Science fiction is admittedly Gina Rodriguez's jam, which is why the Jane the Virgin star was all about facing down a freaky bear with a skeleton head and a scream that haunts the soul.
Rodriguez even had blood thrown on her while making the sci-fi thriller Annihilation (in theaters Friday) — by her director Alex Garland, no less — but "trust me, the bear was definitely the worst for me," says the actress, who plays foul-mouthed lesbian paramedic Anya Thorensen.
She's part of a group of women who venture into an extraordinary piece of Florida called the Shimmer, where nature has gone haywire, and Anya encounters the bear that tested Rodriguez during the filming of this beauty-vs.-beast scenario. First, she worked opposite a large stunt actor "running at me full speed, slamming me against the wall, pulling me down the stairs," Rodriguez says, but after the physical stuff came an "insane" animatronic bear to act alongside. "It weighed like 500 pounds, and that was super-dope and terrifying."
Rodriguez, 33, spoke with USA TODAY about going 180 degrees from her good-girl TV role and how Annihilation couldn't be more timely.
Q: You are quite the no-nonsense powerhouse in this.
A: That's all I want to do is play pretend and tell stories and do all kinds of crazy different things. On Jane, I get to do magical realism; I get to play in the 1920s and be a rapper and be a dominatrix and all these things that for like 30 seconds out of the episode they escape Jane, this normal girl you get to see and follow. It's really nice to escape for longer periods of time like this.
Q: And Anya's got plenty of layers to her.
A: She was so super-bomb. There are all these little nuggets and trinkets to play. The little inkling that Anya was an addict, right away, boom, let me decide what drugs she was addicted to. Or maybe it was food or sex? If that's her fear, of losing control or losing one's mind, then clearly when (her team is) in the Shimmer, they face their own mortality and what does that look like to them? I'm a grown woman; I've definitely done drugs — I don’t think anybody should, I don’t suggest that, but I know that fear of departing from one’s reality, and that is not a good space to be in.
Q: What else did you personally connect with?
A: I'm going to be honest, I suffer from depression and anxiety — I wouldn't even say suffer, I combat it. But because of that, I didn't realize until after I did the movie how I was drawn to it myself because of my fear of mental health and mental illness history in my family. There's nothing better than to use your art as therapy, as discovery, as crossing somewhere that you're really scared of.
Q: With the Time's Up and Me Too movements going on in our culture, how cool is it to unleash this female-led sci-fi extravaganza?
A: You could get very excited about the fact that it's about damn time and this is going to encourage young girls everywhere and celebrate that, and then at the same time feel a little frustration that in 2018 this is noteworthy. Coming on the heels of Black Panther, it's incredibly exciting and invigorating. These images we're projecting in art, yeah, we're not curing cancer or saving the world, but we definitely are contributing to the conversation of equality.