From the moment Maria Nelson and I read (and loved) the script for the film "Girlfight," we knew we were facing a formidable casting challenge—to find the lead, Diana Guzman, a young Latina who, without her father knowing it, trains as a boxer and achieves impressive success.
After a year of numerous discussions with the writer-director, Karyn Kusama, and producer Martha Griffin, we were frighteningly clear about the qualities that the actor playing Diana must possess. She had to be young (be 17–19, not play 17–19); she had to be fearless, possessing an animal instinct that glows through dangerous eyes; she had to be physically fit and willing to undergo vigorous boxing training for several months prior to shooting, with no aversion to being punched in the face. And yet, she had to be a knockout beauty (pun intended) displaying a vulnerability that allows her to fall in love. This girl had to have all of these qualities and have the acting chops to brilliantly carry a film.
After a grueling week of traditional auditions through agent submissions, we held an open call. There, amongst more than 300 actors, we spotted Michelle Rodriguez, and we knew instantly that we had found our Diana Guzman. Michelle Rodriguez's performance was amazing. She embodied all of the aforementioned attributes—and more! Although she had no formal training, we couldn't take our eyes off her on that screen, as she carried "Girlfight" with believability and a relentless consistency that far surpassed that of many more-experienced actors. The fact is, she was perfect for the role and she worked hard to pull off a stellar performance. We were blessed to find her.
Ellyn Long Marshall is the daughter of the late actor, singer, and dancer Avon Long, and, as such, has virtually grown up in the theater—acting, directing, and teaching. She and Maria E. Nelson formed Orpheus Group Casting 25 years ago and are currently making the transition to producing.