From his very first film, UT alumnus Robert Rodriguez has had an eye for franchises. “El Mariachi,” his 1992 debut, spawned two sequels, and 2001’s “Spy Kids” allowed the director to aim films at a younger audience for the first time. The “Machete” films come from a fake trailer that was featured in front of “Grindhouse,” and has improbably inspired two films. “Machete Kills,” Rodriguez’s blood-soaked sequel, had its world premiere at Fantastic Fest last month.
The Daily Texan sat down to speak with Rodriguez after the film’s premiere.
The Daily Texan: What about Machete that makes you want to keep telling stories about the character?
Robert Rodriguez: I love the character. He’s so unique. When we made the first fake trailer, we did it just to kind of get it out of our system. The audience really responded to it. They’d never seen anything like it, never seen a Mexican action hero — a Mexploitation movie is what I called it.
I thought, “Wow, that’s so weird that no one had ever thought to do that. Let’s go ahead and make it.” People are really excited about it. It’s so different, in a world where everything’s remade and regurgitated, here’s an original idea that no one has done that’s pretty obvious, that someone should do.
So I did it and people really liked it. We thought, let’s make another one, because we don’t have very many Latin action heroes. It would be cool to do, to go really James Bond big with it and have a lot of fun with it. So that’s kind of why I did it. That’s one of my original characters, along with “Spy Kids” and the “El Mariachi” series. I was kind of looking forward to having another franchise.
DT: How did you convince Mel Gibson to play his first villain?
RR: Had he never played a villain before? I know he had played darker characters before, and he’s great at it. He’s just a terrific actor. I went to him, [and] I said, “I’m doing a sequel to ‘Machete.’” He said, “I haven’t seen ‘Machete,’ but a friend of mine, like the smartest guy I know, he loves ‘Machete.’ It was always really strange to me, but he thinks it’s a great movie.” He was curious about it. I chased him down, and my enthusiasm for it helped a lot. He finally saw it and thought it was a hoot. I said, “Man, it’ll be painless. Three days. Come in, and we’re just gonna have a lot of fun.” I saw a bunch of names for other actors, and his popped out so much. James Bond villain! Wouldn’t he be the ultimate James Bond villain? Mel’s just so good. And that’s why I went for him.
DT: How far do you see the franchise going, if you had unlimited money and unlimited Danny Trejo?
RR: Oh man, that would be like James Bond. What’s Bond on now? 25, 26? I could go that far.
DT: Other films in this vein are very tongue-in-cheek, but I feel like this strikes a really precise tone. How do you navigate that, and where do you draw the line at what’s too silly?
RR: If you look at the movies that they’re based on, these movies of the ‘70s, they weren’t trying to be goofy. A lot of them were trying to be straight up, and sometimes even put in social messages. But their employers were saying, “To get butts in the seats, you gotta have violence, you gotta have sex,” and made them put all this stuff in. It was a weird juxtaposition of social consciousness with flash and awe.
I really wanted to keep all the actors playing it straight. Sofia Vergara is avenging her daughter, and she just happens to be using these crazy apparatuses the director gave her, but she’s playing it straight. Charlie Sheen isn’t playing the “Hot Shots” version of the President. He’s playing the President. Mel Gibson plays it straight. Machete is as straight and grounded as can be. He’s just no bullshit, so that helps you be able to kind of fly anywhere, storywise, because the characters feel real. I think if everyone was winking at the camera, it would just feel very dishonest and false, and you wouldn’t care as much.
DT: My favorite character in the film was El Camaleon, an assassin that can change his identity. Can you tell me where that came from, in terms of concept and casting?
RR: I did a pretty detailed outline of the story, about 40 pages. And I brought in a writer named Kyle Ward, a Texan guy. He loved it. He expanded the script to fill out, and he had an idea for a character. He had this idea of the Camaleon, and I thought, that’s a fantastic idea. I can go crazy with casting for that. I’ve been looking for a role for Lady Gaga. Walt Goggins, I pictured him as the first one. When I knew he’d have to speak Spanish, I thought that getting Antonio and Danny in a scene together would be just great. They started together in “Desperado” and went through “Spy Kids” and all that. This will be the third franchise they’ve done together. So I got really excited about it.
DT: What’s the ratio of practical effects to CGI effects in the movie?
RR: There’s a bunch of CGI in there, but it’s more invisible kind of effects. They’re not like, real showy. We didn’t shoot anything on greenscreen, like adding digital walls as they’re driving towards a wall. All of the gunshots and blasts, all the blood hits, are CG. There’s a lot of effects that you don’t really think of as effects, but they add up.
DT: And how far along are you on “Machete Kills Again in Space?”
RR: Are you suggesting I’m making it already?
DT: The end of “Machete Kills” seemed pretty confident.
RR: I wanted to cover my bases. I really wanted to see that movie get made. If the audience didn’t ask for a third movie, at least I would have gotten it out of my system a little bit.