Interview with Rober Rodriguez on the eve of his upcoming new film
Why did Robert Rodriguez step into the realm of the reboot? Find out when Hollywood’s ‘rebel with a film crew’ reveals the secrets behind his engineering the rebirth of fearsome cool with ‘Predators.’ Settle in with the first in a series of Personalities Interviews on one of the summer’s most anticipated blockbusters.
Robert Rodriguez knows how to make an entrance. Standing tall at 6’2, he walks. Scratch that. He swaggers, into the mess hall in Buestrop, TX that feeds the cast and crew of his latest production, “Predators.” A self-avowed guerilla-style filmmaker, Rodriguez makes a point to live out his artistic manifesto. He shoots, cuts, writes, directs and composes each fiery frame of his work. Yet, despite his commanding physical presence, he possesses a curiously soft way of speaking. It is a striking contrast to the leather hat and sturdy biker boots he favors. But make no mistake, Rodriguez is the embodiment of his own cinematic aesthetic: Tough, honest, bold and blazing with innovation. He is a true rebelde of the art form. Today, on a chilly December afternoon in his native Texas, he is the producer sitting down to talk about how he carefully revived the “Predator” film series. One of 20th Century Fox’s most enduring properties, the 1987 sci-fi action epic starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (pictured below) played a key role in redefining the genre as a leading moneymaker. While the studio has gone on to revisit the creature in a spin-off series based on the “Alien vs. Predator” comic books, it has yet to release a “Predator” only film since the sequel to the original released in 1990. With the industry in the midst of revisiting its libraries to “reboot” into new incarnations, the arrival of “Predators” is not so surprising after such a long hiatus. Yet, what is surprising is how long Fox has wanted for Rodriguez to offer his own unique spin on the material. Since his legendary 1992 debut with “El Mariachi” at the Sundance Film Festival, Rodriguez has become a genre onto himself. He set himself apart from the indie film pack quickly, rising up with such influential films include “From Dusk ‘til Dawn,” “Once Upon a Time in Mexico,” “Sin City” and the “Grindhouse” collaboration with Quentin Tarantino, “Planet Terror”. While he has amassed a loyal ensemble of actors and artists over the years, he still retains the aura of being a “rebel without a crew.” It is interesting to note that Rodriguez ultimately did not choose to direct “Predators.” With a full schedule already in play at his Troublemaker Studios, Rodriguez chose Nimrod Antal to helm the project. Still, in watching the early footage from the “Predators,” that certain Rodriguez-ness remains very much at work. Infused by an almost comic fearlessness, the film spices up its epic drama with classic macho men and equally powerful, sexy women who venture into a fantastic world and exit in front of a fireball. Fox first engaged Rodriguez to write a sequel over a decade ago, a time when Rodriguez was still making his name within the industry. While the project was ultimately shelved, fate intervened when the current studio regime came across the script anew. Today, Fox and Rodriguez have forged a new alliance, bringing his Troublemaker banner to the studio in the process. With “Predators” now in post-production and an on target for its key summer release date, expectations are high to see and hear exactly how Rodriguez and company nurtured a piece touted as “fear reborn.” The towering alien warriors remain very much what fans remember, but something else has been added into the mix. As for their very human sparring partners? Why not assemble a disparate group of actors to portray these soldiers, mercenaries, hired guns and stone-cold killers who are mysteriously dropped onto an unknown planet to teach them a few lessons? Has it been mentioned that standing along side such genre favorites as Danny Trejo, Alice Braga and Laurence Fishburne are Topher Grace and Oscar winner Adrien Brody? “They get to do a part they don’t normally get offered,” Rodriguez smiled. “I’ve always found them rise to the challenge, so I was excited to see that happen again.” A lot is riding on this new breed of “Predators,” which could potentially usher in more installments. But first, Rodriguez wants to make good in that team Troublemaker delivers a film that will excite audiences, the loyal Predator fans. “Our main goal was just to show fans that this was not the ‘Aliens vs. Predator,” Rodriguez added. “They wanted a return to the kind of Predator they could get excited about. I think that’s what we’re able to get across. This is exciting and new, yet that felt like it was going to fit right into their favorite number one. It isn’t going to be cheeseball.” Here’s more with Rodriguez as he talks about making “Predators” and why he’s drawn to darker shades of man and alienkind to really scare an audience into having a hell of a good time at the movies.
JORGE CARREON: How was it that the prospect of a “Predator” sequel came through on your radar?
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: Well it’s funny. I was originally asked to write this script in 1994. It was a little ahead of its time. It took place on another planet and it had a lot of special effects. It had a lot of production value that was going to be kind of hard to pull off for the time period. It got put on a shelf, while the franchise ended up going in a different direction with the “Alien vs. Predator” movies. It wasn’t until recently, when Fox saw the success of the new “Batman” movies and how they were able to revive these series, that the studio wanted to sort of reinvigorate old franchises of their favorite classic characters. They wanted to redo “Predator” and found my old script. They said, “This is what we should have done. Let’s do something like this.” When you have a classic character like the Predator, you can always do something unique and people always remember something particular. And, as always, if it’s a good movie, people will remember it.
CARREON: As a filmmaker, you have continuously expressed yourself as also being a genre fan. Given what you’ve added to popular culture with your films, what was it about the Predator that you respected most?
RODRIGUEZ: The Predator is such an enduring character. When I thought about making this movie, I went around my office to the people that I work with, all of my artists. They all had Predator dolls and busts in their rooms. People still love this character. I knew there was something about it in a very primal way. Because it’s somewhat humanoid, you can identify with it. It has human characteristics to it, which draws people to it as well. I knew that there were still stories to be told with it.
CARREON: In terms of this particular project, what did you want to do different that the previous two films in the “Predator” series?
RODRIGUEZ: They had already done a sequel that took place in a city. I knew that going back to the jungle in some way would be like going back to its roots, which would be more ideal. For these Predators, it made sense that they’d go to a hunting planet. They would have it almost like a game preserve. It’s another planet so it doesn’t look completely like Earth, but you still have that tension of being lost in the jungle. It’s filled with these creatures you don’t quite understand, plus you have to figure out that you’re the hunted. It was great to be able to go back to that feel. It has a familiarity to it, but you know you’re going into completely different territory because you don’t know what’s chasing you at any point in time. That’s what’s exciting about it.
CARREON: The title may reflect multiple Predators, but it also encompasses the group of human killers that are brought in to do battle with these deadly aliens. Was that always the intent?
RODRIGUEZ: The idea was to have this title that had a double meaning. Are you talking about the humans or are you talking about the creatures chasing them. If they were on this hunting planet and the Predator creatures never showed up, they would probably kill each other. I wanted it to have that sort of dynamic from the beginning, that was always the original concept that we wanted to bring through later drafts, too
CARREON: You carefully chose archetypes from all over the world to create an ensemble of characters that are not entirely likeable. Why?
RODRIGUEZ: I brought in some new writers to help flush out the original concept and they brought in the idea of making them archetypes. When you read the script you do think, “None of these people are likable. They’re all killers.” It seems like a challenge, but it’s not. Once you cast faces and people, you can’t help but like somebody, [LAUGHS] especially if you know where they’re coming from. No matter how bad they are, usually the worse they are the better, you kind of like them even more. Everyone has a dark side, so I think everyone is somewhat likable in this movie. The actors bring so much of that out. They are all very compelling and very fun to watch. The intensity within the group is great. So, by the time they encounter the Predators, you want to see the humans win. The idea was to take each one of these characters and flesh them out in that you could see them being in their own movie.
CARREON: With this current vogue of reboots, reinventions, remakes, what have you, you opted to take some risks in casting actors not know for work in the action genre. How did that impact the project?
RODRIGUEZ: You’re trying to make the best movie possible. You want to invigorate a series. You want to take something that’s a classic character, so why not pair him with classic characters and actors that can really pull it off. You’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t give it your best shot. And, if you can get the interest of great actors because you have a great script, get the best actors you can. It’ll make it so much more believable, much more compelling, and make it a much better movie. It elevates the game completely to bring in the best. I love working with great actors. When I did “Sin City,” I got the best actors possible. Yeah, you’re making a comic book movie, but don’t cast it that way [LAUGHS]. Cast it with Bruce Willis (pictured above), Mickey Rourke and Benicio del Toro. Then you’ll have a very elevated piece of entertainment. So that was the idea, to get an Oscar winning actor like Adrien Brody to play a lead in something that usually goes to a bulked up actor or someone that you’ve just seen it done so many times. That’s not fresh. It’s not the chance you want to take. You have to be bold in something like this. For me it was the idea of taking these actors that I’ve always admired and knowing that I finally had something I can do with them. All my cover letters to the script read, “Here’s something you can sink your teeth into. It’s something that you’ll have several turns as a character to constantly surprise the audience and yourself. And get to do things you normally don’t get to do.” That’s what usually attracts people to the movies that I make. That’s what I sort of live for in seeing, too. This sort of unusual casting is so much more gratifying.
CARREON: If Hitchcock has his blondes, we now have the “Rodriguez Woman.” It adds a nice dimension, particularly when you have such a specific crew of Alpha males running around.
RODRIGUEZ: It turned out that Alice Braga (pictured below) was just the best actress for this part. It wasn’t written for a Latina in particular, and she doesn’t play Latina in particular. I had been a fan of hers before. When she did her reading, we looked at her and went, “Can we just hire her please?” [LAUGHS] She’s just so terrific. I do like strong women in my movies. I have five sisters, so I’ve just grown up with that model. We didn’t want it to be that girl in the action movie where you can tell it was maybe written for a guy and they just changed the name for a woman. You really want to commit to having a great, believable character that you can really see doing this. It started out on the page and then Alice brought it to life. You really buy it.
CARREON: Let’s talk about the morality we see on screen. These are dark themes wrapped up in a lot action and popcorn entertainment. It’s never a black and white world. Do you ever thing, “Who will people end up cheering for in the carnage? The humans or the aliens?”
RODRIGUEZ: There are two truths. You can see the Predators’ side and you can see the humans’ side. They’re both correct because they’re all being true to their nature. They’re being consistent with who they are, and who they are is what you’re there to see.
CARREON: A lot of your films have this nihilistic appeal. Do you have a strong code for yourself? Is it “me first and everybody else second?” Or, is something a bit more hopeful in this story?
RODRIGUEZ: You always want to believe that you’re thinking of yourself first, but you really aren’t, [LAUGHS] At the end of the day, none of them really end up just going for themselves. They know that’s kind of what it takes to survive, but no one can really handle that.
CARREON: This is the first time you’re taking on an existing franchise. Why not direct a project in which you had already invested a lot of ideas?
RODRIGUEZ: This was a very different project. When I was waiting for “Desperado” (with Antonio Banderas & Salma Hayek, left) to be made, I was hired only as a writer for “Predators.” I had come up with the idea of this planet. I wrote a script and then I was going to be done with it. It felt strange because I put a lot of ideas that I really liked into it, but I knew I wouldn’t get to direct it. That wasn’t part of the deal. So, for it to come back to me so many years later, and to have the studio ask me, “Would you like to direct it now?” I couldn’t because I was directing something else I said, “I would still like to be involved in it. I always did like it. How about if I produced it through Troublemaker Studios and find a director?” That way I could still be part of it and work on it in some way and have input in it. Fox agreed. That’s how I got involved and found a great director and a writing team and used my crew. It’s as close to getting to make a “Predator” movie as I could get without having to go make the “Predator movie.”
CARREON: The director you did choose, Nimrod Antal (pictured below with Rodriguez) has such a passion for this project. He’s definitely a true “Predator” fan.
RODRIGUEZ: We’re “Nimrodriguez.” We got along instantly. When he came in, sat down, we started talking. I thought, “I can hang out with this guy. I can make a movie with this guy. Let me ask him a number of other questions, watch the rest of his films.” He was clearly the guy. He was a big fan of “Predator.” You know, a lot of this is you meet someone and you know that they’ve got an energy that jives and it just was confirmed as we worked together. We looked at some creature drawings and I said, “I like that one and that one.” It turns out those were the ones he had also picked. We have very similar tastes, yet he has his own style. I get to watch it as a fan, yet there’s a connection to what I was trying to do originally. He’s done such a great job and he’s got such enthusiasm. I said, “This is you, making it. I’m not going to be there shooting right next to you.” [LAUGHS] He took that challenge to just go for it, you know? It’s been great.
CARREON: In the original “Predator,” a lot of its bells and whistles, like the invisible cloaking and infrared, were considered high tech in 1986. What did you want to achieve in terms of effects with the arsenal you have at your disposal today at Troublemaker Studios?
RODRIGUEZ: It helps that I have my own CG artists at Troublemaker all the time. If I have an idea, they can render it out. If a director has an idea, they can render it out and we can take a look at it. We’re doing cloaking and infrared, experimenting just for fun. We’re excited about seeing things in advance that you normally wouldn’t see until the end of the movie as you’re doing the effects. We kind of work in a non-linear way where when you’re inspired with an idea that see as you go and play around with it. Partly it is just what comes up in your mind. The other part is having a group of people you can collaborate with that can quickly render these ideas and flush them out and make them beyond what you imagined.
CARREON: We’ve seen the Predator in different incarnations. How did you build upon that existing knowledge and mythology?
RODRIGUEZ: We wanted to make something that answers these questions, “What is it that hunts the hunter? What is it that would kill and hunt a Predator?” We came up with these other more intelligent, stronger, faster, bigger, less codpiece, [LAUGHS] less honorable, more berserker, and more villainous type of Predators. So, there are a couple of tribes. There’s the original tribe that we’re used to and then there was these guys, which are the bad guys. We needed a good villain. The other ones had become so likeable that we needed someone worse than them. You get the best of both worlds. We have a classic Predator, which you haven’t seen since the first movie in its original state because they changed the design so much. It’s really neat to see that original one you saw in the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie and this new breed within the same movie.
CARREON: Both of you and Nimrod have strong and diverse fan followings. Is it a struggle to try and satisfy all quadrants of audiences that enjoy your respective works?
RODRIGUEZ: You try to satisfy yourself as an audience member first, because that’s the barometer that doesn’t change. You can go show it to several different audiences, they’ll all have a different opinion. But, you’ve got to start with your own instincts first and then go from there. A movie goes from several stages, from idea to script. As you continue shooting, you will make some adjustments. You’re constantly adjusting. It’s like a piece of music. You’re constantly trying to make it better. In the case of “Predators,” it’s for anyone who just wants a great movie, an entertaining movie. It’s a surprise movie for those who have been so loyal to the series. You want to deliver for them. And I think we are. The first week we cut together a fake trailer and we showed it to the actors, and they were all saying, “We want to go see that now!” You can tell when something is working and there’s so much of this that worked early on, we were really ahead of the game. We’re very confident that we’ve got something that’s really special.
CARREON: You’ve given the world something new to fear. In the end, who really is the bigger beast?
RODRIGUEZ: What do you think? [LAUGHS] I don’t think anyone can be more of a predator than a human being.
Source: LA Personalities ExaminerJorge Carreon
Entry filed under: LATIN AMERICAN FILM. Tags: Adrien Brody, Alice Braga, antonio banderas, Danny Trejo, Desperado, El Mariachi, From Dusk ‘til Dawn, Grindhouse, Laurence Fishburne, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Planet Terror, Predators, Robert Rodriguez, Salma Hayek, Sin City, Troublemaker Studios.