Letty screenshot from The Fast and the Furious

It’s been a fast and furious 20 years. The first film in the blockbuster Fast & Furious franchise, aptly-named The Fast and the Furious, premiered in 2001. At first glance, it seems like your average testosterone-fueled action flick. However, a lot of thought went into the film’s female characters. When it comes to Letty Ortiz, street racer and Dominic Toretto’s girlfriend, that thought came from the actress bringing her to life, Michelle Rodriguez.

The Fast & Furious cast recently sat down with Entertainment Weekly for a franchise retrospective. The interview shed some light on the origins of Michelle Rodriguez’s character. According to the cast, the Letty in the original script was quite different from the final version of her that appeared in The Fast and the Furious. Jordana Brewster, who played Dominic Toretto’s sister, said:

When Michelle [Rodriguez] read her role, she was like, 'No, I'm not playing that.' And then she changed it completely. It went from a trophy girlfriend to this really layered character.

Huge props go to Michelle Rodriguez for speaking up. As an actor, it can be difficult to voice concerns about a script for fear of upsetting the director. However, in this case, Rodriguez had the knowledge to back up her concerns. As she told EW:

It was a reality check for them to realize that the streets don't work like that. You don't just get with a guy because he's hot. There's a hierarchy there. Can that hot guy get beat up by who you're dating? If he can, then you don't date him, because why would you want to lose the hierarchy? In order to keep it real, I had to school them: ‘I know you guys like Hollywood and all that, but if you want it to be realistic, this is how it really works, and I'm not going to be a slut in front of millions of people, so you're going to lose me if you don't change this.’ And they figured it out.

More props go to writers Gary Scott Thompson and David Ayer for actually taking Michelle Rodriguez’s advice to heart. It would have been easy to brush her comments off, but they opted to incorporate her suggestions. And a dose of reality wasn’t the only thing Michelle Rodriguez brought to playing Letty - she also brought a mean left hook. As the actress put it:

I remember fighting to get a moment where Letty gets into a fight herself, because I felt like you don't sit around and let your boys throw down without getting your hands dirty. If you don't, then are you just there to model? That doesn't work where I come from. So I fought for that — and then I remember hitting the guy in the face by mistake!

More than stunts, however, Michelle Rodriguez’s acting choices transformed what could have been another thinly-drawn female character in a male-driven film into a real human being. Letty isn’t just arm candy for Vin Diesel; she’s a mechanic, a fighter and a racer - she lives and breathes instead of merely posing for the camera. It just goes to show how different perspectives can benefit the creative process, whether you’re painting in oils or racing killer cars.

The next film in the franchise, F9, is set to be released in theaters on June 25. F9 is directed by Justin Lin and stars Vin Diesel, John Cena, Michelle Rodriguez and Charlize Theron, among others. There are also two more movies in the main Fast & Furious film series to forward to after F9 comes out.

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