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Machete - Robert Rodriguez interview

The prolific filmmaker on tricks with nudity, budgets and being Tex Mex

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Machete

Don Johnson in Machete.

Kaleem Aftab catches up with prolific filmmaker Robert Rodriguez as he continues his adventures in exploitation cinema with Machete

Machete first came to the attention of the public as one of the eclectic trailers that appeared in the middle of Grindhouse, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s homage to the 70s cinema experience. Although Grindhouse flopped at the box office there was a sentiment that the Rodriguez trailer, featuring Danny Trejo as a former Mexican federal policeman who goes on the rampage against his former boss, had legs. People kept coming up to Rodriguez and asking him when Machete would be released, so the San Antonio-born director decided to appease his public. ‘While it was inspired by the Grindhouse trailer, I’d come up with the idea for Machete 16 years ago,’ reveals the 42-year-old director. ‘While making Desperado I told Danny Trejo about this movie that had a very strong character that fought against drug cartels and when his family gets killed he moves from Mexico to the States.

Rodriguez first came to prominence with his movie debut El Mariachi in 1992, which was reputedly made for only $7,000. Although still considered a B-movie director he is now such a big name that he can attract stars to any of his projects. So a big play was made out of trying to capture the essence of a low-budget film this time out. ‘That’s why it says “Introducing Don Johnson” in the credits – we pretend that no one has seen him in anything before.’

Innovation, making the best use of resources and a liking for fantasy have been the strings that tie together all Rodriguez’s films, whether he’s making a From Dust till Dawn-style horror thriller or a Spy Kids adventure flick for a Hollywood studio. He’s a director who likes to use tricks and rise to challenges. In Machete, for instance, he wanted to use every scene in the trailer in the actual movie. Then there are the tricks he uses to make the audience think they’re getting more bang for their buck. ‘I tend to put nudity on-screen really early in my movies,’ he explains. ‘In the audience’s mind they then think there is a lot of nudity in the whole film then. Everyone thinks there is a lot of nudity in Sin City but it’s only two cases at the beginning, but in your mind you think everyone is naked from that moment on, that is my little trick.’ It’s a trick that obviously works because it feels as though Lindsay Lohan is naked throughout Machete.

One of the misconceptions about Rodriguez is that he’s a Mexican director, yet to cast him in the same bracket as Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñárritu is facile. ‘They make real Mexican cinema, because they are from Mexico. I’m Tex Mex,’ says Rodriguez. ‘Guillermo Del Toro said to me my movies are very strange, they are like a Mexico that doesn’t exist and I said: “I know, all my movies are a complete fantasy and I use Mexico as a way that people who have never been there might think that maybe it really is a place full of guitar cases packed with guns.”’

The result is a unique brand of Mexican exploitation and it’s almost certain that Machete will ride again. The director says of his penchant for franchise: ‘Once you’ve spent that long developing a character, it’s hard to let go. I already have a great idea for a sequel, Machete Kills.’

Machete is on general release from Fri 26 Nov.

Machete

  • 3 stars
  • 2010
  • US
  • 18
  • Directed by: Robert Rodriguez, Ethan Maniquis
  • Written by: Robert Rodriguez, Álvaro Rodriguez
  • Cast: Danny Trejo, Steven Seagal, Michelle Rodriguez, Jeff Fahey, Cheech Marin, Lindsay Lohan, Don Johnson, with Jessica Alba, and Robert De Niro

Absurdly violent Mexploitation homage starring Trejo as a set-up hitman out for justice, with over-the-top pantomime stylings and a game all-star cast including Don Johnson as a racist sheriff and Cheech Marin as a turbulent priest. Bloody, silly (and bloody silly) but great fun.

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