Fierce, fearless and flat-out fantastic, these female actors have left fans breathless. Michelle Rodriguez (Fast & Furious franchise), Maggie Q (Nikita, Divergent), Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica, Riddick, Longmire), Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany, and Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead) open up about the power and privilege of playing women who redefine the rules and refuse to yield.
Moderated by EW Senior Writer Sara Vilkomerson
Stay tuned for our live-blog, right here!
Women Who Kick-Ass Live-Blog:
I missed The Walking Dead panel yesterday, but Danai Gurira looks good. Loving her shaved hair.
This is Tatiana’s first Comic-Con experience. Have you been surprised by the reaction?
Yeah, it’s been incredible! We didn’t even know if anyone was going to watch the show when we were making it.
Who did you idolize when growing up?
Maggie – For me, it was Linda Carter and Emma Peel. The 70’s women did it first. Those were my idols at the time.
Danai – it was actually Susan Day from LA Law. That’s super nerdy.
Tatiana – it was April O’Neil
Katee – my dad raised me on sci-fi and action so it was the guys like Schwarzenegger. And then I found Alien and it was Sigourney Weaver.
Michelle – Linda Hamilton did it for me. I love independent women like that.
Have there been any challenging costumes do action in?
Katee – you mean besides heels?
Danai – I’m really lucky since my character is in apocalypse.
Maggie – Men are dumb. They think we fight in heels and dresses.
Michelle – I’ve been dressing like a tomboy for so long I kind of envy your outfits.
Katee – I just shot a scene for Longmire where I was naked with a gun, which I realized was not normal. It was like “this is my vagine…”
Don’t you think we should have some movie where we can get these 5 together?
Tatiana – are we going to go in to the double digits of characters for you next year?
I don’t know, I mean we are dealing with clones here. The thing that I love with my show is its about identity, what makes us unique, and it’s all told through the female perspective. They’re not defined by their gender. They’re allowed to have these powerful positions and emotions – there’s such beautiful humanity in them.
How was it working with all the swordplay in The Walking Dead?
Danai – I’ve always wanted to do something like this! It’s really really cool and can’t wait to see what the next thing is they’ll throw at me. Michonne is a lot more physically capable than I am so I have some catching up to do. When I first did the horse riding for the show, it was scary but now I love it.
Have you ever been injured from doing your own stunts?
Katee – I have so many I can’t even….hurt my back, dislocated my knee and my shoulder. I was harnessed 20 feet in the air and landed on an ice skating rink. If you’re going to do it, go big. The characters that I play are so physically more capable than me in these situations that I’ve never been in. I push myself to try and do the things that they do to understand the characters better. It’s fun and it’s scary.
Maggie – I’ve been so lucky. I’ve been doing this genre for 15 years. I hurt my hand last season. But I don’t do it in style, in big stuff. I hurt myself in small stuff like I was climbing down something and fell on me.
Michelle – my history of stunts usually involve someone else getting hurt. I’ve messed up the distance between my fist and their face. I always get it wrong, like in Avatar. I run and the elevator door opens and I miscalculated and broke the guy’s nose. It didn’t even make it in to the movie! I dislocated the guy’s jaw on Girl Fight. They teach me 6 months how to hit somebody and then 5 minutes how not to, so what do you think is going to win? Now I’m more careful.
Do you take your work home with you?
Katee – I feel like if I’m ever on a plane where they call out “is there a pilot on board?” I could be like, “I got this….I was a pilot for 7 years.”
Tatiana – I feel like I’m 6 feet tall when I’m facing someone who’s dissed my friend. I’m very influenced by my character Sarah, especially. She’s very grounded and in her body and it gives me this confidence to walk through the world differently.
Michelle – it was moving to LA and learning that if you hit somebody, you get sued. Now I’m better at using my words, dissing people instead of hitting people.
What’s the most sexist thing you’ve experienced in the industry?
Michelle – I was doing this weird video about dogs that attack people. I was in South Africa shooting when the director said to get in the front seat and drive while the guys jump in and you drive everyone off. One of the actor’s was like “the girl’s not gonna drive the car.” That was the most sexist thing that was said to my face.
Katee – I had called out a guy in a scene a couple weeks before, which he didn’t like. We had a fight scene and he pulled my arms out of the sockets and had tears along my spine, and was in pain to the point of crying. I said “can you take it easier on me?” and he said “I’ve seen your work and figured you could take it.” I called my friend who is a real fighter and he really wanted to come in and back me up. I had to talk him out of it. There are those moments where people think you are incredibly tough or go the opposite and figure there’s no way you could do it.
Michelle – You’ve got some serious class to be able to handle that and not flip out. I would have flipped out!
Tatiana – I’ve been told not to think too much by a director. I had ideas and wanted to bounce them off him, and he said “yeah yeah yeah, she’s smiling, she’s sweet.” You would never say that to a male actor, it was so condescending. And another thing is just how I’m treated by crew on set since I looked so young. In a scene I was tied to a bed and a crew member was hitting on me while tied down. It was completely inappropriate.
Danai – there’s a really difficult space that women have to occupy: do you call it out or how do you handle it? Like, it just happened but how do you state that happened and define it. When they don’t really include you, is another issue. We have these men who are making the decisions, and it’s how you inject yourself in the creative process. Sometimes you have get in there without being the annoying chick or where they say “oh she’s crazy.” I was on a film where the guy could get loose and wouldn’t get called out where I wouldn’t have that luxury, if I did anything I wasn’t allowed that leeway. As women, we always have to see it through. We can’t just let it go or else the next girl will have to deal with it too.
Michelle – I got a solution! Women should just create their own companies and productions and then the men will have to fight to attract the ladies. We just need to stop working with directors who perpetuate these stories that don’t have strong female characters. These are disseminated throughout the world and transcend into other cultures.
Danai – America’s image and culture is America’s biggest export. I grew up in Zimbabwe and watched Girl Fight, and loved it.
Katee – this business and our world in particular is hard on women. I’m the same size now that I was when I was 17. I was told I was fat and couldn’t get work, but thankfully I was headstrong thanks to my parents and pushed on.
Do you feel a responsibility knowing that young girls are looking up to you?
Michelle – I follow my joy and just love my job when I’m playing a character that I respect. I’m not going to go on set and play a character that I don’t believe in or feel attracted to.. My gut has to feel right.
Tatiana – I had such a gut response to Young Adult, it was visceral. This character is not what women should be looking at and then revisited it. She played this character and allowed for that complexity. Michelle is a real actor because she’s unapologetic in her strength.
Let’s talk about Riddick…
Katee – This is the first time that Michelle and I have really sat down and give each other notes on working with Vin. He brings such a passion to everything he does. This Riddick series is something that he does and you can’t help but get excited when working with him. He’s fun to be around.
Michelle – and he’s not scared of strong women. That’s a rare thing in hollywood.
Katee – and he actually pushes you. If he thinks something will make you strong you, like even punching him in the face, he’ll let you know and go with it. My character is very strong and doesn’t really have a nice side to her, which I’ve never played before.
The first fan question comes from a girl who waited in line since 4pm yesterday. How long are we going to have to wait to see Maggie vs. Michelle in a kickass fight scene?
Michelle – How about we make it Maggie Q & Michelle vs. the world. We should be working together to balance out all that destructive male energy.
Maggie – I love that. And now that Michelle knows how to step back before she swings, I’d be down. This actually isn’t the first time someone has suggested we fight.
Katee – well there is that untitled upcoming female expendables movie…
When you were young, did you know you were destined to be female action superstars?
Maggie – I don’t even think that now!
Michelle – I made a video when I was 10 years old. I said I wanted to be a boxer when I grow up. The irony in that after Girl Fight is extraordinary.
Katee – I wanted to be a pony at 10. Michelle would have punched me in the face.
Tatiana – As a kid, I wanted to be a boy because I equated that with strength. There’s a problem with that. It’s only growing into my own womanhood how warped that is that I was attributing strength to male qualities.
Danai – I wanted to be Susan Day because she would come in and take down the men and have all that power. I was jocky and wanted that power.
As actresses so iconic as women who kick-ass, do you feel limited in what roles are offered to you?
Maggie – Yeah, I’m in the action box and the ethnic box. When you’re a minority and a woman, it’s a small box but difficult to climb out. You get people who are like “you’re asian, you fight.” And it’s like, “yeah, I wake up, brush my teeth, and then fight.” So I’ve had to tell people more about what else I’m capable of.
Michelle – I ended up boxing myself in a bit because of the roles I chose at first. I realized you got in this game 13 years ago to be a writer, what’s stopping you? These dudes don’t get it. They don’t see the women who climb mountains, dirt bikers, surfers, chicks who shoot guns, etc. So if you get that world, write about it because no body else will.
Katee – Being blond and being tough is an interesting thing. I’ve been told so many times that I need to dye my hair or cut it. They want me to be androgynous.
Danai – my whole life as a playwriter, is I always write female protagonists. Michelle’s right, we need to go out there and create these stories ourselves.
Michelle – it’s the fact that 80% of the writers are dudes which is kind of absurd. This me vocally asking women to come up with cool stuff for women.
Danai – it’s a constant struggle but we can’t let any of this stop us. We keep climbing and have to break down these barriers.
5 years from now, what do you see in the industry?
Tatiana – I see more representations of queer culture. There’s so many films that speak about it in beautiful, personal way and make it universal because ultimately it’s about humanity. I hope that becomes a given. We’ll watch a film with a lesbian character as the lead and that won’t become the defining characteristic.
Danai – I do feel interesting stuff is happening in Orange is the New Black. It was written by a women and it’s a great ensemble. I get to see these latino actresses having a great scene together, and then black women, and queer people, and that’s new to us. I want to see that become normal in 5 years.
Michelle – and I’d like to see that storyline get out of jail. The market today is so global and Fast & Furious is the only global cast where they’re free. It’s about global empowerment, only 25% of the market comes from the US.
Maggie – We set the trend for the world. They’re watching our films and our TV shows. We may be a smaller part of the market, but we have so much power. They’re starting to get that it’s a global market and that’s why we’re starting to see more diverse casts. So I use that and blow that shit up and make it so cool that hopefully they’ll cast another Asian.
Danai – I’d love to see more African Women stories. We are just as capable of holding a universal audience and telling a universal message as anybody else. Another story I’d like to see is the immigrant who’s parents talk differently and live differently and navigate American life through that.
If you could create this ultimate, kickass woman – what would she be like?
Michelle – I’d say action. When we see strong women in franchises, it’s a realm of fantasy. I’d like to remove the element of fantasy and bring it in to reality. Action movies are closer to reality. It could be a cool special opps agent as opposed to a vampire or superhuman. I just want it to be a strong woman in a realistic setting with things that are tangible.
Katee – I was lucky enough to have the strongest mom. This is a women who never did anything spectacular but taught school for 35 years. Students will come up to her even today and say how she changed their life. She raised a daughter who is incredibly strong who doesn’t take anyone’s shit. Give little girl’s that story. You don’t need to change the world, you can change one person and that can change the world. That’s being a superhero.
Tatiana – There’s something about everyone that makes them special regardless of what they’ve done. I think a woman who isn’t defined by her gender would be ideal. There’s intellect and strength and a ton of intangible things.
Danai – There are women in Africa that have done profoundly courageous things because they saw that changes needed to happen, even if it cost them their lives. 3 African Women just won the Nobel Prize from Liberia and we don’t know their story. I want to hear the stories of women who walk the earth right now. They bombared places and made a treaty get signed while men just sat around and drank and we haven’t really heard their story. I think their story would give girls more of an understanding of their own power.
Maggie – I loved what Katee said in terms of everyday heroes. Strength is in what you do every day, those little things, little gestures. Teachers and nurses are always heroes for me. You guys blow my mind. We’re visible, so we’re heroes, but none of us feel stronger than nurses that pull 24 hour shifts or teachers that affect kids’ lives each and every day.
Michelle – I would love to translate all of that into a commercial movie that translates all these things that make guys cringe because they’re too emotional into something that balances emotion, heart, and commercial filmmaking. I hope people out there are inspired to write and put your voice out there. We definitely need more content.
Danai – and when stuff is out there, support it. That’s how they’ll make more.
That was a fantastic panel that I hope my live-blog helped people experience. It was interesting to hear these ladies’ take on the industry and hear some really eye opening stories on what they’ve experienced and what they wish they could see come out of Hollywood. I hope the panel becomes available for viewing online soon.