Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez introduced fans to Mexican action hero Machete in a fake movie trailer featured in the 2007 double-feature called “Grindhouse.”
Almost immediately, Rodriguez fans began clamoring for a full-length version of the short, which starred actor Danny Trejo has a knife-wielding ex-Federal hired to kill a corrupt Texas senator. Three years later, fans not only got the feature film they had been begging for, but also a pre-credits promise that Machete would return in “Machete Kills.”
And he has.
The action sequel hits theaters this weekend and finds the butt-kicking brute hunting a rogue weapons manufacturer (Mel Gibson) at the behest of the President of the United States (Charlie Sheen, credited as “Carlos Estévez”). The all-star cast also includes Demián Bichir, Amber Heard, Michelle Rodriguez, Sofía Vergara, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lady Gaga and Vanessa Hudgens, as well as actors well-known for other Rodriguez movies – Antonio Banderas (“Desperado”), William Sadler (“Roadracers”), Jessica Alba (“Sin City”), Tom Savini (“From Dusk Till Dawn”) and Alexa Vega (“Spy Kids”).
I recently sat down with Rodriguez, Trejo and Vega to talk about “Machete Kills,” Hollywood’s troublemakers, Robert’s knack for saving careers and Machete’s love for everybody.
David Onda: You’ve said “Machete Kills” was a sequel fans were asking for, but fans really ask for sequels to all of your movies.
Danny Trejo: [laughs] You’re right though!
Robert Rodriguez: After the first trailer for “Machete,” of all the things they could have asked for, they would say, “We wanna see another ‘Sin City,’ and you gotta make ‘Machete.’” They just went hand in hand. And sometimes not even the “Sin City” part; they would just say “Machete.” So we finally just made it. And for the last two years, we’ve been hearing people say, “I wanna see ‘Machete Kills in Space,’ I wanna see that.” Well, that means I have to make part two first. I have to finally satisfy the audience at some point.
Onda: Your films are mostly comprised of Latino actors, which we rarely see in major Hollywood films. Do you receive a lot of support and enthusiasm for your films back from the Latino community?
Rodriguez: Oh, yeah. Demián and Sofía have been trying to get in one of my movies from the very beginning. They both have heavy accents and they thought, “That’s the guy who’s gonna put us in a movie! Look what he did with Antonio!” Demián, I didn’t even know this, had actually auditioned for “Desperado.”
Trejo: He did?
Alexa Vega: No way!
Rodriguez: I never even saw him. He said he didn’t even make it through the first rounds. He said, “I’ve been trying to work with you for a long time.” Sofía and I almost worked together a few times. They’ve been wanting to get the deluxe Rodriguez treatment where they’re really iconic, really up front. Demián, he’s been nominated for an Oscar, what does he need? He wants to be badass!
Vega: He’s so good.
Rodriguez: He said, “You did it, you made me badass!” As an actor you want to do many different parts. They know they’re safe here. They know they’ll come here and get to play a part they don’t normally get to play. Mel Gibson never gets to be the “James Bond” villain with tons of dialogue. It’s a totally different part than he normally gets. Charlie Sheen as the president?
Onda: Carlos Estévez, please.
Trejo: You got it! Carlos Estévez. And he works in the South West Wing!
Onda: Speaking of which, Mel Gibson and Mr. Estévez are two of the more controversial personalities of the last couple years – and did I see a Jesse James cameo?
Trejo: Absolutely! He’s the president’s secret service!
Vega: Jesse made [Machete’s] car.
Rodriguez: Jesse made the car for me. He made me some vehicles for some of my other movies.
Onda: I mean, these are some guys who have been in the news.
Rodriguez: That’s why we’re Troublemaker Studios – you get in trouble, come work with me. [laughs]
Trejo: [laughs] Look at me!
Rodriguez: You know, you respond to everybody’s artistry. They know that I didn’t go to them – “Oh, you’re in the tabloids” – and try to exploit that. Even though I’m making an exploitation film, they know that that’s not why. They’ve known me for a long time, I’m a fan of theirs and I’ve wanted to work with them for a long time. So, I went to them artist-to-artist and that’s why they give you 150%, because they know you’re doing it for those reasons. And they can’t say no. At first, they may be like, “Why are you talking to me?” And then it’s like, “Ok, this guy really appreciates my work.”
Onda: Are you guys are aware of how much publicity Alexa gave this film last year by posting a picture of herself in her “Machete Kills” costume?
Vega: [laughs] Oh, my gosh!
Rodriguez: It was unbelievable. That’s probably our greatest achievement on this film. She called me saying, “I can’t get people to not send me 17, 16-year-old parts.” And I was like, “What’s wrong with that?” And she goes, “Well, I’m 25 now.” I couldn’t even figure out how that math worked. How could you possibly be 25? It doesn’t matter how old you are, they’re not gonna ever see you as something other than a “Spy Kid.” It’s not gonna happen. And then I realized what a nice creative challenge that was. I had to catch myself. That’s what my whole career is – finding people and making you change your mind about who they are. George Clooney couldn’t get a role because he was so good at playing a nice doctor. He couldn’t get a job as an actor. So I put him in “From Dusk Till Dawn” as a [character] 180-degrees from that, which was a killer. I told him, “By doing this, you’re gonna get every role now.” When Carla Gugino did three “Spy Kids” for me, she was in the same hole. She couldn’t get any other roles other than mothers. So I put her in “Sin City,” and that changed her career and opened her up to all kinds of parts. So when [Alexa] told me her dilemma, I was like, “Ok, if I’m the one who put the curse on you, I’m probably the only one that can lift the curse.” She comes down, gets the most audacious outfit, puts herself front and center—
Trejo: Worked it!
Rodriguez: — really wants to do this. And so we go, let’s be kind of strategic about it, let’s send out a photo and we’ll start slowly. No, the first photo goes out and eveybody’s like, “She’s all grown up!” We couldn’t believe that it was that quick. It was instantaneous.
Onda: Machete finds many creative ways to kill villains in this film – particularly with the propellers of boats and planes. Is there anything too extreme for Machete?
Trejo: We’re standing [on set] and I’m supposed to choke this guy, and I’m choking him and I ask Robert, “Do you want me to lift him up off the ground?” And Robert says, “No, stick your machete in that electrical box.” So this is the way I killed him!
Rodriguez: We’d done so many different ways in the first movie. We even made weed-eaters that had blades on them. I was already out of ideas, I thought. He was the one who told me about the helicopter one. He said, “How about I attach to a helicopter blade and I swing around and chop everybody’s heads off?” To answer your question, is it too out there? No, if anybody can do it, Machete should be able to do it.
Onda: “Machete Kills” features a blind fight that is very reminiscent to Johnny Depp’s blind fight in your film “Once Upon a Time in Mexico.” Was that an intentional callback?
Rodriguez: When I went to paint on the [missing] eye, I had already done it with Johnny Depp and I remembered how to do it so that it doesn’t just keep pouring out of the face and still looks like your eye is shot out, it still looks kind of cool. I thought, you know, I’ll just match it exactly to the other one. These are all weird alternate universes of each other. [Danny’s] in the “Spy Kids” movies as Machete.
Vega: Uncle Machete.
Rodriguez: And she’s now in the “Machete” universe.
Vega: Definitely not Carmen.
Rodriguez: It’s like the same fever dream, but just different reiterations of it.
Onda: “Machete Kills” teaches us that Machete doesn’t text, he doesn’t tweet, he doesn’t die… what does Machete do on his free time?
Trejo: Machete loves everybody.
“Machete Kills” is in theaters everywhere now. Click here to order tickets through Fandango.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.