Michelle Rodriguez: In The Ring

Hollywood thinks Michelle Rodriguez, the star of the indie boxing flick Girlfight, is a real knockout.

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To some folks the Sundance Film Festival has become as predictable as Hollywood itself, but no one in Park City, Utah last January expected the emergence of someone like 22-year-old Michelle Rodriguez. A rough-around-the-edges, Puerto Rican/Dominican Jersey girl with sultry looks, physical grace and an aggressive presence, Rodriguez gave the boxing-chick flick Girlfight, her first acting gig, the punch it needed to become cowinner of the festival's Grand Jury Prize. She also cornered a new niche: Latinas with teeth-rattling uppercuts. For her role as a Bronx chick with a chip on her shoulder who turns her anger and determination into a career in the ring, Rodriguez trained for five months, but it was her natural style and force of character that counted most in making the movie a hot sell at the indie festival.

That Rodriguez was such a ''natural" in the role might be partly due to the unconventional way she came to it in the first place. Having dropped out of school in the ninth grade, she got her diploma by taking an equivalency exam and then wondered what to do with her life. "I didn't want to get up at eight in the morning," she explains, "and go to a job, type on a computer all day or something, and then in whatever time is left... live. Y'know?" So she answered an ad and began working as an extra in movies like Summer of Sam and Cradle Will Rock. "But I never had the balls to actually go out to an audition," she says. Then came the open call for Girlfight, which she--and 350 other hopefuls--answered. "I walked in pessimistic, but they called me back again and again. The last time they asked me to spar and told me, 'You're it.' First audition, first film."

Rodriguez's real-life rebelliousness translated on-screen spectacularly well. "I've always been a rebel." she says. Hopefully her rebel attitude will work just as well in her next project, Redline, in which she plays a gang member who's into illegal street racing. Following that, she'll play a New York cabbie in the Spike Lee-produced Showtime movie 3 A.M. When it's time for her next premiere, Rodriguez is unlikely to, be as surprised by showbiz behavior as she was in Park City. "Sundance was a zoo," she claims. "Cell phones on at all times, people pronouncing things like, 'There's no money here,' right in the middle of the film. And I was expecting a lot of people who were just starting out, like me, but there were tons of established actors. I'm like, is Hollywood so bad you have to come here?"

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