Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. About 15 minutes into Machete Kills I was sweating. I agreed to interview Danny Trejo, Alexa Vega and Robert Rodriguez before I got a chance to see it and for the first fifteen minutes I was just seeing a repeat of the first film, which isn't my favorite from Rodriguez's slate. But then things start going crazy. Mel Gibson starts chewing scenery, the genre begins to change and we're introduced to some legitimately interesting whacked out characters, like a dictator with split personality (Demian Bichir), Marko Zaror being a badass killer aptly named Zaror and an assassin called The Chameleon that can change his face and gender.
Shit gets silly is what I'm saying and when that silly shit starts happening you're either going to be along for the ride or you're going to be heading out to get a refund. I don't think there are going to be too many people who are “Meh” on Machete Kills.
Thank God, because I was afraid I was going to have to cancel the interview. I've done it in the past. In fact, I missed out on interviewing Keanu Reeves once because I flat out hated the movie we were supposed to talk about (Generation Um..., not Man of Tai Chi, which is actually a whole lot of fun).
So it was that I was able to sit down with these guys and not hate myself for doing so. I interviewed all three in one go. Robert takes up a good deal of the beginning, but Alexa and Danny all throw in during the second half of the chat. You have to read to the end, by the way... when we get to talking about how Alexa talked her way into this quite... um... revealing... role things get really funny and interesting.
Robert Rodriguez: (To Alexa and Danny) Ain't It Cool is the best site and this is the best writer on that site.
Alexa Vega: Awesome!
Quint: Oh, man. Now there's all this pressure!
Robert Rodriguez: He's gonna ask the best questions.
Danny Trejo: Be cool.
Alexa Vega: Oh, no! Dude, you've doomed him!
Quint: Now you've jinxed me. (Robotic) What. Is. It. Like. Being. Machete?
Robert Rodriguez: What happened to you, man?!? (laughs)
Quint: So, I saw the movie yesterday and I just have to start out by saying I love how balls out crazy it gets by the end.
Alexa Vega: (laughs) It's so awesome.
Quint: For the first 15 minutes I'm just kind of sitting there going “Oh, it's just the first movie again...” and then Mel Gibson shows up in a Luchador mask, holding a ray gun and I was like “Huh... I think they might be going in a different direction here...”
Robert Rodriguez: “Something might be going on here...”
Quint: Yeah. You decided to go so crazy with this one, I wanted to start by asking if that is your way to keep Machete from being a one-note joke. I mean, you're now into the second film in a series based on a joke exploitation trailer. Robert, could you talk a little bit about your approach and Alexa and Danny, I'd love to hear what you guys have to say about your reaction to seeing just how far this new movie was going.
Robert Rodriguez: I don't think anybody saw the direction it was going! (All laugh) I've been involved in several franchises before and they're never expected, but they go a little more traditional route. I read a lot of Robert E. Howard and I used to love this quote from him... and it never really connected to me until this series of films, but he would say “I didn't write the Conans. I would sit at my typewriter and Conan would be behind and he would make me write these things down.” He didn't say that in a joking way.
This was the one series that felt like I was not in control at all. I came up with the original idea in '94, I told Danny that someday he would play Machete. To pay homage to that idea that we never got off the ground we called him Uncle Machete in Spy Kids.
It wasn't until we got to Grindhouse that I told Quentin, “Oh, I know... I have an idea, we can do the Machete trailer and get that out of our systems.” We made it and I was done with that, I was happy with that. I thought that was the best version possible of the idea because it would be difficult to try to sustain it throughout a whole movie.
But people were so taken by the idea of a Mexican action hero, they hadn't seen that before, and the idea of a Mexploitation film in particular, it kind of dawned on me that this has never really existed. It's kind of strange that there's not a movie like this. That was my original idea in '94 and nobody has done it since, so we have to go make it!
Two years later we went and made the first Machete, again thinking “Let's just do it.” It was supposed to be straight to DVD. I wasn't even going to direct it. I just wanted to give an audience what they were asking for. Then the cast just kept getting bigger. There was Michelle Rodriguez then De Niro signs on and Jessica Alba. I was like, “Okay, this is weird!” I kept rewriting and making it as good as I could. Then it came out and I thought I was done with him.
At the end, when I was mixing Machete... He rode off with the girl and all, but it still felt like it needed another kick, so real quick, while I was mixing, I added a voiceover saying “Machete will return in Machete Kills and Machete Kills Again!” I added that on there as a joke, thinking “We'll never make them...”
Quint: And that would fit with the grindhouse tradition, too. There's a ton of promised sequels we never got.
Robert Rodriguez: Yeah. I just wanted to show a confidence in the character. I felt like it was in the character of Machete to put that in. But constantly the movie would dictate things to me. I go over the top a lot in my movies, but... for instance, the first Machete trailer Machete was supposed to be in the water with the wife. I brought two girls just in case one freaked out because it was November, it was freezing and I said, “Okay, if she freaks out I'll have a second one.” I get there and I went, “Wait a minute... it's a grindhouse movie! They both should be in the water!”
Alexa Vega: Oh, gosh...
Robert Rodriguez: I have to constantly go beyond where even I would normally go, which is pretty far. It kept getting that way, so when it came time to do a sequel... First I said, “They want Machete Kills and Machete Kills Again. I probably shouldn't even do a sequel because then I'll be on the hook for two more and I can't figure out where I'd take it without feeling repetitive of the first one. I don't want to do that, I'd rather go out on a high note.” But then I got this crazy idea and I said it at one of the Comic-Cons... I said, “What I'd really love to see is Machete in space.” I wish I could have skipped the second one and gone right to Machete Kills In Space! When I said it people got excited for it and I thought, “Aw shit, now I'm excited for it. What if we never get to part 3?”
I didn't want to take that chance so, let me go ahead and satisfy that itch and do another fake trailer and maybe mislead the audience to think “Oh, that's just a bonkers, goofy trailer at the beginning” and then you realize you're realistically finding yourself heading that way. No one's ever done that.
People would say, “What are you doing?” and I'd say, “I don't know. Someone else is driving this ship and I think it's Machete standing over my shoulder.” When I would present these ideas to the actors they would just go: “... alright.” They wouldn't fight it! How could you say that's not right for Machete because Machete's all over the place!
What's cool is that Danny's so great as the character. He's a straight man! He's so straight. He plays everything so real. This is his Charles Bronson series. As wacky as it gets, he's never larger than life. He's always very real, grounded. I mean, you could go to space with him and it's believable because he's so strong and stoic.
Quint: Well... he's grounded, but he also throws guts into propeller blades to kill bad guys.
Robert Rodriguez: But you believe he would do that! (laughs) He makes it believable!
Danny Trejo: That was awesome. I was like, “Robert, are you kidding?” (laughs)
Quint: Danny, now that you've had two features to explore Machete as a character are you still finding you're surprised by him or do you know him inside and out?
Danny Trejo: My mom was calling me “Machete.” Everybody is. Now people drive by my house, honk their horns and call out “Hey, Machete!” So, I've just kind of accepted the fact that my name has changed. It surprised the hell out of me when a seven year old kid said to me, “I love you in Machete!”
Alexa Vega: You were like, “You're watching that?!?”
Quint: What about you, Alexa? I know you've worked with these guys before, but how did you get involved in Machete Kills?
Alexa Vega: What's funny is that I had originally come to Robert because people have seen me playing younger roles... I said “Hey, listen. I don't know if you're doing another Sin City, I kind of heard you might be... I just wanted you to keep me in mind for that.” He was like, “Are you crazy!?! Absolutely not!” I said, “Robert, I promise I am a grown up. I can play these roles now!”
Robert Rodriguez: I literally told you “Well, that's never going to happen!” I couldn't imagine you in a Sin City type movie. I couldn't believe it. I was like, “What are you saying? You're like my daughter! Shut your mouth!”
Alexa Vega: (laughs) When he said he was working on Machete, I was like “Okay, is there something in there (for me)?” There was a role written for, like, an extra. It was so tiny, no lines...
Robert Rodriguez: I thought she might change her mind. I was like, “I'm shooing Machete right now. Why don't you get your feet wet. Sofia Vergara has a gang of girls and I was just going to pick whoever was the best one and they'd be featured, they'd be right next to her. That way you can stand out as much as you want or you can back up as much as you want. So, come feel it out.” Then she comes in and just goes full on!
Alexa Vega: (laughs) I was ready. I had confidence.
Robert Rodriguez: She stood out so much that I gave all the other girls' lines to her. We started building a part for her because she was just amazing.
Alexa Vega: It was awesome because we took something that wasn't there and started creating it all together. Working with these two, I felt so comfortable. And if I could change their minds and get them to realize that I've grown up... they're my toughest critics.
Robert Rodriguez: It's amazing how fast the power of perception can shift. We thought, “Get your feet wet with this and if you do well, maybe we'll give you a small role in Sin City somewhere and gradually... I mean, it's going to take a while to turn people's minds from you being a little girl. You've been in four movies as a little girl to accepting you as a woman, even though you're 25, it's going to take a while.”
She comes onto the set looking like Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C. She's so strong we just kept trying to give her more to do. We took one photo of her... Rolling Stone was doing a story on her and needed a photo. We put it out and instantly people were like, “Oh, she's all grown up.” Instantly we changed people's perception. Even before the movie came out! Well, that was easy!
Quint: Although, I do have to say that it weirded me out that one of your first scenes was making at eyes at Uncle Machete.
Alexa Vega: (laughs) “Hello...”
Danny Trejo: It was amazing because she came on set and just owned it.
Alexa Vega: Thank you!
Danny Trejo: She was just like, “Okay, here it is.” It was hard for us, really hard for me. Dude, you're like my daughter!
Alexa Vega: Yeah, but if I gave away any hint of insecurity I would have been off that set so fast. You would have been like, “Okay, go home.”
Robert Rodriguez: My favorite online picture of her with the outfit, somebody had written on it “Was in Spy Kids” and it pointed...
Alexa Vega: At my boobs.
Robert Rodriguez: And said “Was not in Spy Kids!”
Alexa Vega: It was a great photo! I was dying, oh my gosh.
All credit to where it's due, the origin of that admittedly funny picture is actually PerezHilton.com. I never thought I'd ever have a reason to link to Perez, but goddamnit how could I avoid it? That's just too good and they were having too much fun talking about it not to include the image.
I think the interview ended up being really fun and I hope you guys dug it.