Fantastic Fest, the wildly popular local film festival devoted solely to genre film oddities, takes over at the Alamo Drafthouse on Lakeline for the next week. The quirky fest has seen explosive growth since its 2005 inception, when it ran for only three days. Now it demands something equally explosive to kick it into high gear.
This year, the rubber will hit the dirt road with the world premiere of the newest action-packed film from director Robert Rodriguez, Machete Kills. It’s the anticipated sequel to 2010’s Machete, which itself began as a fake trailer in the 2007 Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino double-feature Grindhouse.
"I would love to do two [Machete sequels], but I would really love to do three." – director Robert Rodriguez
Actor Danny Trejo once again plays the film series’ eponymous character, a gruff former Mexican federale. Joining Trejo for the sequel is a former co-star from Rodriguez’s Spy Kids film franchise, Alexa Vega. At a Thursday press conference, the director and his two stars offered a look behind the scenes of the latest “Mexploitation” movie from the mind of Rodriguez.
For the Austin-based director, a major challenges was creating a bigger sequel at a quicker pace. “[Machete Kills] was a very short shoot. It was a 29-day shoot, which was 10 days less than the first Machete,” he said. As is the case with many of his projects, Machete Kills was filmed on-site at Troublemaker Studios in Austin. “People would say, ‘Where did you shoot the desert stuff?’" said Rodriguez. "There in the back, where [the former Mueller Airport] and the runways were. It’s all dirt.”
Even with its challenges, Rodriguez was more than excited to return to the world of Machete. “I was excited about doing a couple of sequels. One in particular is that I always wanted to see Machete go into space. I would love to do two, but I would really love to do three.” Fans he talked to at Comic Con were excited by the Machete-in-space concept, so expect to see plenty of glimpses at the idea in Machete Kills.
Rodriguez also had another unique inspiration when it came to the film’s eccentric, billionaire, space-obsessed villain, played by Mel Gibson. “I met a guy, Elon Musk, who created SpaceX, and I went to his factory to see how it would work, because I wanted to see realistically how we could send Machete into space,” says Rodriguez. Like Gibson’s character, Musk is a huge fan of Star Wars, inspiring Rodriguez to make his diabolical villain another sci-fi fanboy.
It's not only successful business magnates who inspire Rodriguez’s characters. His films often feature strong female characters, which he credits to growing up with six sisters. “That’s just my worldview; I grew up with a lot of strong women.” He prefers that his female characters can be easily imagined as the leads in their own movies, and if the opportunity pops up, Rodriguez says he would “love” to do another spinoff of Machete, itself a spinoff.
When asked how he embodies the character of Machete, Trejo simply responded, “I show up,” reminding everyone how the character came to Rodriguez some 20 years ago, when the actor starred in his film Desperado. “[Rodriguez] develops characters that kind of fits somebody’s personality and expressions,” said Trejo. Rodriguez recounts the first and best direction he gave to Trejo when they filmed the original trailer, saying, “Danny, this character is your Charles Bronson.”
It took Vega, who played Carmen Cortez in the Spy Kids franchise, some time to convince Rodriguez to cast her in one of his more grownup features; he still saw her as the child actor from more family-friendly fare. “It’s such a sensitive area when girls are trying to make that transition from those younger characters to a more adult world," she said. "People just quickly put you down. But I am 25. I’m not 16 or 17.”
As Trejo and Rodriguez recounted, it was a bit awkward at first seeing Vega walk out on set in her rather revealing outfit. “It was like the first time your daughter stepped out in a bikini,” said Trejo, “but she was so secure with herself that it made everybody else secure.” The director is known for using the same cast for many of his films, and Vega says that she was “in a very, very comfortable environment.”
In characteristic fashion, Rodriguez focuses on the excitement of the film rather than its challenges. “We were going to run through the candy store and grab as much stuff to put in your pockets before they close the store.”
Machete Kills premieres and screens during Fantastic Fest. See the full festival schedule and get more info here. The film opens in U.S. theaters on October 11.