Fantastic Fest preview: Robert Rodriguez talks about opening night film 'Machete Kills'

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Image Credit: Rico Torres

How do you get your film screened as the opening-night movie of Fantastic Fest? Try making a joke. That, at least, was the origin of Machete Kills, the sequel to 2010’s action-packed Machete and the film whose world premiere will kick off proceedings at this year’s genre event in Austin, Texas, which runs September 19-26. “At the very last minute, I put at the end credits, as a joke, ‘Coming soon Machete Kills and Machete Kills Again,’” explains director Robert Rodriguez. “But people thought for sure they were coming and kept on asking for it. So because of popular demand, we went and made another.”

Machete once again stars Danny Trejo as the titular hero, and he is again surrounded by a starry cast of actors, including Michelle Rodriguez, Sofia Vergara, Amber Heard, Charlie Sheen (credited under his birth name of “Carlos Estevez”), Antonio Banderas, Jessica Alba, Vanessa Hudgens, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Lady Gaga as a hit woman called The Chameleon.

Below, Rodriguez talks more about Machete Kills — which screens at 5:45 p.m. this Thursday — and the likelihood that Trejo’s Machete will indeed … kill again!

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Machete is a very crazy film — not least for its lead character’s imaginative use of intestines as a replacement for rope. How does Machete Kills compare?
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ:
 We’re definitely doing Machete as a James Bond film. It’s really big, and there are a lot of characters, a lot of great actors, and the fun factor is really dialed up. People would tell me what they liked about Machete is how much fun it was. They were surprised at how fun it was. So we really wanted to play that up. It’s a grand adventure.

Tell us about the plot.
There’s a missile aimed at Washington and the only person they can send in is Machete, who’s actually working for the president himself. And it completely makes sense that they would send him. You joke about the intestines, but what I really wanted to prove in the first film is his resourcefulness. He had to get out of the hospital somehow! And he used that as a way. So, he’s very clever, he’s very resourceful, and that’s what keeps him very surprising and unpredictable.

This is Danny Trejo’s signature role. Were you worried he would kill you in your sleep if you didn’t make a sequel?
He is the biggest fan of Machete. [Laughs]. He would call me constantly about making the first film after we made the original joke trailer (which appeared in 2007’s Rodriguez- and Quentin Tarantino-codirected Grindhouse). And then people demanded that movie, so we made the first movie, and then he would call me about a sequel. So he was the biggest champion of Machete from the beginning. We talked about Machete literally on the set of Desperado — so you can imagine, I’ve been hearing him champion Machete now for 15 years. [Laughs] But he gets his wish! He is as relentless as Machete himself.

The president is played by a certain “Carlos Estevez,” a.k.a. Charlie Sheen. What was he like to work with?
Carlos Estevez is amazing. He was fantastic to work with. He came in and was so professional, so fun, kicked ass, really knocked it out of the park. I’ve known Charlie for a number of years, but I never got to work with him. It was a lot of fun, and that he does it as Carlos Estevez made it even better. I think he could have a whole other career as Carlos Estevez, actually. Carlos Estevez can do no wrong!

Was the idea to use his birth name yours or Charlie’s?
It was both of ours. I had the idea, and I was kind of waiting until we got to our first shoot day to bring it up, and he came to me and pulled me aside and said, “You know what? I want to be credited as Carlos Estevez.” I was like, “I was going to ask you the same thing!”

Who does Mel Gibson play?
He’s sort of our big James Bond villain. Mel is so colorful, Mel is so larger than life, he’s a perfect, very intelligent foil to Machete and is the kind of adversary Machete is not used to going up against at all.

Whose idea was the machine gun bra worn by Sofia Vergara?
It was after I cast her. I said, “Okay, she’s going to come do this movie, I’ve got to make sure she is taken care of and stands out and is very memorable.” That was a difficult thing to come up with. And that’s not all. That’s only what we show so far. There’s more attachments, there’s other things, there’s other stuff her character has to offer that will never be revealed in a trailer but will show up in the movie.

If all goes well with this film, are you going to make Machete Kills Again?
Quite possibly. There’s some hints of it in this movie. This one is like The Empire Strikes Back. It really does leave you with the feeling that you want to see some completion.

Does Danny Trejo get frozen in carbonite at the end of the film?
No, no, no. He doesn’t get frozen in carbonite. But you are left with this feeling that there’s still work to be done.

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