Compiled by: Jack Foley
FILMMAKER Robert Rodriguez became an overnight sensation in 1993,
with the release of El Mariachi.
A Mexican spaghetti western shot for the microscopic cost of
$7,000 - the film went on to become an international box-office
hit and, by default, made Rodriguez the patron saint of guerilla
Following up on his 1995 film, Desperado, he completes his Mariachi
trilogy with the release of Once Upon A Time In Mexico, starring
Antonio Banderas, Johnny Depp and Salma Hayek.
Q. Can you explain your fascination with spaghetti westerns?
A. I've always loved Spaghetti Westerns and the off-shoots
of such like the Road Warrior movies. I think other people are
inspired by those movies as well. That vision of a loner in a
strange land. That 'West' that Sergio Leone came up with - this
very made up sort of 'West'. That's very much what these Mariachi
movies are about. They're set in a non-realistic Mexico. A mythical
other place where you can go as an audience.
Q. The films also have a strong comic book element...
A. When I had to come do this third one, I was trying to figure
out who The Mariachi was. Well, he's a guy with a guitar case
full of guns. It's not a realistic story. It's almost like a comic
book movie without the comic book.
So I had to start thinking what is the comic that this is based
on. Because it is that type of made up world where anything can
happen. You're dealing with very iconic, representative characters.
So when I had to do the third one, I knew it had to be a little
more epic, that it would have to have more characters, and that
The Mariachi would just be one of them. I had to come up with
equally iconic people to surround him with. It actually became
kind of easy. I thought, "OK a man with no eyes, a man with
no face and a man with no name."
I started doing these little drawings. One guy with blood coming
down his face behind glasses. Another guy, his face completely
bandaged. Him with his guitar case full of guns. You start playing
with these elements. It's almost like constructing a comic book.
Q. Why did you make this third film?
A. It was a mix of things. Originally, I was going to make
three very quickly in a row for Mexican video to practice making
movies. That was the original Mariachi plan. But then El Mariachi
got picked up by Columbia Pictures and got released. So we did
a sequel called Desperado. And that was as far as it was going
to go. I didn't think I would ever really do a third one.
But on the set of Desperado, Quentin Tarantino told me I had to
do a third one. It was my 'Dollars Trilogy'. He loved the Sergio
Leone movies more than I did. And he said this was my chance.
That no one had done this since Sergio Leone. I had to do part
three and it had to be epic. It had to be the big one. The Good
The Bad and The Ugly one. "But you've got to call it Once
Upon A Time in Mexico."
This was in 1994, when we were filming. I just thought, let's
just get through this first. That sounds interesting
someday. A few years later the studio called. Desperado had picked
up quite an audience on video and cable. They said people would
really come out and see another one.
Even the first one only did so much at the box office, but people
have picked it up and discovered it since then. I said, "Well
if we do, we'd have to make it bigger and call it Once Upon A
Time in Mexico," because now that's in my head! I have to
do it that way! And they said, "Sure, that's the way we want
to do it." That's kind of how it came about. It was a mix
of me wanting to complete that trilogy that I'd always dreamed
about at the larger scale Quentin Tarantino talked about.
Q. According to Antonio Banderas, you gave him three weeks
notice before shooting but hadn't written a script yet?
A. Spy Kids had just come out. I had seen these new digital
cameras that George Lucas had. Even though I wanted to make the
movie, I didn't want to shoot it on film. It would be too cumbersome
and take the feeling of the first two movies away because it would
be such a bigger movie. But when I saw these digital cameras,
I thought we can make anything with these cameras. It'll feel
like the first Mariachi. We'll be able to move very quickly. And
even though it will be a more epic tale, it will be done in the
Q. But three weeks?
A. Yeah. He asked me for the script and I told him I hadn't
written it yet. I told the studio, "I've got great new script
for the Mexican movie - you want to make it?" They said "Sure,
when are we getting the script?" I said, "I'll send
it next week". Then I had to finish writing it. The actors
strike was coming up, so we only had a certain amount of time
to do it. Because then I would have to do these other Spy Kids
movies which we already had dates for. I said we have to make
the movie right now. It's the only time we could make it.
Q. When you shot the first Mariachi, you had to compromise
on action sequences as you had no budget. Did any of those things
you wanted to do end up in this film?
A. Kind of. There's a big scene that we couldn't do for Desperado,
even, because it too big and too hard back then. Well, that was
the scene you see now - climbing down a building, handcuffed.
That was straight out of the Desperado script. I cut that out.
So this movie, of course, inherited it.
Q. What is it about this character which stayed with you over
A. I like the mystery of the character. Usually, it's a big
'no-no' to make a movie with an artist as the hero. Because they
tend to be internalized characters. They should be ex-cops or
something. That's what everyone says. But I liked the artist as
the hero. Because he is more internal. He is a very romantic character.
For me, each movie is like a different tragic love song you can
add to his repertoire. It's also a good mix when you combine it
with these other characters who are more active in the film.
If you've got Johnny Depp talking the whole time, he doesn't have
to say much. The only time we know what he's thinking is when
he prays or he's playing his music. The music does a lot of the
talking for him. So it is a very tragic romantic character. And
mysterious because of the guitar case. Instead of being a guitar
in there, like he would like it to be, it's guns. He always has
to take them up against his will.
Q. And Johnny Depp's character?
A. I just liked the idea of this character who just lives
down there in Mexico and thinks he's running the country with
his cell phone.
Q. Did having 'Rodriguez' as a last name help shooting in
A. I can get away with a lot more. I can cast Willem Dafoe
as a Mexican. 'Well if Rodriguez is doing it, it must be alright'
There are some very non P.C. things that I do that are part of
the fun of these movies. In the end, the Mexicans do get the respect
and take back their own country, though.
Q. How much of a statement did you want to make with Johnny
Depp playing a CIA agent?
A. Well, if you look really close at his CIA tee-shirt, it
says 'Cleavage Inspection Agency'
It's just a sideline.
I just thought it was an interesting character. A meddling American
going into yet another country.
Q. nd did Johnny Depp provide his own wardrobe?
A. Oh yeah! Johnny brought all his own tourist T-shirts that
you see in the film.
Q. What was the budget for this film?
A. $29 Million. I wish it was 27. Then it would have been
budgets of $7000, $7 million, $27 million (laughs).
Q. Has your approach to filmmaking changed as a result of
having bigger budgets at your disposal?
A. It's all relative. I actually tried to take it back much
more to what I was doing on Mariachi. Especially on this movie
as I shot it before Spy Kids II and III. I wanted to do my own
lighting and production design - all the things I did for Mariachi
when I had no crew. This being the third one, and since we were
shooting it digital, I thought we could really strip it back down.
Even though it's a bigger movie, it wasn't made in this big machine
Hollywood way. It would really be much more like an independent
film again. I really enjoyed doing all those things again.
Q. The violence factor in some of your films has drawn comparisons
with Quentin Tarantino...
A. I don't know. Maybe in Kill
Bill. Kill Bill has a much more of an over the top mentality.
My movies never got criticized like his did, though, because his
were so much more realistic. The tone is everything. My movies
are so much more comic book and over the top, I never got criticized
for the violence in mine.
Q. Do you see a similarity?
A. No. Because of that. His are more realistic, which is why
people think his movies are more violent than mine. It's really
a matter of tone.
Q. You had to tone down the poster for Once Upon A Time in
A. Yeah. They have a 'two gun per person' rule at the MPAA
[Motion Picture Association of America]. He had another gun strapped
in on the poster so it actually looked like he had four... Well,
I liked the sound of that rule so I complied. Sounds like a rule
from Texas, don't you think?
The thing is they just arbitrarily
make these rules. You can fight them if you want, but I thought
it was funny so I just went ahead and did it. Also the gun can't
be pointed at the camera. Did you know that? So we had to move
his hand over a little bit more as well.
Q. Did you have any problems shooting in Mexico?
A. No. They were very accommodating. We had a great experience
shooting there. A wonderful experience.
Q. Do you feel at all confined by doing sequels?
A. Just the opposite. You're freed up a lot. So much worry
in a movie is about 'is anyone going to show up after all this
work you do'. Will it draw an audience in? When you're doing a
sequel, you know people are going to show up, because they already
know the first one. You know that on the day the movie opens there's
not going to be an empty theatre. With that worry gone, you can
go experiment a lot with the movie that you're working on. Shoot
digital. Try composing. Hire different actors and do strange things
with them. Because you're not worried about an audience not showing
up. You're making what you think feels right. And they'll enjoy
it more because you're getting very free and very experimental.
You can try wacky things because you're not worried that it might
put some people off. Because they're going to show up anyway.
Q. Did the studio give you more freedom this time?
A. A lot more freedom. When I tell them I'm going to shoot
this digital and do my own production design, etc, they go, "Alright".
Because they also know they'll get an audience.
Q. When you first met Antonio Banderas, did you imagine he
would have the career he has now?
A. I wasn't surprised. Let's put it that way. I always thought
he was talented. But with an actor it's difficult. The role has
to be there. A director can always just go make his next movie.
An actor, however, is depending on someone casting him in a good
movie with a good part. That's where your next job comes from.
There are a lot of talented people who get in a bad movie and
you never see or hear from them again. Antonio? He's a really
hard worker. Very talented. And he can do many different things.
That's why he's stayed around so long.
Q. Why did you cast Enrique Iglesias?
A. I love Rio Bravo. Remember Ricky Nelson was in that movie?
So I thought, I got to do a little Ricky Nelson type thing here.
The Mariachi has these two musicians that are with him all the
time. Well, I thought at least one of them should be a real musician.
You know, I always have these guys faking playing
he was a bit scared when I first called him. Especially when he
heard who was in the cast. "I don't know if I want to be
in that movie. I don't want to screw it up. I never acted before."
In the end, he came, fit right in, and did a great job.