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In Dungeons & Dragons, Michelle Rodriguez's Barbarian Is a Queer Fantasy

In Dungeons & Dragons, Michelle Rodriguez's Barbarian Is a Queer Fantasy

Michelle Rodriguez
Art Streiber

As Holga the barbarian, the Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves star rocks armpit hair and crafts a potential queer icon.

Dungeons & Dragons is all about stepping into fantasy and becoming a dream version of oneself. And watching Michelle Rodriguez as Holga, a barbarian, in the new movie Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves? That’s exactly the experience.

Transporting characters from the eponymous fantasy role-playing game, Honor Among Thieves, out March 31, also stars Chris Pine as a bard, Regé-Jean Page as a paladin, Justice Smith as a sorcerer, Sophia Lillis as a druid, and Hugh Grant as a rogue. Each actor gets to revel in the tropes of their class, bringing these beloved D&D archetypes to life with hilarity and heart.

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For Rodriguez — who played the game for “a good three-year stint” until she “discovered boys and girls” in high school, the bisexual action star attests — returning to the world of D&D and playing Holga was indeed a dream come true. However, Rodriguez personally would have chosen a druid character for gameplay.

“I’m very earthy and I like the trickster. I like the idea of magic, but I also love the idea of playing with the elements,” she says. “Maybe I’m connected to some past life or something, but I really enjoy the mystical occult, and I think the druid really hits it on the head for me.”

But the role of barbarian — known for its defensive power and rage mode in combat — also fits Rodriguez. She is already famous for her action roles. From early films like Girlfight and Blue Crush to the Fast and Furious franchise, she’s been one of Hollywood’s hottest badasses. But Honor Among Thieves was a chance to truly let loose as only a barbarian can.

Holga has “unfiltered honesty,” Rodriguez says. “It’s this kind of logical way of thinking and just blurting out exactly what it is that’s on the mind without the filter of ‘let me be aware of how this person feels receiving this information.’ There’s none of that,” she laughs. “It’s just whatever’s logical to you at that moment is coming out [of] the mouth. So she could seem a bit harsh and rash at times, but she doesn’t mean anything bad by it, she’s just being herself.”

Rodriguez as Holga and Chris Pine as Edgin in Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves

Rodriguez connected to Holga on a visceral level. She says that she used to have a temper growing up and had to learn to channel that anger in a productive way. “I’ve always found those characters interesting — anybody who’s violent and justifiably so, who walks as a citizen knowing that they’ve killed humans,” she says. “It’s always weird to me. But at the same time, there’s a part of me that gets it, that understands it.”

While playing Holga was a power fantasy for Rodriguez, the character will surely also be a fantasy for girls and women across the world seeking to become the heroes of their own journeys. In a world full of warriors, Holga is the toughest of the bunch: She’s strong and brave; she eats her favorite food all the time; she travels with her closest friends; and she knows what she wants and how to get it. Uniquely, she’s a rare female action character who doesn’t shave her armpits.

For Rodriguez, Holga’s body hair was something that she thought was natural for the character. In fact, she grew out her armpit hair for three months to prepare for the role, and she was ready to fight for it. “I swear to God. I literally put my case down. And I basically let the [directors] know,” Rodriguez says. “I was like, ‘Listen, this is very important to me. I really want to keep Holga’s armpit hair.’”

“And they literally looked at each other and were cracking up inside, but they took me seriously,” she laughs. “They went to the studio and said, ‘Hey, guys, is it all right for Holga to keep her hair?’ It was a thing. I can’t believe that that’s even a discussion. I don’t know why [women] are not allowed to have armpit hair for the most part. It’s really weird. It’s very strange. I’m glad that the studio was cool about it.”

Like her warrior forebear Xena, Holga has the potential to become a lesbian icon. It’s a thought Rodriguez hadn’t considered. “I never thought [about] sex appeal at all.... For me, it was like ooga chaka vibes. You know what I’m saying? It’s very barbarian, very hard-core. I never thought strutting the runway with Holga.”

But for Honor Among Thieves, embracing those who strut outside the box is the point. This isn’t some heartless adaptation. Instead, it fully embraces everything that makes Dungeons & Dragons great and nerdy, an asset Rodriguez credits to the film’s fanboy co-writers and directors, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein.

“I think we all have our own memories built on songs and games and things that we enjoyed as children. And I think the imagination of a child is just so extraordinary that not many can keep up with it,” Rodriguez says. “So that two guys had enough respect for the brand, enough awe at playing the actual game that they would give it the kind of love that it deserves, putting it on-screen is amazing.”

This article is part of the Out March/April issue, out on newsstands April 4. Support queer media and subscribe -- or download the issue through Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.

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Mey Rude

Mey Rude is a journalist and cultural critic who has been covering queer news for a decade. The transgender, Latina lesbian lives in Los Angeles with her fiancée.

Mey Rude is a journalist and cultural critic who has been covering queer news for a decade. The transgender, Latina lesbian lives in Los Angeles with her fiancée.