The Inverse Interview

Michelle Rodriguez Brings a Battle Ax to a Dungeons & Dragons Campaign

Michelle Rodriguez gets to stretch her comedy chops (and her muscles) in Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.

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Paramount Pictures

Michelle Rodriguez didn’t think her character in Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves was funny. But when the fantasy adventure screened at SXSW, the audience clearly disagreed.

“I'm like, ‘They're laughing. They must think Holga is funny,’” Rodriguez tells Inverse in a Zoom interview. “I wasn't really trying to be funny. It was funny because I wasn't trying to be funny.”

Rodriguez’s Holga is a barbarian in a misfit crew of thieves led by Edgin (Chris Pine), in an adaptation of the iconic role-playing game directed by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley. While Edgin has noble intentions (his crew doesn’t kill) and an even nobler mission (rescuing his daughter from a powerful con man), Holga is a simple woman. She likes potatoes, axes, and fighting, sometimes in tandem. But Holga also has a tender side that speaks to the secret heart of Honor Among Thieves: a found family.

“I think that sense of seeking your tribe is very universal,” Rodriguez says.

“Life has a way of tumbling people around.”

Yes, Rodriguez knows that she’s now in two tentpoles all about family, but it’s partially what drew her to Honor Among Thieves, alongside Goldstein and Daley’s uniquely colorful vision of the fantasy world. “They’re true captains, it's like a two-headed dragon directing a movie,” Rodriguez says.

Inverse spoke to Rodriguez about stretching her comedy chops, Honor Among Thieves’ astonishing use of animatronics, and how many protein shakes she had to down to pull off her ax-wielding fight scenes.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

For Michelle Rodriguez, it’s all about family (again).

Paramount Pictures

Inverse: You've played many badass fighters and warriors, but the great thing about Holga in Honor Among Thieves is that you get to be funny. What was it like to stretch your comedy chops in this movie?

Rodriguez: Dude. I mean, she's funny by default. I never thought that she was funny until I saw the reaction of people in the movie theater. I'm like, “they're laughing.” They must think Holga is funny. I wasn't really trying to be funny. It was funny because I wasn't trying to be funny.

One of my favorite recurring gags was when Holga kept telling Simon to use magic to solve everything. Were there any jokes that you got to improvise? Or was it all in the script?

It's all in the script. Let me tell you, [directors and co-writers] John [Francis Daley] and Jonathan [Goldstein] do all the improvising while they're writing. They're very on it. And I liked that about them. They’re true captains, it's like a two-headed dragon directing a movie. They really know what they want. They know how to command a ship. I'm super proud of them. They put their heart and soul into this.

Michelle Rodriguez also got to show off a tender side in Honor Among Thieves.

Paramount Pictures

Holga also unexpectedly has a tender side — both with her past failed romance and her found-family relationship with Edgin and Kira. What is it about found families that you find so appealing in movies like this, and of course, Fast and Furious?

Life has a way of tumbling people around. I think naturally, we're social creatures. Having a support mechanism, having someone you can mirror life off of, just so that you know that you're not alone in this floating spinning planet in the middle of nowhere, is reassuring to a lot of people. And I think that sense of seeking your tribe is very universal. It's a big part of storytelling in general, for the most part — it's very rare to find a story where someone isn't trying to fit into their tribe, or try to find their place in the world. It's a very common theme. And I think it'll keep repeating over and over because that's part of the human journey.

You also get the brunt of the fight scenes in this movie, in which Holga gets a giant ax, which becomes kind of a character in and of itself. Did you get any particular training to use this ax, because it's not really something you've used in movies before?

Let's see: 15 pounds of muscle, lots of protein shakes, working out four to five times a week, and training with the choreographers for three months to get that fight sequence right. They're hardcore, man. These guys are used to working in Romania and Bulgaria on Avi Lerner movies. They're used to doing stunts for hard 14-hour days. I felt like such a loser every day next to them because they're not even breaking a sweat, these stunt guys, while I'm over here just trying to learn the choreography. I had a blast. My stunt double was fantastic. She did a great job. 50 percent of what you see on the screen is her. We had a great team. I also liked watching the audience get a kick out of Edgin doing nothing while I'm busting booty over here.

Holga’s ax becomes a kind of character.

Paramount Pictures

You've also done your fair share of heists, but the ones in Honor Among Thieves are so fun and inventive. I wanted to ask about that two-part vault heist, particularly the one where you sneak a painting into the carriage and have to dangle Justice Smith upside down. What was the most interesting part of shooting that heist and its moving parts?

These guys really went for it. Just to see Doric’s entire journey from becoming a worm, to transferring into how many animals before she's able to survive that adventure alone, hats off to them. That is a fantastic scene. I was trying to keep track. Is that bird real? Or what did she just change into? It blew me the hell away.

But what I love about making this movie with these guys is they realize the importance of having animatronics mixed in with their digital work, so that you're not just working off of green screen and golf balls all day. There were elaborate sets. [Raymond] Chan, who ran all of the art department stuff, is so talented. For instance, that carriage you see that we put the painting on, that thing got stuck — we almost lost an entire day, because it weighed almost two tons. There were six horses that had to drag that thing. And then the wheels fell off of it, because he made it so heavy. It's very beautiful. You look at this thing and you're like, “Wow, this is craftsmanship.” He got real carriage makers to come in and build it from scratch out of wood. And I’m like, “Dude, you could have just 3D printed half of this, make it lighter.”

“It's very different than working with just green screen. Because my imagination, compared to the imagination of over 350 different engineers, is very different.”

But the work that went into it really made going to set every day special. And then you've got the animatronics team putting this giant Dragonborn head on a human. And he's sitting there with a fan in the mouth, just so he could get oxygen. It's extraordinary. I felt like I was on another planet. It's very different than working with just green screen. Because my imagination, compared to the imagination of over 350 different engineers, is very different. Having all these people put their heads together and try to make art together is just extraordinary. You see it in the movie. It's very different than watching a Star Wars flick that is completely digitized. You can sense the space in between things. And I think that that makes a difference.

I had no idea the character with that Dragonborn head was played by a person in animatronics — it's seamless.

Absolutely. And because animatronics move a little bit slower, they'll mix that with a little bit of digital work to clean it up. But that's the balance. The digital world can't always be better than the animatronic worlds. It’s got to be like a husband and wife coming together. Make a marriage out of it. And John and Jonathan knew to do that.

Michelle Rodriguez credits directors and co-writers Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley for the movie’s best gags.

Paramount Pictures

Honor Among Thieves leaves the door open for more stories. Would you be open to a sequel, or even a cameo in the Dungeon and Dragons TV show that’s in the works?

All they got to do is say, “Mich, we need you,” I’m there. I love working with people who care. I love working with hard-working people who know what they want. I like their style, I like their dedication, and most of all, I like their heart. They just want to have a good time. They just want people to walk into the theater and leave better than when they came in. And that’s the kind of energy I want to be around when I work.

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves opens in theaters March 31.

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