The actress behind the sweetly upbeat voice of "Big Hero 6's" superhero Honey Lemon has more in common with her super-genius chemistry student character than the average fan. Having a head for science and a passion for "Star Wars" sure helps.
Genesis Rodriguez, a former telenovela star who's been drawing attention in Hollywood films "Casa de mi Padre," "Man on a Ledge" and "Tusk," admits she didn't realize she showed up at her "Big Hero" audition literally looking like she was born to play Honey Lemon - which she'll explain - but she's glad she did: as a self-proclaimed fanatic for all things Disneyesque, comic book-y and sci-fi-ish, she landed in an animated world she felt more than comfortable with. Especially since she used to, y'know, build her own robots, as she explains to CBR News.
CBR News: What a fun role this must have been. You've got to be pretty excited.
Genesis Rodriguez: I'm super excited. Honestly, I don't want to like play favoritism, but, I mean, I'm a Disney fanatic, my whole entire life. And this one's so special. I think it's pushing the boundaries on animation movies. The visuals on it just blew my mind, like the flying scene, and San Fransokyo, itself. It's so rich. They really took care of it, and they were meticulous about it.
How did you find this project?
I don't know! But I'm so grateful. I auditioned for it last November, and it was right before Thanksgiving break, and I didn't hear anything about it. I even forgot I did the audition. It must have been January or February when they said, "Oh, you've got the job." And I went like, "What?! Oh my God, that's right! I even auditioned for that."
And it was funny because I went dressed as the character without even knowing it. Like, I didn't know the character description or what the project was about. I just got a scene, and they explained to me the premise of the movie and I went in that day, and I had socks with heels on - which I never do! - and I was very, very Honey Lemon. And I don't know why, but it just kind of worked out. And they said, "Oh, these are like super-smart kids, and they turn into superheroes because of their super-brains - they're engineers and whatnot." And I was like, "You know what's really cool is I did robotics when I was young." And they were like, "What?" And I was like, "Yeah, I did robotics when I was young." And they were like, "So, for real?" I'm like, "Yes. This is something... it was a hobby of mine." And it was just super me. It couldn't have worked out better.
What did you love about your robotics experience? I know you took it pretty far - all the way to "BattleBots!"
For me, it was the fact that you could have an idea and execute it. It's something so intangible, making it real and figuring out how stuff works. I was always curious about why? Why does this function this way, and how did this turn out to be? I liked figuring out the history and the process of things. And when it came to robotics, I did a little bit of the pneumatics of figuring out how it works of the robot, but also welding - which, welding you wouldn't think is something that would interest a girl, but we had an all-girl, robotics team, and we made sure that our robot was killer. But it was beautiful as well! [Laughs], which I think played to our advantage because other robots wouldn't be intimidated by ours. Because they would think, "Oh..." But we killed it! Actually, second place one year, and third place nationally in the robotics competitions. And it's just really cool.
And you'll pick it up again when you have another second?
Oh my God - I miss the smell! I miss the smell of welding, the metals and the oil. Like I would love to go home and smell like that. I don't know what it was. It's comforting.
What did you connect with Honey Lemon? Was it that exuberance and excitement that she has about just about everything?
She's very perky. [Laughs] Yeah, little caffeinated. I guess I had that little mad scientist quality about me. And it's something that I've been such a fan of Disney movies my whole life. I wanted to make her as bubbly and just high-energy as possible. So I've been waiting for this moment my whole life without even realizing. I never thought it was actually going to be possible, but it happened.
Tell me the first Disney property that you got full on obsessed with when you were a kid?
Every year it was something else because my first birthday was celebrated at Disney World, and then I kept on going three times a year - I would go for my birthday, Halloween, and Christmas. Those are my times to go. But I would say my first party that was themed was "Little Mermaid," and I was obsessed with Ariel, and I would comb my hair with a fork. I was obsessed with that. And then I had a "101 Dalmations" party, and everything was black and white, and I was dressed up as a Dalmation. And then when "Aladdin" came out, I was all Jasmine. I wanted really long hair, and I would not take off my costume. And I'm still obsessed with Disney. Everything that's Disney makes me happy, and I go still three times a year to Disney. I already have like my menu planned out. I start out the day with a giant pickle, and I move forward to the turkey leg. I mean, it's a full on thing. It's the happiest place on Earth for me.
It's got to be really cool to know that little girls - and little boys - are going to be really excited about this character - and also because she's smart.
Yes! That's the one thing I want kids to take from it. Like, everyone's a superhero. You can use your talent to do something extraordinary, and any normal person can become that, if you apply yourself and educate. And you can do whatever you want in life, and you can be your own superhero. I hope that one of these kids sees this movie and builds Baymax, because the world needs a Baymax.
You also have big comic book love - especially Spider-Man, right?
So to see the DNA of Disney and Marvel come together - this is like a perfect representation of both. What was it like for you to see that come to life?
I got goose bumps when you said that. It's so true because I think both audiences are going to appreciate this for what it is. The Marvel fans are going to really appreciate the action in this movie. They really stayed true to that part of it because I was at the edge of my seat for some scenes, and I thought it was really thrilling. And at the same time, for it to actually get real emotions from you the way that Disney can with these really lovable, beautiful characters, I think it's going to appeal to both, and it's going to satisfy both, so it's really exciting. I can't wait for people to see it because I want to hear the response. There was one screening we did in New York, and they were ecstatic. They just couldn't believe it. So I can't wait.
A lot of times animators will be shooting you while you're recording. Did you recognize little things they sneaked into her mannerisms?
Definitely. So I did see this one scene in the introduction of Honey. She is doing her little chemistry set, and she's saying, "A dash of Perchloric acid." She gets really geeky, and she bites her lip like this. She goes, "Isn't it cool, right?" Like that's me. I'm constantly doing this sort of thing. And they put it into the movie. I'm like, "I can't believe they got my expression into that." So I'm really excited. I hope people can see me still.
Are you going to get all the Honey Lemon toys? Are you like, "Disney, just back up the truck to my house?"
Yes. A hundred percent. There's going to be a little shrine of Honey in my house. [Laughs] I'm already starting it though. And I have been sleeping with Baymax, the little stuffed Baymax ever since I got him.
That's a headline for another media outlet! "I slept with Baymax."
Yeah! [Laughs] That's funny.
This is rare for an actor, to work on something you're going to be talking about when you're 80. Does that mean a lot to you to have that opportunity?
The world. And this happened to me twice, so when the Disney logo came out in the beginning, I just started bawling. Because I've been seeing that Disney logo come up, 20 plus years, and for my name to be attached to that, I get emotional even thinking about it. It's so special for a child, and I was a Disney child. Ah, I'm so grateful!
What are the other big goal posts that you have in your career?
So I'd definitely like to do one of these Marvel movies. That would be fun. Live action fun. But I still have dreams of working with like Quentin Tarantino and have this like incredibly gory scene. That would be kind of fun. And of course, working with someone like Woody Allen and having a great comedy like that. I want to keep it interesting. I definitely have this year. I want to keep that momentum going.
Do you have a Marvel character that you've got your eye on playing in live-action?
I'm not going to publicly say it because I don't want to campaign for anything. But yeah. And when it does come up, I'm going to jump on it.
Are you done shooting Kevin Smith's next movie "Yoga Hosers?"
I'm done shooting, "Yoga Hosers." Yes.
How was that experience different from "Tusk?"
So different. I played a Canadian, and I was a very high-strung Canadian - which probably doesn't exist. Very angry PE teacher, but was very much real. She gets on the girls for being so obsessed with the social media and just exposing a lot of things to the world. And so it was fun. It was fun to play a different character. But in "Moose Jaws," I will go back to being Ally. So that will be exciting.
It's an interesting time in Hollywood where I think actors and actresses don't have gender barriers or racial barriers as much, so for you, coming around at this time...
It's a very good point. Kevin was one of those, for me, that was very color blind in hiring me. And he said, "Gen, I want you to play a Canadian in this." I'm like, "Kevin, will people believe it?" And he was like, "I don't care! You're doing it!" And for me, it was such an honor for him not to even consider that, if people will believe it or not. He was like, "You're an incredible actress. I don't care." And it takes people like that, minds like that, people that just don't see you in a box. They think out of the box. And it's kind of wonderful that I'm not being considered just as a Latina. That they're seeing me as an actress, and that's why I want to keep it interesting because I don't want anyone to put me in a box.
It's also interesting we're getting to a point where women can really be fans of genre material and they're not looked at as weird. Did you experience that as a kid, that you liked comic books and robots and--
--"Star Wars," oh, my goodness. "Star Wars," for me, is like the greatest movie, and just world. I was always into the sci fi world, and my mom was, too, and my uncle. So I'm a girl's girl, but I'm also a guy's girl too - and more so a geeky guy's girl. Like, I really geek out. It's my favorite. I love letting the geek flag out, and I really don't care in that sense of what people think of it because I think it's special. This sci fi world, too, is a world in itself that you really do have to appreciate, and it's where your imagination, what these creators have imagined, so it's just brilliant to me.
Do you remember that first exposure to "Star Wars"?
You bet. My mom sat me through the marathon. And she was obsessed with it. She goes, "This was my favorite movie as a kid." And immediately after seeing the robots and seeing Luke, I wanted to be a Jedi growing up. And then years after that, "Episode I" came out, and my mom and I camped out. I was one of those campers. I didn't go to school. And it was cool: I got to sleep camping in the street with my mom for "Star Wars" tickets, and I'm never going to forget that.
Who's your favorite character from "Star Wars"?
Oh, my goodness. It has to be Chewie. I have Chewie as my text ring tone. And everyone goes, "What is that?" I go, "It's Chewie. How do you know not know that?" So it's his roar. But Han Solo...[rolls her eyes dreamily]
"Big Hero 6" is in theaters now.