Actress Dania Ramirez' latest movie is "Premium Rush." (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles…)
Dania Ramirez had a bike phobia.
It all started when she was 7, racing her cousin down a steep hill in their native Dominican Republic when her wheels spiraled out of control. Ramirez flipped over her handlebars, spun three times in the air and earned a scar that she still sports today.
But when she was offered a role as a bicycle messenger in "Premium Rush," she knew she'd have to face her lifelong fear. "I wanted the job, so I was like, 'Oh, yeah, I can ride a bike,'" the actress, 32, recalled.
After landing the part, she was thrown into months of intensive training with costarJoseph Gordon-Levitt, suffering bumps and bruises far worse than the one she'd gotten as a kid. She skidded across cement after failing to complete a curb jump, sprained her ankle while jumping off her moving bike and nearly had to get stitches after her leg scratched against a chain.
"I'm pretty bad ass on a bike right now. My arms got ripped," she said.
But Ramirez says the physical rigor was necessary to give authenticity to the role of Vanessa, a cyclist whose messenger boyfriend (Gordon-Levitt) is being pursued by a dirty New York City cop.
The movie, out Aug. 24, marks the biggest movie role to date for Ramirez, who first hit the public's radar after a 2010 turn as Turtle's girlfriend on HBO's "Entourage." She's had supporting turns in such films as "X-Men: The Last Stand," but this year Ramirez is earning newfound visibility. In addition to "Premium Rush," she appeared as a geek-turned-sexpot in this month's"American Reunion" and recently completed filming a role in Marc Cherry's new television pilot, "Devious Maids," which stars four Latina actresses.
"Being a woman in Hollywood is already tough and you add being a Latina woman of color?" she said with a laugh. "Your choices are limited. Sometimes you have to walk into a room and change someone's mind. Sometimes you have to be 10 times better than the average person going in there, so they're able to look past what they think they wanted."
As for what Ramirez wants? To keep playing strong female characters with a hint of sex appeal.
"I love those kind of Angelina Jolie sort of roles," she said. "I think it's empowering as a chick to be able to play a role where you're still a girl, but nobody really wants to mess with you."