Michelle Rodriguez on the 20th anniversary of her first movie, ‘Girlfight’

Before Michelle Rodriguez became famous as her character “Letty” in the “Fast and Furious” franchise, she played “Diana Guzman” in the 2000 film “Girlfight.” It was her first starring role after playing an extra in movies such as Spike Lee’s “Summer of Sam.” Rodriguez tells Yahoo Entertainment the audition for “Girlfight” was “an open cattle call.” “I remember there were 200 girls trying out for that,” she says. Rodriguez also recalls the director, Karyn Kusama, had to fight to cast a Latina actress in the role. She explains the studio wanted to bring on a big name like Alyssa Milano. “They were picking all of these girly girls,” Rodriguez says. “Women that didn’t have that kind of ghetto characteristic.” “Girlfight” also opened the door for her to meet Vin Diesel and ultimately star in the “Fast” movies. “Vin saw it and he told the director of ‘Fast and Furious’ that he wanted me for Letty,” she says. Check out the video above for more with Michelle Rodriguez.

Video Transcript

- I want to train with you. I want to be a boxer.

- Sure. It's a great workout.

- No, for real. I wanna fight.

KEVIN POLOWY: Girlfight turns 20 this year, if you can believe it. How physically demanding was that film?

MICHELLE RODRIGUEZ: Wow, I had to gain like 20 pounds for that. I still have the stretch marks from it. I trained for a good four months, five months. I remember I trained for that long to learn how to hit somebody, and because I didn't have a stunt double in that movie, and nobody ever taught me the art form of not hitting somebody. So I decked Paul Calderon, the lead actor who played my father in that movie, and that was hardcore, man. I remember thinking to myself, oh my god, oh my god, like how did I-- have-- why did I just punch him in the face, like I cracked his jaw, dude. I was like, crack. I didn't want to hit somebody again, but then again I did it in "Fast and Furious" One. I did it in "Avatar", as well. It was a scene that got cut out of the movie because I punched the guy in the face. Man, I hit him right in the nose, dude. He started bleeding. All you see is blood flying. And I was like, oh god, how could I-- I really need to get this down. I need to learn to run and punch without hitting somebody, and like selling the punch, you know. Because I did that three times in three different movies. It was like, what the hell's wrong with you, Michelle!

- You shouldn't hit people like that.

- I couldn't resist.

KEVIN POLOWY: What do you remember about your audition for Girlfight?

MICHELLE RODRIGUEZ: I remember it was an open cattle call. I remember that there were like 200 girls trying out for that. I remember just telling the producers, look I never finished high school. I took my GED. I don't have any experience in acting, but I grew up in Jersey City and I'm a pretty tough cookie. And I could probably knock out most of the girls in here. [LAUGHTER] and I was like that.

- You mean like, pow wow oh? Oh, that's cool.

KEVIN POLOWY: You worked as an extra I think for a couple of years before you got that. Were you like, were you an extra in like anything notable that you would like pick yourself out in?

MICHELLE RODRIGUEZ: I think "For the Love of the Game" was one, "The Yards" with Marky Mark. I was an extra in "Summer of Sam".


MICHELLE RODRIGUEZ: That was great, with Spike, yeah.

KEVIN POLOWY: For Girlfight, I think the director has said she had to fight to cast a Latina in the role, is that true? Did you-- were you aware of that?

MICHELLE RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, she told me afterwards. She said that they were like, let's do like an Alyssa Milano, cause she's good from TV. They were picking all of these kind of girly girls. You know like women that didn't have that kind of ghetto characteristic. I guess they were scared of telling a story about poverty and it not being successful. They're forgetting that there's a bunch of people in the United States that grew up that way. And a lot of people in the cities who grew up that way who might be interested. And also they wanted the female to lose in the end. A lot of the producers that she's trying to convince to make the film with her, were telling her that they'd do it under the condition that the guy wins in the end. But she said very clearly to them that, the whole idea was based off of a Lucia Riker or Golden Glove win against a guy.

KEVIN POLOWY: How would you say that that film helped, ultimately, shape your career?

MICHELLE RODRIGUEZ: Vin saw it and he told the director of "Fast and Furious" that he wanted me for Letty. That movie pretty much started my "Fast and Furious" connection. Yeah, it was pretty wild.

KEVIN POLOWY: The one thing leads to another.