Lost's Michelle Rodriguez

updated 10/17/2005 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/17/2005 AT 01:00 AM EDT

In addition to the hatch, the raft and the Others, the Lost castaways just got thrown another curveball: the reappearance of Michelle Rodriguez, who was seen briefly last season as Ana Lucia Cortez, a passenger who flirted with Jack (Matthew Fox) before taking a seat in the rear of the doomed plane. Now a cast regular, the Fast and the Furious vet is cagey about her role ("There were so many people on the tail end of the plane, which wasn't found," she says. "Those two worlds might collide"), but she does explain why she's got what it takes to survive-and thrive-on the island.

•She loves to explore: Traveling "is the most consistent thing I do," says Rodriguez, who grew up in San Antonio, the Dominican Republic and Jersey City, N.J. (her mom is Dominican, her late dad Mexican), and who took the role for its stability. "It was about time to sit in one place and be bossed around for more than three months."

•She's a good liar: Attending her first-ever audition, for the 2000 female-boxing flick Girlfight, "I waltzed in and said, 'I'm not scared of your cameras! I know I can pull it off,'" says Rodriguez. "I lied through my teeth." The ruse worked: She landed the lead.

•She's a natural born fighter: Her twin brothers toughened her up. "They were constantly picking me up, dropping me on my head," she says. "You have to fight back." Adds Lost executive producer Damon Lindelof: "She plays tough so well, but there's a vulnerability there. It fits into the idea of Lost that people present themselves as one thing, but in fact they are another."

•She follows her instincts: Rodriguez, who got her GED after quitting school at 16, backed out of business school after getting a glimpse of New York City work life. "You stare at these pale faces with black under their eyes, and they all look miserable," says the currently single Rodriguez. "I'm thankful I was given a head that knows what it wants. I seem hardheaded, but I'm not. I just know what works for me."

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