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Michelle Rodriguez: My Life in 10 Movies

The ‘Furious 7’ star gives it up for Disney, Paul Newman and ‘Pulp Fiction’: “It’s impeccable.”

Michelle Rodriguez

Michelle Rodriguez in 'Furious 7.'

Universal Pictures/Everett

"It's the wrath of rush hour in L.A. right now, so things might get loud, man," Michelle Rodriguez says, and sure enough, what sounds like a cross between crunching metal and a crying woolly mammoth comes blaring through the phone a minute later. "Hey, don't say that I didn't warn ya!" she yells, before unleashing one of her trademark cackles. The 36-year-old, half Dominican and half Puerto Rican actress is camped out at Dodger's Stadium doing press for Furious 7, the latest — and last — of the successful Fast and Furious movies, and she's admittedly a little burnt out when it comes to talking about chase scenes and customized speed-demon vehicles. So when we ask this self-proclaimed "film dork" to name 10 movies that changed her life, her first question is, "They don't have to be car movies, right?" Then she laughs long and hard again.

What follows, Rodriguez says, are a combination of both her personal favorite movies — the ones she watches again and again — and the ones that keep inspiring her in the work she does, whether its indies like her debut, Girlfight (2000), goofy self-aware exploitation films like Machete Kills (2013) or big-budget blockbusters like the Furious flicks. A few even fit both categories. But all of them offer a little peek into who she is, the actress claims. Here's Michelle Rodriguez in 10 movies.


‘A Clockwork Orange’ (1971)

"If I'm picking 10 of my favorite movies, there’s going to be some Stanley Kubrick up in this thing — and if I can only pick one Kubrick, it’s going to be A Clockwork Orange. There's something about the way he uses sound and color to express the psychology of what’s going on with Alex, as well as the references to brainwashing — which I find kind of fascinating — and the sheer rebelliousness of it…I just dig it. I love the Orwellian vibe of it. I love how sinister and dark it is, while still being funny, you know? I mean, funny in a weird and fucked up way — but I like weird and fucked up! [Laughs]"


‘Pulp Fiction’ (1994)

"The dialogue and writing in that movie…I mean, who does that?!? It's impeccable. The way he balances all those stories in one film, and how he seems to bring out the best of his actors is nuts. I remember seeing this in the Nineties when it came out and thinking, wow, this is just epic; it feels character-based and intimate but it's epic. This had a huge impact on me. And it's one of those movies that, for me, is emblematic of the time but still feels timeless. That's the difference between a classic and a trend. Fuck, I want to watch it right now!"


‘Natural Born Killers’ (1994)

"Man, I really love Oliver Stone's stuff in the Nineties…he’s great when he's being political, but I love it when he goes after stuff like he does here: TV, the media, drugs, just the culture at large. Again, weird and fucked up! And you have to give it up for Robert Downey Jr.; I know everybody loves him now, but I’ve always been a huge fan of his and he's just an acting monster here. Go Mickey and Mallory!"


‘Cabaret’ (1972)

"Great musical, great Seventies movie, and to me, it feels like a bridge between classic movies — when things were still sort of insinuated instead of all up in your face — and modern movies. It's decadent as hell. And that scene with Liza Minnelli and the two guys, and the look that the rich dude gives to Michael York as his hand is going down to his crotch…man! You didn't get that kind of edgy shit in Brokeback Mountain! [Laughs]"


‘The Hustler’ (1961)

"Paul Newman…what a sexy motherfucker! That dude was hot, he was a real man — they don't make them like that anymore, I will tell you that. And my God, Minnesota Fats…I remember seeing The Honeymooners on Nick at Nite a lot when I was a kid, so I knew who Jackie Gleason was. But it wasn't until I saw him in this that I realized he could actually act. And the use of black-and-white…see, that's one of the things that I love about movies from this period. The way that people shot in black-and-white back then added so much. I wish I could get a bunch of filmmakers today and force them to not use color, see what they could come up with. It's like you've got to blindfold people to write better dialogue and have people cover up their ears to come up with better images to tell a story. It's the same with cinematography. Sometimes you gotta Mr. Miyagi somebody to make 'em more creative.

"I saw this on the big screen in New York — you have to love that city because you can always find some old-school movie playing somewhere there. Karyn Kusama, who directed me in Girlfight, turned me on to this one; she was trying to teach me the history of film. I owe her big for that."


‘Avatar’ (2009)

"I'm not just including this because I'm in it, mind you. I'm going with this one because I really do think that Jim Cameron has this ability to take archetypical stories — from mythological fables to the tale of Pocahontas — and apply them to movies that everybody around the world would want to see. I mean, there's only what, seven storylines more or less, right? And we just keep repeating them. But he does it in a way that captures every singe audience out there. Look, you can be all artsy-fartsy and hate commercial movies. But anybody can make a film, really. Not everyone can make folklore. And that's what I feel he's doing. He didn't make Avatar to entertain five other people who also happen to make movies. He made it for the world, and I genuinely admire him for it.

"I don't know that a lot of folks had any idea what this film would turn out to be, visually. But I was lucky, because I came in late; I was part of the second wave of casting, so by the time I got there, there were people who had been working on this virtual world for a solid two years, maybe longer. So I was the fresh pair of eyes on set. To be an actor and to walk on to that stage, to out on those 3-D glasses and see what we'd be playing with, where we'd be running around…it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. It was magical. There's no other word for it."


‘The Lion King’ (1994)

"Dude, I'm corny, I know. [Laughs] I've always been an avid follower of cartoons, and that movie just touched my heart. I remind myself constantly to go back to being the kid I used to be, to not lose that sense of wonder about the world — like they say in the movie, "Remember who you are." It's really easy to become jaded, especially out here. And a lot of those old Disney movies, but especially The Lion King…they bring me right back to that place of being a child again, you know? Or to being what my too-cool adult self would normally call a dork. But hey, fuck it, I love it. Maybe those Disney folks are all military and strict as hell in the back office [laughs], but I feel like they’ve been keeping the dream of childhood for generations. So I’ve gotta give them props for that. This one is my go-to."


‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ (1951)

[Yelling] "Hey Stella! Steeeee-llllla!" [Laughs] What I love about Brando is how he's tough and vulnerable at the same time, and you really see that in this movie. I'm sure I'm not the first person to say that, but it's true. He's a big influence on everybody, of course, but I have to admit, the way he does both of those things at once was a huge influence on what I do. Also he's hot. Like Paul-Newman-in-The-Hustler-level hot."


‘Rumble Fish’ (1983)

"I was going to go with Drugstore Cowboy for my Matt Dillon pick here — because you gotta have a Matt Dillon movie in here! But if it came down to it and I had to make that Cowboy and Rumble Fish fight, the second one would win. So that's my pick. It's one of the few films I've seen where I felt like I'd walked into a dream. I remember the first time I watched this, there's a scene where Francis Ford Coppola has both Dillon and what's his name, his nephew…Nicolas Cage! He had both of them in focus at the same time, and I was like, wait, you can do that? How can you do that?!? [Laughs] I know a little bit more about how things like that work now, but that shot blew my mind. It still does. This was one of those movies that made me start paying attention to the details of filmmaking a lot more — first as a viewer, then as a performer."


‘Interstellar’ (2014)

"I want to include something that's inspired me recently, OK? Again, this last pick was a tie between this one and Inception, but you're only giving me 10 slots…you're gonna make me choose, aren’t you? Man! Ok, Interstellar. It's a crazy movie, very next-level stuff. To be able to establish a visual representation of, like, the actual fabric of time? That shit blew my fucking mind. It's like someone decided to take Stephen Hawkins' A Brief History of Time and make a summer-movie blockbuster out of it. [Laughs] That alone earns it a place on my list."