'Girlfight' at 20: Michelle Rodriguez talks bruising breakout role — and how they originally wanted a white 'girly-girl' actress like Alyssa Milano for the part

Kevin Polowy
·Senior Correspondent, Yahoo Entertainment
·3 mins read

Although she was working mostly as an extra in films like The Yards and Summer of Sam at the time, Michelle Rodriguez knew she had the goods to play Diana Guzman, the trailblazing female boxer who puts a few hurtings on both men and other women in her debut feature film, Girlfight, which turns 20 today.

“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,” says Rodriguez in a new interview with Yahoo Entertainment (watch above) as she recalled auditioning alongside over 200 other wannabe stars. “‘And I could probably knock out of most of the girls in here.’”

Rodriguez trained for five months for the film, and had to gain 20 pounds for the part. “I still have the stretch marks from it,” the actress says laughing.

Behind the scenes, writer-director Karyn Kasuma had to wage her own fight to cast a Latina actress in the lead role.

“She told me afterwards,” Rodriguez says. “She said [producers] were like, ‘Eh, let’s do an Alyssa Milano because she’s good from TV [Who’s the Boss?, Charmed]. They were picking all these kind of girly-girls, you know, women who 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.”

Michelle Rodriguez in 'Girlfight' (Screen Gems)
Michelle Rodriguez in Girlfight. (Photo: Screen Gems)

The filmmaker also had to go to the mat for its memorable climactic bout, in which Diana faces off against and defeats her male love interest (Santiago Douglas).

“They wanted the female to lose in the end. A lot of the producers that she was trying to convince to make the film with her were telling her that they would do it under the condition that the guy wins in the end.”

Rodriguez’s winning turn in Girlfight launched a fruitful Hollywood career of 20 years and counting that has included the lucrative Fast and Furious and Avatar franchises.

Vin Diesel saw Girlfight, “and he told the director of The Fast and the Furious [Rob Cohen] that he wanted me for Letty,” Rodriguez says. “That movie pretty much started my Fast and Furious connection. It was pretty wild.”

Girlfight is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Watch the trailer:

— Video produced by Gisselle Bances

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