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Michelle Rodriguez (C) and Paul Walker (R) at the premiere of "Fast and Furious 4" in Lomme, France on March 18, 2009.
Franck Crusiaux—Getty Images

For the past year and a half, Michelle Rodriguez has kept to herself about the death of Paul Walker. The blue-eyed actor, whose role as cop-turned-outlaw wheelman Brian O’Conner had been a linchpin of the $1.7 billion Fast and Furious franchise, had been killed on Nov. 30, 2013 in a freak car crash. Since then, his castmates have largely grieved in private.

But during a recent conversation with EW, Rodriguez, who was then gearing up for the international press tour for Furious 7, decided that she wanted to open up about what the loss of Walker had meant to her. The shock of losing a trusted friend, “the deepest guy I know,” she says, caused her to unravel. “I actually went on a bit of a binge,” she says, wiping away tears. “I went crazy a little bit”—pause—”I went pretty crazy. A lot of the stuff I did last year I would never do had I been in my right mind.”

Some of that “stuff,” of course, found its way into the tabloids. Rodriguez, 36, was photographed by paparazzi in various states of romantic embrace with British supermodel Cara Delevingne, partying on a yacht with Justin Bieber, and getting intimately acquainted with Zac Efron in Spain and Sardinia. “I was pushing myself to feel,” she says, amid the lunchtime bustle of a chic Venice, Calif. restaurant. “I felt like nothing I could do could make me feel alive, so I just kept pushing myself harder and harder. I was traveling and I was having sex. And I was just trying to ignore everything that I was feeling.”

Unlike many of her Furious 7 castmates—e.g. Vin Diesel, Jordana Brewster, Dwayne Johnson and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges—Rodriguez has no spouse or children. So her sorrow over losing a friend who had been a dependable presence for 16 years, she says, was compounded by the absence of a grounding family structure. “I could see Paul once every two years and just know there was another human on the planet who’s deep like me, who loves like that,” she says. “When that disappears, you wonder, ‘Wait a minute, what do I hold on to?’ There was nothing to tether me to this existence: ‘Why am I f—ing here? And, like, why’d you leave without me?’”

Her pain is still close to the surface, but earlier this year, she says, she discovered a renewed sense of purpose, and is now finally on the mend. “I just woke up [one morning] with a profound respect for living,” she says. “I stood tall one day and I said, ‘You know what, Michelle? Stop f—ing hiding. Go manifest.’ And all of a sudden, I picked myself up and started hustling.”

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