the new heist movie Widows at first because she "saw weakness".
Opening here tomorrow, it follows grieving women (Rodriguez, Viola Davis and Elizabeth Debicki) who attempt a heist to pay back a debt to a crime boss after their crook husbands are killed on a botched job.
The 40-year-old US actress said during the interview at the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills: "I saw a woman who had kids early, made all the wrong decisions in her life, married a loser.
"This is what I saw growing up in inner cities. This is my mother. This is all those young girls I saw having kids when I was a teenager, having to stay in poverty because of the decisions they made when they were so young."
She added: "I have lived in my masculine side for most of my life. I've earned my respect in the world by manifesting my own destiny, by not taking s*** from anybody and by fighting for what I believe in.
"(My character) reminded me of that soft power that I saw get stepped on by the world, and to play that was very hard for me."
But after a meeting with award-winning British director Steve McQueen, Rodriguez - known for starring in testosterone-heavy flicks like the Fast & Furious franchise - changed her mind.
She said: "I am really grateful Steve talked me into it because had I not done this film. I probably would not have realised why I respect my mother and why I love all those women I saw growing up and why it hurt me to see them get stepped on.
"Real power is loving unconditionally, caring about your community, caring about the education of your kids, wanting to take care of the home.
"It's hard to be a woman who stands up for the household and who carries the weight when the guy's not around. I got to see what soft power is and understand it a lot more."
Rodriguez had a difficult upbringing. Rebelling against her Jehovah's Witness mother and her father who had children with several different women, she was kicked out of several schools, hanging with a tough crowd and getting in fights.
She has been arrested for assault and drink driving and spent time in jail and alcohol rehab.
She said: "I started out in a very rough life living in Jersey City, coming from poverty. I came from nothing, and so the masculine qualities within myself are what really stood forth to protect me in life.
"I would say that maybe 75 per cent of why I've been so macho has to do with my upbringing."
Making it in Hollywood also requires toughness.
"I don't get paid the same amount of money as the men I work with. But I don't fight for that as much as I fight for morals, respect and ethics.
"I've had a lot of script battles in the action movie world about ethics and morals. That is more important than money because I understand the power of media.
"I know what it is to see a symbol up there who's independent and free, and what it means when that symbol is desecrated.
"It's more important to try to establish a Latin kind of human on that big screen who is respected as an equal to the male there. To me, that is way more important than getting paid more than the guys so that's what I've spent most of my career fighting for.
"I feel more of an activist than an actress," she said.
Rodriguez admitted she doesn't have too many female friends, so it was interesting for her to be working with so many women on Widows.
She said: "Viola Davis is a force to be reckoned with. She made it easy for me to play (clothing store owner Linda) because she's so disarming herself.
"She was welcoming me and my energy to play with hers. It allowed me to embody Linda and fight not to mess this up.
"These girls are so cool. It was all women and different age groups and races and backgrounds, so it was amazing because we all wanted to learn from each other. That energy speeds creativity."
We pursue the subject of her lack of female friends, something she's working on as most of her friends have been male.
She said: "As I soften as I get older, I'm starting to build greater bonds with women. It's almost as if the energy when I was growing up was very competitive. I was the tomboy there.
"Guys just liked hanging out with me because I like guns, I like cars, I like doing things that they do and so we have stuff to talk about. That jealousy thing was always there with women around.
"As that energy disappears, you start to see women coming together and actually caring to discover themselves.
"I think it's the most beautiful time to live in right now because you're now seeing a movement of women saying, I want to see what women have to say about women, so I'm really excited."