MIAMI - Michelle Rodriguez made quite an impression as a tough chick in her first movie, 2000's "Girlfight."

Director James Cameron never forgot about the 31-year-old Texan beauty who went on to star in hits like "The Fast and the Furious" and TV's "Lost."

Finally, he called her up and asked her if she wanted a part in his new 3-D sci-fi epic, "Avatar."

The movie, set 125 years in the future, is about a disabled Marine (Sam Worthington, "Terminator: Salvation") who is sent to the planet Pandora - populated by peaceful blue aliens - to find an energy-rich mineral.

"I got a call. Jim wanted to meet me and see where my head was at," said Rodriguez, from the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in downtown Miami. "I think he wanted to make sure I wasn't some wacko."

The role he had in mind was of headstrong helicopter pilot Trudy Chacon.

The actress was thrilled. "Who wouldn't want to work for that genius? Especially a geek like me," she said. "I'm a big 'Abyss' fan, big 'Terminator' fan, big 'Alien' fan."

Cameron's set was intense.

"Let's put it this way - the guy's attention to detail is amazing. He won't accept less than perfect. He needs an explanation for everything - even his imagination. That cat is not afraid to get out there."

The film uses something called motion-capture process, which melds actors' performances with computer-generated images.

"He created an entire digital world," Rodriguez explained. "Any time we would have problems working with the terrain, you could just tap him on the shoulder, and he'd tell you exactly where that giant leaf was that you were stumbling over. It's not like working with a green [special effects] screen, it's a whole new level."