Matt Pais, @mattpais
RedEye movie critic
October 10, 2013
Alexa Vega, now 25, obviously looks much different as a scantily clad badass in “Machete Kills” than she did 13 years ago when the film’s director Robert Rodriguez first started working with her on “Spy Kids.” Yet the filmmaker says he never treated his frequent collaborator like a little girl.
“We went to see ‘Mission: Impossible II’ together just before we started ‘Spy Kids.’ I leaned over to her halfway through the movie and go, ‘You’re going to be so much cooler than Tom Cruise,’” says the director (“Sin City”), 45. “[I was] always thinking of not having her compete with other kids but compete with the adults.”
Vega certainly does that in “Machete Kills,” opening Friday, in which she plays Killjoy, the bodyguard to a brothel where several women (led by Sofia Vergara) join the hunt for Machete (Danny Trejo) as he works to diffuse a bomb connected to a maniac’s heart. In addition to returning cast members including Jessica Alba and Michelle Rodriguez, the film, a sequel to 2010’s “Machete,” also co-stars—seriously—Lady Gaga, Mel Gibson and Charlie Sheen (credited by his birth name, Carlos Estevez).
At the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, Vega and Rodriguez talked about Machete’s future, the off-screen kindness of onscreen badasses and Vega’s transition to Hollywood adulthood.
No job lasts forever. What do you see Machete doing down the line once he has to hang up his machete?
Alexa Vega: Oh, gosh. He’s so nice. One thing that Danny always says that I really liked is that [Machete’s] the kind of guy that if somebody goes out of town he would water their flowers, but if somebody breaks into their house he’d kill ‘em. [Laughs] He has that really sweet side but then that deadly side.
If you did “Machete Knits,” would people still call him Machete?
Robert Rodriguez: They’d still call him Machete. He’ll always be Machete. Even in a nursing home, he’d be Machete.
AV: Oh my gosh!
RR: He’d be one to be feared.
AV: “Machete Nursing Home.” I didn’t even think of that. That’d be great.
Does that storyline interest you?
RR: I know where he would be because I came up with some idea to have Machete even way into retirement. He would be overseeing a group of other mini-Machete guys, different specialists, and his machete would be in a glass case over his desk. ‘Cause he doesn’t do that anymore. He has such a knowledge base, he would just be a guide and a teacher. Until they all screw up, which they always do, they’d have to break the glass and get his machete out, crawl out there and take care of business. That’s what I was going to do with it.
AV: [Laughs] That’s awesome.
You don’t see that every day.
RR: And everyone in the office can’t wait for him to go back in action because he’s the legend.
You’ve talked about Danny being so different from the character. Mel Gibson called him a “pussycat.” In your experience, how much does that seem to be the case that onscreen badasses can be the opposite in real life?
RR: Always. I worked with a guy named Bill Sadler who played one of the bad guys in “Die Hard 2,” and he made a movie with a bunch of other bad guys. They all became friends. I went over to his house once. And all the bad guys were in his living room that you recognize from all these other movies, and they’re all playing banjos and guitars and crooning Johnny Cash. It was the funniest thing. Seeing the bad guy gang, and they’re all super-sweet.
Do you recall who else was there?
RR: I could name the movies. One of them was the bad guy in a Chuck Norris movie. I should know his name. It’s like a who’s-who of bad guys. It was just amazing to see all those faces in that circumstance. And they’re the sweetest people in the world. And they all hang out together; that’s the only other friend they can find are other bad guys. [Laughs]
AV: Oh my gosh. That’s so sad.
RR: And Danny’s like that. He’s a really sweet guy.
What do you think, Alexa?
AV: Oh, Danny is the absolute sweetest. But he calls me and he always sings to me. When I don’t answer my phone I’ll get a voicemail of him singing Frank Sinatra or something. [Laughs]
Can you give me a sense of how that sounds?
AV: You know what, I have it but I probably shouldn’t play it. [Laughs] I do feel like it’s always the opposite. Even when you see comedians. Usually comedians are very introverted and quiet and it’s not until they say action do they kind of come to life. So I feel like a lot of times people are the opposite. I worked on this movie with a bunch of girls a while back where all these girls were supposed to be really nice. It was probably one of the worst jobs I ever had. Those girls were the meanest girls that I ever worked with! [Laughs]
You were all playing best friends?
AV: Yes! And they were just horrible. It makes me laugh how it really is opposite sometimes. But I’ve been very fortunate in the last few years to be in very good company.
And now you’re an example of onscreen badasses not waving swords all over the place in real life.
AV: [Laughs] With my leather chaps and metal guns ... It’s crazy. It was a really fun character. I’ve never played anything like this before—
RR: I’d hope not.
AV: [laughs] It definitely boosted my confidence for sure, and I had to talk this one into letting me play this role.
Vanessa Hudgens is in the film as well. She also just did “Spring Breakers.” Alexa, did you and Vanessa talk about that transition at all? Both of you are going through something similar, making choices that say, “Hello, over here, not 10 years old anymore!”
AV: [Laughs] No, we never talked about it. I don’t think it’s really something you go and you’re like, “How is your transition going?” [Laughs] It’s something we all have to go through. For some of us it’s easier or harder depending on where you’re coming from. She’s managed to do it really well, and she has a bunch of great projects coming out and I think people are starting to really take her seriously and respect her. And that’s all you hope for. You just want people to take you seriously and respect you in this business.
Robert, when people look at your filmography they may see violent exploitation movies and kid movies. How do you think they should react to something like that?
RR: It’s the same kind of movie.
AV: They’re all fun.
RR: This movie isn’t that different from a “Spy Kids” movie. [Every movie’s] got gadgets; it’s very out there, creative offshoots. ‘Cause I started as a cartoonists. Some are for little kids; the other ones are for big kids. [Laughs] They all have similar humor. People say, “How can you make two kinds of movies?” Well, if you have kids you know what it’s like. You have a certain voice when you’re around your kids, and you have a certain voice when you’re around your friends. You talk completely differently to both groups, and you’re still yourself. That’s kind of how my movies are.
On Chicago food: “I really like Sunda. But all the restaurants are really good here.” (AV) [Topolobampo] and Frontera Grill] are good.” (RR)
On shooting “Innocent” in Chicago: “I wish it was under better circumstances, but the film was all shot in one take and it was in February so it was snowing outside and it’s a story about a kidnapping. I had to run through the snow barefoot in a dress, and it was for a mile. It was two hours of filming. It was miserable … [We filmed] seven days. We only used one take … That’s when I broke my shoulder; I fell out of a Jeep. It was bad! [Laughs] (AV)
On seeing women’s strength growing up with five sisters: “I don’t want to say we got into fights, but they would beat the crap out of me. [Laughs] They would not stop! And you can’t hit back so … My mom, raising 10 kids, being a nurse and raising 10 kids. It’s a long line of strong females. My grandmother--really strong women.” (RR)
On empowering his female characters: “It’s an exploitation film, but we try to make it different from the real exploitation films of the ‘70s and ‘80s. The women are really empowered to be able to stand toe to toe with Machete. Michelle Rodriguez, Sofia Vergara, those are like female Machetes. They spend the whole movie chasing him down, and he’s always on the run from them. ‘Cause they are so strong. And they bring the sexy. All these women I cast because of their strength. Amber Heard, Lady Gaga, Sofia, Michelle, Alexa: They’re just really strong women. And that’s sexy to me. So you can dress ‘em up and they’re just going to be sexy because of their strength. And you don’t look like they’re putting it on because that’s how strong they are. They really can kick people’s ass. This kind of movie really is geared toward guys and what we call, they like to identify themselves as, ‘kick-ass females.’ [Laughs] Kick-ass females love this kind of movie.” (RR)
What Rodriguez told Vega about her role in “Machete Kills”: “’Sofia Vergara plays this really strong character. She has some girls in her group. There’s no real standout, but you can either stand out or you can step into the background if you don’t feel comfortable. See if you even like this first. Because if you’re not confident in yourself no one’s going to cast you because then they can see it in your eyes that you’re saying ‘Give me an adult role’ but you’re not really able to convince somebody.’ … She took over. She got the most audacious outfit, grabbed the gun, got right next to Sofia and put herself front and center.”
On a world in which Charlie Sheen is the president (as he is in “Machete Kills”): “It’s a fun one!” (AV) “It’s a good world … We’ve had some pretty out there presidents and we’re still here, so, yeah, I think we’ll be ok. He fits right in with some of the presidents we’ve had.” (RR)
Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U
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