From Inmate to X-Men: Elizabeth Rodriguez Talks ‘Orange Is the New Black’ & ‘Logan’

Photo Credit: Ben Rothstein

Elizabeth Rodriguez is about to have a great 2017. And it’s already off to a great start. As part of the ensemble of Orange is the New Black, she picked up another Screen Actors Guild Award. It’s the third year in a row the Netflix prison show has picked up this award. And while her roles as tough-loving mom Aleida in Orange, feathered detective Agent Chavez in Grimm, and caring nurse Liza in Fear the Walking Dead have given her plenty of fun action sequences, nothing compares to the type of work she gets to do in the latest Wolverine flick, Logan.

In what has to be the grittiest X-Men film to date (think Deadpool only with a darker comedic sensibility and plenty of R-rated slicing and dicing courtesy of Logan’s adamantium claws), Rodriguez plays Gabriela, a desperate woman who is keen on getting help from the famed loner played by Hugh Jackman. While her involvement in a lab slash hospital in Mexico and her relationship with a young gifted girl should best be left unspoiled, know that Gabriela is a worthy addition to Rodriguez’s roster of hardened women willing to risk it all for those she cares about. The James Mangold-directed flick, which also co-stars Patrick Stewart as an ailing Professor X in this bleak future-set world, is already earning raves as being one of the best comic book movies ever released. And trust us, they’re not lying.

With Logan, a new season of Orange is the New Black coming this summer, and an indie called 11:55 looking to get a limited release, Rodriguez is busier than ever. Remezcla caught up with the actress to talk about how she’s become very protective of her characters (yes, even Aleida!), why she thinks Logan is a perfect film for these trying political times, and what we can expect from season five of the hit Netflix show. Check out some highlights of our chat below.

On Seeking Strong Female Roles

“At first it was really protective of Aleida because I didn’t know what I was getting into, and I had no idea how she was going to be written.”

I think something about all these characters I play is that they’re very visceral. It comes from a deep love. Every one of them is flawed the way we all are and I find that me being able to completely be 100% honest to them. As long as they’re multidimensional and can show their heart, I am always willing to dive in. They’re really strong, powerful women. They make mistakes and they’ve been affected by their circumstances, but they have this inner strength that drives them. I think most of the time is this love and commitment to a cause, or to a person, or to a belief. I end up being really protective of some of these characters. At first it was really protective of Aleida because I didn’t know what I was getting into, and I had no idea how she was going to be written, or if the world would get to see other sides of her. So I was a little concerned but now I am so protective of her. There’s a rawness about all these characters that I find really interesting to dive into, and it takes a lot. They all end up living with me for a while.

On Landing a Role Opposite Hugh Jackman

I had a general meeting with the head of casting at Fox. I was happy to take the meeting. We totally hit it off and we just started connected on all sorts of subjects—people and shows we like. He was a fan of Orange and Fear [the Walking Dead] and then couldn’t believe it was the same actress! Which is such a compliment. Then about a month later I got the call to audition for Gabriela. Of course, I didn’t get the script. I just got these sides [audition lines] and knew very little about her which wasn’t very much. It was just a fraction of what was in the film. I basically put on tape and watched The Wolverine film just to get the tone for it because I hadn’t seen one in forever, and then I didn’t think about it. I really thought, Oh the chances of getting that were like, zero. And then, at the time, there was time for me to do it because we’d have shot it before Orange started. But it got pushed and so months later my manager calls me to tell me that James Mangold wants to see me but that he has to pass because it was going to conflict with Orange. And I had that moment of, “Oh well, it wasn’t meant to be”—which hardly ever happens! Can you imagine thinking like that about not getting a chance to be in a film with Hugh Jackman?! It doesn’t happen often, I clearly was very aligned, spiritually at that moment.

Within a week I got a call back saying they wanted to offer it to me, that it was a soft offer. So they sent me the script before I had to ruffle any feathers and even ask [Orange creator and producer] Jenji Kohan whether it would be possible. My people were dealing with it in terms of business affairs, but I knew I needed to write Jenji and explain everything. Just so that she knew I wasn’t taking Orange for granted and that I had actually passed. I basically explained that it would be incredible if there was a way that I could get it done. They hadn’t started shooting and she pretty much gifted me that. They were in the writers room and they found a way to not write me into the first few episodes. Isn’t that crazy? I mean, such generosity from Jenji, because at the end of the day, she could’ve just said “No.” But it worked out!

On Making a Timely X-Men Movie

I saw the film just last week and I was blown away by it. It seems a little outrageous to say about these kind of films but it’s just so different and such a human story. And it’s emotional. When we were shooting it we were, I guess, already in this sort of political reality but we weren’t really thinking that this now was going to be a reality, which I think is kind of amazing—being that in tune with what’s going on in our country, never mind the world. It does have those thematic subjects [of refugees, immigration, Big Pharma]. It’s also so human. But there’s also the hope and the drive that causes you to know what’s right, and against all odds have the gall to say, “This is what’s right and no matter the cost, I have to do this!” Those young mutants represent that. Someone today shared with me that their son [speaking about the young mutants] had told them, “Mom, that means they’re all Mexican!” They’re all from Mexico, and how amazing is that? In all different shapes and colors—I love it!

On Working With Wolverine Himself

Hugh Jackman is—I mean, we don’t have to talk about his talent, the guy’s a triple threat and just blows you away! He’s really committed and honest in everything he does. Just wonderful. He’s definitely an actor’s actor. As a human being, he’s warm so you don’t feel intimidated. He’s just a warm, loving guy. There was that sense immediately that you weren’t dealing with ego or celebrity or anything like that. On the set he was just there for you. Being there for each other in the scene became really easy and natural. I’m really happy that that was the case.

On Season 5 of Orange Is the New Black

Well, I’m out of prison up to some shenanigans. There’s a little more broad Aleida which I had a lot of fun shooting. No one’s told me what I can say or not say but the whole season happens in a very short amount of time and it’s really interesting. Because we all have no idea how it’s gonna come together. It’s really exciting in a different way. I can’t wait to see it all. And, of course, it has a crazy ending where no one is left knowing what happens. I have to wait til june but I’m very excited. Every season seems to take on new way of ending things, tonally it’s different. And it always surprises us. Like, I hadn’t read the last episode of last season so I was just as shocked about seeing my daughter with the gun in her hands! I couldn’t believe that no one even thought to tell me. I was on set. I was like, “How was this not in conversation?” I was so confused, which is hilarious and great at the same time.

Logan opens in theaters on March 3, 2017.