Audiences first got a glimpse of Machete as a fake trailer that was part of the Robert Rodriguez-Quentin Tarantino double-feature tribute to B-movies, Grindhouse. Now, it’s a full-length feature film, starring Danny Trejo as the first bad-ass Mexican superhero.
A legendary ex-Federale with a deadly attitude and skills to match, Machete attempts to start his life over as a day laborer on the streets of Texas. But, instead of disappearing into the mundane life that he desires, he becomes the perfect fall guy for a crooked politician and has to set out to clear his name and expose a deep conspiracy.
At the film’s press day, director/co-writer/producer/editor Robert Rodriguez and actor Danny Trejo talked about developing the character for a full-length feature, the timing of a film about immigration, assembling such an eclectic cast, all of the extra scenes that will be on the DVD and the possibility of sequels. Rodriguez also gave an update on Spy Kids 4 and the Deadpool film. Check out what they had to say after the jump:
Danny: Usually, you do a trailer after you’ve done a movie, so when we were doing the trailer, I thought I was having Alzheimer’s. Robert has been training me for this movie since we did Desperado. He told me about this movie back then and said, “Hey, you’re perfect for this character. I want to do this movie called Machete.” That was 14 years ago. So, it was 14 years and 780,000 phone calls later of, “When are we doing Machete?” It was just stepping into the guy.
Robert: When he walks onto the set, he is Machete, and it was without us really ever rehearsing it. By osmosis, I guess we had rehearsed it over the past 14 years because he just knows how to play that character and plays it really well.
Danny: It was just training by Rodriguez. Basically, in each movie, you’ll notice that I have some sharp object.
Everyone in the movie who is anti-illegal immigration, turns out to have an ulterior motive. Do you think that reflects the current political climate?
Robert: The timing of it is pretty amazing. When you make an exploitation film, you always want to have a real issue. That’s how they were always done. This just happened to be in reverse. Exploitation films were famous for taking an issue an exploiting it because they could move much faster than a studio could. If there was any hot topic, they would run out and make a quick movie and make a buck on it, by changing it around and using it, in some way, to give some relevance. That’s why they were able to just be right there on the pulse of what was going on. With ours, I just wanted to put a story on it and that’s always pretty relevant. There’s always something like this going on. But, just recently, it became even more relevant and gave this other layer of entertainment to it. I wanted to use that as a backdrop to show some real corruption that actually goes on that’s just hard to battle. It’s so difficult, in fact, that no one really wants to talk about that or touch it. People talk about immigration, but they won’t talk about the corruption that actually exists between Mexico and the U.S.
So, I wanted a character that was almost superhuman, almost like Rambo, who was the only one that can make sense of it. In reality, I don’t know if anyone is really willing to step up and do it. You create superheroes to take care of problems that can’t really be solved another way. That was the purpose of Machete. He’s this federal agent who’s incorruptible in Mexico and is forced to come live as a day laborer in the States. It just seemed like the natural progression of story that should happen was to have him deal with more corruption on this side than even he was used to. He’s got a huge job ahead of him that’s going to span several movies, for him to be able to sort anything out. The fabric just needed to feel very epic and very big, and it needed a lot of twists and turns. It was really more driven by, how can you make the most fun story, taking something that is real on the surface, and then jumping into the level of Superman beyond that.
Do you think a movie like this is guaranteed to upset a lot of conservatives?
Robert: I think you can tell, when you’re watching it, that it’s done in a huge sense of fun. It’s supposed to make you feel like, “Wow, some of this isn’t that far off the mark.” As much as I tried to make it as made up as possible, you couldn’t escape the fact that reality is stranger than fiction. A lot of these things, I thought were just good subplots and good twists, and then I would find out, through research, that they were true. I think it just gives it another layer than makes it really fun.
Danny, how does it feel to take on leading man status?
Danny: The only difference in being the lead is that I got to kiss Jessica Alba. It’s a little different ‘cause usually you show up, you do your stuff and you leave. But, with this, I was on the set every day and I had to realize that this is my movie. It’s not that your attitude is different or that your performance is different. It’s just that you help, any way you can. When we were in Austin, we had 70 days that were over 100 degrees, so everybody was passing out water, whether you were the lead or just a P.A. We had to keep water going ‘cause it was 100 degrees, but on the tarmac that we were working on, it was about 120. It was a lot of fun.
How do you feel about Robert as pretty much the only person breaking stereotypes in Hollywood?
Danny: Me and Robert go back. We’re pals. This goes way beyond the director and actor. We’ve watched each other’s kids grow up. My son shadowed him on Machete. He literally just had a college course in how to be a great director. But, Robert is the first guy to say, “Hey, wait a minute, you’ve been around long enough. Let’s put you on the first team.”
Robert, can you talk about putting together this eclectic cast?
Danny: Robert did that movie Shorts and, in that, they had a wishing rock. So, when I said, “Robert, how did you get this cast?,” he reached over and said, “My wishing rock.”
Robert: Yeah, it was an amazing dream cast of people. It needed to be eclectic. I enjoy doing stuff like that, like with Sin City and those kind of ensemble movies. Once you get some key people involved, you can attract others that will fit the role. At first, when you hear the names, you think, “How do these parts fit together?” And then, you see the movie and you see everyone plays their part really well and is really right for their part. For the past year, people were wondering what [Steven] Seagal, [Robert] DeNiro, Don Johnson and Lindsay Lohan were all doing in the same movie. And then, it makes sense when you see it.
Everyone plays their part. It was fantastic. We started with Danny, and that attracts a lot, in itself, ‘cause everyone has worked with Danny. Danny has done over 200 movies. Seagal has killed him a few times. DeNiro has put a bullet in his head. Everyone felt like, “Oh, Danny is gettin’ a shot. We should be there for Danny.” The script sounded like fun. People have heard about the studio I have in Austin, and you get to come play a role that you don’t usually get to play, and people like that, so we were able to attract a lot of people.
It was very similar to Sin City, where I shot the opening scene first, and then went and showed that to actors, who jumped on board ‘cause they could see what they were being a part of and imagine themselves in this movie that had already started to exist. With this, because the trailer had been around for two years, I would just go show the trailer and they could picture themselves being in that movie ‘cause it was so entertaining and different with this Mexican superhero. It was something they had never seen before. Very much like The Expendables, it was almost a throwback to the old school action movies that are just visceral, straight-up cathartic experiences for an audience. It’s the kind of movie that they first fell in love with when they went to see movies as kids. That’s what people tapped into and made them want to come be a part of it.
Are there any scenes that you shot that didn’t make it into this cut, but might make it onto the DVD?
Robert: There are actually a bunch of extra scenes that I shot. Once we started casting all these actors, I needed to expand their roles, and I just kept writing more and more for them to do. You’ll see some very unusual things, when you see the DVD. You’ll go, “Where did this character come from?” The movie would have probably been two hours, had I kept them all in. But, I’ll have a really cool extended cut that actually has a lot of extra people in it. Some people that didn’t die in the movie actually did die. I just cut out their deaths ‘cause I wanted to save them for a sequel, but you’ll see that they actually did perish. And, I’m glad now ‘cause people are starting to respond to some of the people that didn’t perish.
Have you thought about where you’d like to see this character go in future films?
Robert: I have a bunch of ideas for it. At the end titles, you saw that we’ll have to make Machete Kills and Machete Kills Again. Once you put it out there, just like we found with the trailer, you have to make it. When I made that trailer, for years, more than Sin City 2, people would come up and say, “When are you going to make Machete, now that we’ve seen the trailer?” This movie was almost in response to the fans because, if they hadn’t been after me, as much as Danny himself, about making the movie, I really don’t think we would have ever gotten around to doing it. And so, this was very much made for the fans. I really have always wanted to see it made, but that really helped push me to make it. And I saw that, once you put it out there, you have to make it. Now, I’ll be getting those calls from Danny, “When are we doing Machete Kills Again?,” meaning we have to do Machete Kills and then Machete Kills Again. I’ll be hearing that for the next several years, until they’re made, so we might as well go and make them.
Would you shoot them back-to-back?
Robert: I don’t know. We could. They’d have to just be really good. You want to surprise people and make really great movies.
Danny: I sent Robert a text from England, where some guys had tattooed that picture of Machete on their backs. I thought, “Wow, I hope they like the movie.”
Robert: That pushed us to make the movie as great as possible. We were like, “We have to have someone like Robert DeNiro in this movie, in order to satisfy the fans who have tattooed themselves with Machete.” It became such a thing that it couldn’t just be a movie. It had to have a lot of layers, it had to have a lot going on and it had to surprise people, how much it could do and achieve. And then, it became this awesome responsibility because this is like the Latin James Bond. This is the first Latin action superhero in Hollywood cinema, so it had to be something that lived up to that ‘cause that’s what people responded to when they saw the trailer. Everybody said, “Hey, how come no one has thought to do this before? This is such a great idea, to have this highly trained guy from the very brutal world of Mexican drug cartels, battling that corruption and coming here to the States and finding some corrupt individuals and deciding to investigate.” I thought that was just a very fun character and needed to live up to that.
Do you know what the final body count is?
Robert: No, I don’t ‘cause it goes back and forth. Sometimes people get killed, and sometimes they just get injured. It wasn’t about killing everybody, so I had to pick and choose. Sometimes he’ll let a whole group of people live. If they’re seriously coming to kill him, he’ll have to take them out. But, if he’s going to them, he just gets the information he needs and moves on. He’s a cop, so he knows when he’s got to pull a gun and kill the person trying to kill him, and he also knows when he’s got to let people go.
How did you decide on using a weed wacker?
Robert: There was just so much fun to be had with the idea of people walking into your house with all kinds of implements of danger and needing to use one. I thought the weed wacker would be the most fun because it would just be pretty annoying to get hit by a weed wacker.
Danny: I was fighting Nimrod [Antal], the director of Predators. That was a blast.
Robert: Everyone had a great time beating up on Nimrod. They were taping him up and putting tape on his mouth. The props guys were like, “We’re so enjoying throwing him around.” He did a terrific job. He spoke Hungarian and I wanted somebody with an accent, so he was great.
Do you worry about people getting offended by this film?
Robert: There are real issues going on in just about any movie that’s got fun elements to it. This is just something that’s very current. It really polarizes people because it is a real issue. People want to see an answer. Our answer, in the movie, is Machete because it is such a huge problem, not that he’s even trying to solve it. It’s just part of the background. The characters all have their point of view in the movie, and the only reason they’re doing things, and doing them in such polar opposite ways, is because there’s no system. It really just points to the fact that there’s no system and a system has to be created, or people will create their own system because you’re ignoring the problem. It always points back to government. They could avoid all of this, if they just did something. And then, from that, we go into our other storyline. It’s just a backdrop to show that here is a problem that exists and will continue to exist until somebody does something about it.
Danny: I think we’re going to make everybody happy equally, and we’re going to offend everybody equally.
Robert: Personally, I just think it’s really hard to take it seriously. It’s just great timing to see that it has to do with issues that are real ‘cause you watch it with a different eye. If it wasn’t a hot topic right now, you would watch it and not think much about it. It would just be normal backdrop. This just much more recreates the feeling of a true exploitation film from the ‘70s or ‘80s.
How do you feel about this movie being so relevant now?
Robert: There are a lot of real issues and things that go on that, if you’re doing a character like this, you have to have him live in that, in order to have his backdrop. James Bond is in the spy world, so you have to have things that he would really encounter. My point of view was really just to have a fabric and background to be able to put this character in, that will change from movie to movie. It will be some other thing, in the next film, to give it weight ‘cause it just needs that balance. When you have something this outrageous, with a guy running out of a hospital on an intestinal tract, you’ve got to balance it with something that brings it into some kind of reality, otherwise you’re just watching made-up stuff. You need to have the balance.
Danny: Along the border, only 4% of the people believe there’s an immigration problem. The other 96% are saying “Que dijo?” We had fun making this movie. The movie is made to entertain. But, any movie that you do, somebody is going to be able to take something negative out of it because of the issues that are at hand. I had a blast making this movie, and the whole cast did. I think we’ll offend everybody equally, and we’ll make everybody happy equally.
What was your favorite Machete kill?
Danny: When I take three heads off at once.
Robert: The intestine one is a good one. The music helps build that up.
Robert, are you working on Spy Kids 4?
Robert: Yes, we start shooting that in a few weeks. There are new kids. I don’t know how much more I can say. I can’t give away too much, but it’s going to be really awesome.
Are you using sets or green screen?
Robert: It’s a lot like the first one, so there is some green screen, but mostly sets. It’s more real.
Are you also going to do Deadpool?
Robert: I don’t know. I’m not sure what I’m going to do next. That’s still in the brain.