Michelle Rodriguez

Michelle Rodriguez
Sara De Boer / Retna

10/12/2005 AT 06:00 AM EDT

She's played a boxer, a drag racer and a S.W.A.T. team member, so it should have come as no surprise when Michelle Rodriguez's Lost character turned out to be one tough castaway. In real life, the single actress, 27, is just as fearless and outspoken as the women she has played since her big-screen debut in 2000's Girlfight. She talked to PEOPLE about bratty Hollywood types, dropping out of business school and her childhood Knight Rider fantasies.

Were you a Lost fan before you joined the cast?
I loved the show. Lost is like watching a movie that keeps going and going. The only thing that I hate is that it has that soap opera "To Be Continued ..." thing. I always want a show to be over when the screen says "The End."

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How did you feel about moving to Hawaii?
It was scary, but at the same time, I'm a gypsy. I can't spend more than three months anywhere. That's the scary part to me: I'm actually going to have a 9-to-5 – well, 6-to-5 – real job. It's a serious responsibility: getting to work on your own, getting your own house. The reason people in Hollywood seem so bratty is because they're spoiled – usually the studios pay for your house and living expenses while you're working.

How did you get into the business?
I was living in Jersey City, N.J. I had been doing extra work for about two years and I never had the cojones to get up and go on an audition. Girlfight was the first audition I ever went on, and I got it. It was a noon cattle call and I got there about four hours late. I didn't think I had a chance. I was so scared of everything involved with it.

Who inspired you to start acting?
I looked up to Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis – those were my guys. And, I must admit, even David Hasselhoff when he was doing Knight Rider. I used to sit in my cardboard box with my fake steering wheel and I used to pretend I had KIT and I'd use my little calculator watch to talk. That was my world. I like to go into fantasy lands where you get to explore different realms.

You dropped out of business school, right?
Yeah. The thing is, you stand there on 42nd Street in New York City and people are bumping into you like, "Get out of my way." At the end of the day it was like, I don't want to be that girl who's sun-deprived until five o'clock in the afternoon. I was like, "Screw you, Drake Business School!"

You live in Los Angeles now?
Yeah. It's my office. That's how I look at it. I have a house in Jersey, right near the Delaware Water Gap. My godson lives there with my best friend and her husband. They take care of it. I call it my little ranch. It's 28 acres of pine. It's really nice and I never get to enjoy it. I've had it for three years and I've only been there for three months.

It can be difficult to meet solid people in L.A.
Duh. That's a given. The first question anybody asks you in L.A. is "What do you do?" It's like, "I work to chill, man. That's what I do." Once you stop caring about what people think and you're sure of where you want to go, it all comes together. It took me a long time to come to that place, but I'm here.

You shot the upcoming horror movie The Breed in South Africa. What was that like?
It changed my life. I did a safari for five days in Pinda. Do you know how amazing it is to sit 10 feet from a lion and it completely respects your space because you're respecting his space? It makes you realize these guys only eat when they have to. I will never go to a zoo as long as I live.

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