'Fast & Furious' women refuse to take a back seat
05:00 AM, May 23, 2013
Over the course of 12 years, the six Fast & Furious movies have evolved from over-the-top street-racing dramas to over-the-top action adventures with street racing.
Yet, amid all the male and female eye candy and ubiquitous vroom-vrooming, the franchise also has seen an evolution and, arguably, revolution of its female characters.
Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster) started as a wallflower in The Fast and the Furious in 2001, and now she’s a mom who’ll do anything for her family. Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty Ortiz lived, died and lives again in Fast & Furious 6, now in theaters.
And a decade ago, there was no female role like Riley, the strong, no-nonsense federal agent played by former mixed martial arts champion Gina Carano, who will happily throw a bone-crushing armlock on someone if they look at her the wrong way.
“I’ve seen a couple of the huge movies out recently, and the women are so often just supporting the male leads and barely really do anything in the film,” says Brewster, adding that F&F 6 director Justin Lin’s modus operandi is to have “the women be strong and as complex as the male characters and have a prominent role.”
The higher profiles for the women also attract female audiences, whether they go alone or are dragged to the cinema by their boyfriends, Rodriguez says. “It actually gives incentives to the girls to go to these movies not just because of the hunks but because they can relate to these characters.”
The two stalwart Furious guys, Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), are back to help take down an international car-heist ring in the sixth installment, but women are a major part of the action, too.
Mia and Brian are now parents of a little future racer, and the new mission raises the stakes for Dom and Brian “because now they’ve got even more to protect,” Brewster says.
Dom also has to deal with the return of Letty, who was presumed dead after the fourth film but now, due to amnesia, is a crewmember for the movie’s primary villain, Shaw (Luke Evans).
Constantly protecting Letty’s integrity has been a “battle” over the years, Rodriguez says. The first script of the original film didn’t empower her character: She was disloyal to her racer soulmate Dom, lacked fight and feistiness and suffered from having horrible lines. Rodriguez successfully fought for changes.
“It was the kind of stuff where I couldn’t say it with a straight face and have any street credibility whatsoever,” says the actress with a laugh. “There were a lot of alterations that needed to get made to make Letty at least cool.”
The epitome of how far Fast females have come is showcased in a memorable brawl between Rodriguez’s Letty and Carano’s Riley in the London underground that is chock full of fisticuffs, tile-busting spinning kicks, head-butts and even some biting.
“I’ve been hearing people talk about how that’s like the best fight they’ve seen in films,” Lin says. “At first I’m like, ‘Wow, there’s a lot of films with fights.’ But when you watch it, you see that, hey, there are moments in there.”
Letty seems outmatched by her military adversary, and Rodriguez felt the pressure to make it realistic vs. Carano.
“Put your ego down, get beat up if you have to and make it credible,” she says. “I’m a small chick compared to her, so I wanted to make the audience feel like there’s a possibility that Letty’s not going to get through this. You know how you always have a little devil and a little angel on your shoulder? I felt like I had every tomboy in the United States of America and around the world egging me on: ‘You better freaking nail this.’ “
It also marked the first time on-screen (and not in an MMA fight) that Carano has squared off with a woman (the rising action actress beat up Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum and Ewan McGregor in her debut film, 2011’s Haywire).
For F&F 6, Carano was just hoping to not get “some actress who’s going to make this a really weird experience. And I didn’t. I got Michelle and she was so down.”
Carano did 99% of the action herself and was even up for a dangerous fall down a stairway, though Lin stepped in and told her to let her stunt double do it instead.
Still, Carano says she hung around after her day was done to make sure everything went OK. “That is some respect right there, that they’re going to put their necks literally on the line for that.”
Carano says she’ll consider it a huge compliment if female fans come out of Fast & Furious 6 feeling more inspired and empowered than their male counterparts after seeing her and her fellow actresses.
“It’s really nice to have a sisterhood in the world,” Carano says. “Men and women, they’re just different creatures, and it’s just nice to identify with a species sometimes, you know?”