How Michelle Rodriguez Foresaw Blockbuster Success for ‘Fast & Furious’ Franchise

With one movie, Michelle Rodriguez went from a Toys “R” Us employee with zero acting experience to a bona fide movie star. That movie was 2000’s Girlfight.

Karyn Kusama, the writer-director of that indie — which tied for the grand jury prize at Sundance — joined The Hollywood Reporter‘s It Happened in Hollywood podcast to reminisce about making the landmark boxing film.

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From the start, Rodriguez, 21 at the time, saw the blueprint for what would become a lasting career in the glare of the Hollywood mainstream.

“I remember really vividly after Sundance, after getting all this attention, she was telling me what she wanted to do,” Kusama said. “She was like, ‘You know, there’s this video game I love called Resident Evil. I really want to see if there’s a movie of that. And if there is, I want to be in it. And I read this script that I really loved called Fast and Furious. And I think it’s going to be a like global franchise that will last decades.’ And I was like, ‘Really?’ She called it. She knew. To be honest, I didn’t see it — but she did, which is kind of amazing.”

Rodriguez would go on to star in The Fast and the Furious in 2001 and appear alongside Milla Jovovich in 2002’s Resident Evil. She later star in seven films in the $8 billion Fast & Furious franchise, most recently 2023’s Fast X. She also appeared that year in Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.

Despite her sharp Hollywood business instincts, Rodriguez was a diamond in the rough when Kusama first met her at a cattle-call casting audition for Girlfight.

“We looked at hundreds of actors,” Kusama recalled of casting her lead, Diana Guzman, a New York teen who trains to box. “We read so many wonderful actors and maybe they were a little too old or they were a little too tiny. There were so many things that made it hard.

“And then we met Michelle at an open call on Times Square. She Rollerbladed in during the last 10 minutes of a six-hour day,” Kusama said.

Rodriguez had seen an ad for the audition in a local New Jersey newspaper. “She just thought it seemed cool. … And I brought her in for some auditions, and I really dismissed her. I kept dismissing her because she had no training,” Kusama said. “She kept messing up her lines. She wasn’t off book. Even just the idea of auditioning made no sense for her.”

But watching back the tapes, Kusama realized there was something extraordinary about Rodriguez.

“There was something interesting about her, even when she was sort of messing up,” Kusama said. “And I felt like there was a charisma involved in that, that I don’t think you can really quantify. So I just kept bringing her back and kind of asking her to be a little bit more prepared each time. And she kept meeting that request.”

For more on the making of Girlfight — which gets a Criterion Edition release on May 28 — be sure to listen to the latest episode of It Happened in Hollywood and subscribe.

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