DATE March 7, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Clint Eastwood discusses his acting career
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev in for Terry Gross.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) Yah! Keep movin', movin', movin'. Oh,
they're disapproving. Keep them doggies movin', rawhide. Don't try to...
BOGAEV: It's been 40 years since Clint Eastwood herded cattle on the TV
Western "Rawhide." This Sunday, he receives a Lifetime Achievement Award from
the Screen Actors Guild. Today we'd like to honor him in our own way. After
his turn on "Rawhide," Eastwood teamed up with Italian director Sergio Leone
for the spaghetti Westerns "A Fistful of Dollars" and "The Good, the Bad,
and the Ugly." These films began his transformation from actor to icon.
(Soundbite of movie)
Unidentified Man #2: Listen, stranger, didn't you get the idea we don't like
to see bad boys like you in town? Go get your mule. You let him get away
Mr. CLINT EASTWOOD: You see, that's what I want to talk to you about. He's
feelin' real bad.
Unidentified Man #2: Huh?
Mr. EASTWOOD: My mule. You see, he got all riled up when you went and fired
those shots at his feet. You see, I understand you men were just playing
around, but the mule, he just doesn't get it. Of course, if you were to all
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. EASTWOOD: I don't think it's nice, you laughing. You see, my mule don't
like people laughing. He gets the crazy idea you're laughing at him. Now if
you'll apologize like I know you're going to, I might convince him that you
really didn't mean it.
(Soundbite of gunshots; horse whinnying)
BOGAEV: After Eastwood reworked the Western genre, he revitalized cop movies
with his "Dirty Harry" series.
(Soundbite of movie)
Mr. EASTWOOD: I know what you're thinking, punk. You're thinking, has he
fired six shots or only five? Now to tell you the truth, I've forgotten
myself in all this excitement, but being this is a .44 Magnum, the most
powerful handgun in the world, hell, it'll blow your head clean off, you could
ask yourself a question: `Do I feel lucky?' Well, do you, punk?
(Soundbite of laughter, gunshots)
BOGAEV: Following years as an action hero, blowing people away on screen,
Clint Eastwood directed and starred in the movie "Unforgiven," which reflected
on the cost of violence.
(Soundbite of "Unforgiven")
Mr. EASTWOOD: It's a hell of a thing, killing a man. You take away all he's
got and all he's ever gonna.
BOGAEV: Clint Eastwood's latest film "Blood Work" is now out on DVD. He's
currently working on an adaptation of the Dennis Lehane novel "Mystic River."
Terry spoke to Eastwood in 1996 following the publication of his biography,
which was written by Time magazine film critic Richard Schickel.
TERRY GROSS, host:
Many of the roles you've played have been men who are very strong, but men of
few words, and it's ironic that your screen test for "Rawhide" was a long
monologue that you were really uncomfortable with because you were having
trouble at the time just remembering all of the words in this long monologue,
and you didn't think of that as your strength as an actor. What do you think
came through about you even though you missed some of the words in the
Mr. EASTWOOD: Well, it was amusing because they told me it was going to be an
interview test, and I'd done interview tests before, and...
GROSS: This is where you just talk with the director?
Mr. EASTWOOD: Exactly, you just talk with the director, and I dislike those
intensely because sometimes they ask you what you--you know, `What's your
name? Why did you do this? Why'--it's a quick interview, usually by somebody
who doesn't know how to do interviews. And you sit there on film and look
sort of drop-jawed. But this was a test where they said, `Here, would you
like--how are you at learning lines?' I said, `Pretty good.' And the guy
said, `Here, well, here's a whole page of dialogue.' He said, `Could you be
ready to do this in a half-hour?' And so I thought, well, I'd just take the
different beats and play those, the different changes in the scene, kind of
play those up and see how it would go and just use my own words. The director
happened to be the writer in that case, he liked every word that he had
written, so he was a little bit taken aback, but it worked out all right in
the end because the people who viewed it and made the final decision didn't
know the dialogue and could care less. They just wanted to see a look and a
GROSS: Why do you think you've gravitated to parts that are parts of few
words? Is it that you don't like to remember, you know, or learn lines, or is
it a sensibility thing, that you gravitate more toward that?
Mr. EASTWOOD: No, it's just a sensibility thing. I think in the case of
"Fistful of Dollars," first feature film I played in...
GROSS: With Sergio Leone.
Mr. EASTWOOD: With Sergio Leone--that I thought that the character would be
much more interesting the less he spoke, the less you knew about him. I
thought he'd be a more interesting character. And that often happens when
you're doing a character in a play. That person who talks so--after a while,
you know, you get tired of hearing the conversation. You want to know what's
inside. Sometimes in the silent moment you can set up more of an effect than
you can by just rambling on reams of dialogue. But later on, it's changed.
In my last picture they couldn't shut me up.
GROSS: Well, in some of your action roles and some of your Westerns and,
like, "Dirty Harry" films, you not only don't say a lot, but what you do say,
you're saying often through clenched teeth...
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: ...you know, in that really guttural voice. How did you develop that
style of speaking?
Mr. EASTWOOD: (Through clenched teeth) I don't know what you're talking
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. EASTWOOD: Well, I think that the character just drives you in that, the
character who is maybe frustrated with the things that the common person on
the street are frustrated with--the bureaucracy that we live in, the nightmare
that we as a civilization have placed on ourselves. And I think this is a
person who is frustrated with that, especially if you're trying to solve a
case in a limited amount of time. So--and I don't know. It's just the
thought at the time.
GROSS: When you're doing a line like `Make my day' and you know, `OK, this is
a really good line,' do you, like, go home and do line readings and go, `Make
my day. Make my day. Make my day,' and just do it over and over until you
figure out exactly how you want to do it?
Mr. EASTWOOD: Looking into the bathroom mirror...
Mr. EASTWOOD: ...and doing some of your best acting there.
GROSS: `Are you talking to me?'
Mr. EASTWOOD: No, I don't go over the lines. I don't play them out loud.
I'd rather play them for the first time when I do them.
GROSS: No, really?
Mr. EASTWOOD: And I usually do them by the motivation of what the feelings
are at the time. So I start them from what the intent is and then let it kind
of go out. It's sort of like blowing through a trumpet or something. You
start and the sound magnifies as it comes out. If you sit there and practice
line readings to yourself, you'll just get confused.
GROSS: I want to get to your spaghetti Westerns, the films you made with
Sergio Leone. You started the Sergio Leone films when you were still making
"Rawhide," the TV Western. How did Sergio Leone get to see "Rawhide" and
decide you were the one to star in his Western?
Mr. EASTWOOD: He had seen an episode that somebody was showing around, an
agency had in Rome, and he had seen an episode and they thought, `Well, here's
a chance to hire an American actor who has been doing Western, but is not very
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. EASTWOOD: And they didn't have any money to spend, so they didn't have a
lot of choice as far as names of the moment.
GROSS: There's a lot of really interesting facial close-ups in your movies
with Sergio Leone, and he had a very iconographic way of shooting faces,
particularly your face. And your face in those close-ups is often, well,
mysterious, unknowable and sort of the facial close-ups like revealing this
essence of who you are, they reveal the unknowability of who you are. And
I've always wondered, what were you thinking during those close-ups to get the
right expression on your face?
Mr. EASTWOOD: The first response would be to say absolutely nothing to get
the--George Cukor used to say he'd tell Greta Garbo sometimes to look into the
camera and stare and don't think about a thing. But that's maybe a little
oversimplification or a way to get a certain effect out of her at that time.
You think about--oh, of what you're doing with the plot line, what the demands
are of the plot, usually, because this character, though he wasn't saying a
lot, he was plotting a lot, and so you just thought about what your next moves
were, and it's just a question of thinking like you would in real life, that
you don't--and you may be thinking--you have an inner monologue. Every actor
plays an inner monologue as you're playing your outer character, and sometimes
your outer character is saying, `Good evening. It's wonderful to see you,'
but underneath you might be saying, `You dirty, rotten'--so, you know, you
really don't care--and so that's your inner monologue. And so I might have
been saying something like that to myself at the time, is, you know...
GROSS: You developed a squint also in some of those close-ups.
Mr. EASTWOOD: Well, that was just the sunlight and I...
GROSS: Was it?
Mr. EASTWOOD: Yeah.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. EASTWOOD: They bombed me with a bunch of lights and you're outside and
it's 90 degrees. It's hard not to squint.
GROSS: Now in Richard Schickel's book about you, he says that, you know,
"Rawhide" followed the strict production code of the time. You couldn't show
a fired gun and the victim of the bullet in the same shot. There had to be an
edit in between. What was your reaction to Sergio Leone's really vivid
approach to violence?
Mr. EASTWOOD: Well, that was true. The Hayes Office at that time had a rule
for Westerns only, ironically, and you couldn't show the shootee and the
shooter in the same shot. It couldn't be a tie-up shot, in other words, so
you'd have to do it as an individual cut, and if you look at even later
American Westerns of "High Noon," you won't see the tie-up. But Sergio didn't
know about all that, and I wasn't about to tell him because I was really
enjoying this. It was breaking all--we were trying to break all the molds,
and in breaking all the molds, it made those pictures a hit or somewhat of a
revisionist idea or certainly an outsider's point of view. They became
popular, but they also brought with it some resentment. There were a lot of
people who felt maybe, `Who is this upstart? We didn't come in and bless this
guy to come along and we didn't bless these movies to come along,' an Italian
interpretation of the great American genre. So there was a certain resentment
that hung around with those pictures for some time.
Now as people look back on them, they enjoy the fact that there was a
different--this was a different period, then it went on to somebody else. And
Sam Peckinpah came along later and he did another look at the Western, and
someone else comes along and does another one. And I come back to them and
take another shot, and somebody else down the line--that way, it keeps a great
American art form alive.
BOGAEV: Clint Eastwood talking with Terry Gross in 1996. This Sunday he
receives a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild. We'll
hear more of their conversation after the break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
BOGAEV: Back now to a 1996 interview with Clint Eastwood. His latest movie,
"Blood Work," is now out on DVD.
GROSS: The first "Dirty Harry" film was very controversial. A lot of people
saw it as a cop who was a real law-and-order, right-wing kind of cop, `Don't
worry about reading somebody their rights. Don't worry about obeying the law.
Just make the collar and, you know, get them behind bars.' Paul Newman
apparently turned down the role for political reasons. What did you see,
Clint Eastwood--what did you see in this role when you took it on? What
interested you in the character?
Mr. EASTWOOD: I saw an exciting detective story. I saw a script that was
concerned about the victims of violent crime rather than the accused, so that
was an interesting way to go. There was no big call to drop all the rights of
the accused of crime or anything like that. It just happened to be a
frustrating situation, all set up by the Harry Julian Fink script of the fact
that there was a time element in having to solve a case. There's nothing
right-wing about that. There's nothing--they weren't intended to be that way.
Don Siegel and myself just saw it as a chance to do an exciting film. If
somebody wanted to politicize it, that's fine. There's a couple comments
about the Miranda and a few decisions like that, but I think there's been, in
recent years, some discussion about that, that maybe some of those decisions
are not always practical. That's the way it is. I think the blue-collar
person out there, the Mr. and Mrs. Middle America who sit there and were
watching the press being constantly concerned with the accused and never once
thinking about victims, saw this movie as somewhat of a breath of fresh air.
Since that movie and that time, we're in another era now where they have
victims' rights organizations and all kinds of attention put upon that. But
at that particular time, nobody had the imagination to picture themselves the
victim of a violent crime.
GROSS: Clint Eastwood, I thought that your choice of directing and starring
in "The Unforgiven" was such an interesting choice because it's a movie about
a man who goes from bad man to good man to myth, and it's also interesting
because it's about the difficulty of killing someone and what it takes out of
you when you do kill someone. And you'd been in so many mythic movies and
been in so many movies where the character that you played killed a lot of
people. So I'm interested in how you related to the story in "The Unforgiven"
and how it dealt with myth-making and with violence.
Mr. EASTWOOD: Well, those exact things that you mentioned are what attracted
me to the project, the fact that--but even though I had done pictures where
I've been a police officer and Western films where I've had a lot of jungly
and stuff, it's not that I approved of that sort of thing, and I don't
necessarily approve of the romanticizing of gunplay and I don't think
it's--and I thought, here was a story that sort of shot holes in that, if
you'll pardon the pun, you know.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. EASTWOOD: And it brought out the truth about gunplay and the fact that
there is some loss to your soul when you commit an act of violence. And to
play a person who was deeply affected in his life because of some of the
mayhem that he'd been responsible for, to me, made the character more
interesting and it was more interesting for me to play and that particular--in
fact, I never thought the film would be really commercial when I was making it
because it had all these statements about mayhem and violence, and I thought
maybe this might not be a straight-ahead action movie that people wanted. But
I liked the story and I felt it was worth telling.
GROSS: Well, Clint Eastwood, I feel like I must talk with you a little bit
about music. And to kick off this chapter of our interview, let's listen to
(Soundbite of song)
Mr. EASTWOOD: (Singing) Give me land, lots of land under starry skies above.
Don't fence me in. Let me ride through the wide open country that I love.
Don't fence me in. Let me be by myself in the evening breeze, listen to the
murmur of the cottonwood trees. Send me off forever, but I ask you, please,
don't fence me in.
Chorus: (Singing) Just turn me loose. Let me saddle my old saddle underneath
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: And that's from the album "Clint Eastwood Sings Cowboy Favorites," and
there's a picture of Clint Eastwood as Rowdy Yates on the cover, "`Rawhide's'
Clint Eastwood Sings Cowboy Favorites."
Mr. EASTWOOD: That was...
Mr. EASTWOOD: Actually, I was the Milli Vanilli of the moment there. That
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: Oh, yes, it was. I actually like your singing voice. I really do. I
mean, this a strange album with strange arrangements and not always good
songs, but I really like your singing and I imagine you're also, like,
influenced by Chet Baker in your singing and...
Mr. EASTWOOD: Well, in the first place, that wasn't the kind of songs that I
would normally like to sing.
GROSS: The songs on here, I'd imagine not, yeah.
Mr. EASTWOOD: This...
GROSS: But you got to sing Cole Porter, "Don't Fence Me In."
Mr. EASTWOOD: There's nothing wrong with that. Cole Porter's certainly
wonderful. But what happened is that somebody had the brilliant idea that I
should do some cowboy songs, not country western songs, Nashville type, but
real straight cowboy songs. And I wasn't sure whether I liked the idea, but
they said, `Well, you'll do it, and we have a session tomorrow,' and I said,
`Well, tomorrow I'm leaving.' `Well, will you do it, just stop by the studio
on the way to the airport?' So I did a whole album--you think about people
who take six months to make an album, but this one that--we did the whole
album in one session, and I didn't know the songs. I had to come in and, you
know, learn them real quick, and some of them I knew. Some songs like that
you've heard as a child, but you don't really know them. And so it was a
little frustrating. It wasn't my favorite musical experience in life, but it
was--you know, there again, you learn something every day.
GROSS: Now had you sung much before? Did you think of yourself as a singer
Mr. EASTWOOD: Not really. I'd done a few things. I'd done a few records and
I've been involved in music, so I could sometimes carry a tune. My father
loved singing. He had a group that played and he loved to sing all the time.
He would have loved to have been a singer more than anything, I think.
GROSS: And I know you're still, and were as a young man, very passionate
about jazz. Did you ever think that you'd become a professional musician
instead of an actor and director?
Mr. EASTWOOD: Well, I thought about that earlier, when I was a kid and I was
doing some things, but I never thought--I never really knew what I wanted to
do until I became an actor. Then at that point, I kind of knew which
direction I was going to at least get up and swing at bat.
GROSS: Would you like to sing more or play more or...
Mr. EASTWOOD: No, I don't have any--one of my key sayings...
Mr. EASTWOOD: ...`A man must know his limitations.'
(Soundbite of laughter)
BOGAEV: Clint Eastwood from a 1996 interview with Terry Gross. This Sunday
the Screen Actors Guild honors him with a lifetime achievement award. I'm
Barbara Bogaev and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
BOGAEV: Coming up, cool spy gadgets, special effects and empowered kids--an
interview with filmmaker Robert Rodriguez. His movie "Spy Kids 2" is now out
on video. Also, David Edelstein reviews "Tears of the Sun," the latest Bruce
Willis action film.
(Soundbite of music)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Robert Rodriguez discusses his career and his latest
film, "Spy Kids 2"
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev.
Robert Rodriguez made his name as a filmmaker with a string of movies so
violent that one of them was banned by censors in Ireland. Who could have
predicted that the man behind the action pictures "El Mariachi," "Desperado"
and the mock horror films "From Dusk Till Dawn" and "The Faculty" would be
where he is now, the writer, director and producer of the gentle, imaginative
"Spy Kids" movies.
But Rodriguez's career doesn't follow any of the usual Hollywood rules. He
financed his first film, "El Mariachi," with $7,000 mainly earned by hiring
himself out as a subject for medical experiments, and he made the "Spy Kids"
movies from his home studio in Austin, Texas. I spoke with Rodriguez last
summer about his latest film, the sequel, "Spy Kids 2," which has just come
out on DVD. In the "Spy Kids" films, the spy kids discover that their square
parents really ultra-hip secret agents. The kids then become small superspies
themselves. In this scene from "Spy Kids 2," they're being briefed on their
new spy gadgets by Machete, their uncle, played by Danny Trejo.
(Soundbite from "Spy Kids 2")
Mr. DANNY TREJO: (As Machete) I brought you all new gadgets. Check it
out--the very latest spy watch: cell phone, Internet access, satellite TV,
you name it. That baby'll do everything but tell you what time it is.
DARYL SABARA: (As Juni) It doesn't tell time?
Mr. TREJO: (As Machete) There was no more room for the clock.
ALEXA VARGA: (As Carmen) Are you sure these are new? We can't be running
around with outdated equipment.
Mr. TREJO: (As Machete) I'm going to give you the one gadget you should
VARGA: (As Carmen) A rubber band?
Mr. TREJO: (As Machete) It's a Machete Elastic Wonder.
VARGA: (As Carmen) It's a rubber band.
Mr. TREJO: (As Machete) Yeah, but it's also the world's greatest gadget, 999
SABARA: (As Juni) Use number one: a stylish bracelet.
VARGA: (As Carmen) Use number two.
(Soundbite of rubber band snapping)
BOGAEV: Robert Rodriguez, welcome back to FRESH AIR.
Mr. ROBERT RODRIGUEZ (Filmmaker): It's great to be back after, I think, 10
BOGAEV: You know, "Spy Kids 2" has the greatest gadgets in it. There's a
little personal robot that looks like a cootie bug and a huge magnetic
aircraft which sucks up bad guys, and I like that all-purpose silver ponytail
holder, and it seemed to be kind of a metaphor for your approach to a somewhat
big-budget film with a lot of special effects, that in the end, nothing beats
the simplest solutions.
Mr. RODRIGUEZ: The simplest solutions, and just sort of the low-tech in a
high-tech world solutions, you know, always having to be resourceful, and
creativity and imagination is always more important than technology and
technique. I wanted to use those two metaphors, and really, methodology ends
up becoming part of the thematic material. I really like using lower budgets,
and instead of having money to solve creative problems on the set, you just
use your creativity, and that's what makes the movie so much more creative and
more fun. And it was really essential for a movie like "Spy Kids" to feel
more creative, like a finger painting, than just big and expensive, like a big
movie usually does.
BOGAEV: Now that must have also contributed to the plot line, that the Spy
Kids land on an island where no gadgets work. Even though they have the
newest and the latest and the best gadgets of all, they have to end up using
their heads to solve the case, and it impressed me as a comment on kids and
gear and labels and how technology-dependent kids are.
Mr. RODRIGUEZ: Yes, adults as well, but yeah, especially kids. My children,
as young as they are--I have a little boy who's the age of six--and they're so
technologically savvy. And I live a little ways out of Austin, to where even
if a small storm comes by, all our power goes out for at least a day, and it's
always a shock to all of us how technologically dependent we are. So I really
wanted to play with the idea of loading the kids up with all the latest,
coolest gadgets and then stripping that away from them midway through the
movie, where they have to go on a mission where they have to use their heads,
and they've already forgotten how to do that. They don't even know how to tie
their shoes anymore, because it used to be automatic.
BOGAEV: Well, there are a ton of visual effects in this movie...
Mr. RODRIGUEZ: Yeah. There's over a thousand.
BOGAEV: ...in both the "Spy Kids" movies. Over a th--how does that compare
Mr. RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, over a thousand.
BOGAEV: ...big-budget movies like, say, "Inspector Gadget" or some of the
others we saw ...(unintelligible).
Mr. RODRIGUEZ: I don't know how many are in that, but our movies cost a
fraction of the cost of, say, like a "Stuart Little," which--I don't really
know the true budget, but what I've heard is it's like $120 million. This one
cost 38, because I make it at home. I do a lot of the jobs myself, our crew
is all that way also and we just use creativity instead of--I get to make my
own budgets, and the studio always wants to give me--it's always the reverse.
The studio says, `Are you sure you don't want more money? We'll give you $60
million.' The money's not going to make it good. The money's not going to
make it better or more creative. And the more you're limited by money and by
resources, the more you're forced to be more creative.
So I don't know if you've seen the movie, but one of the favorite scenes is
when two kids walk into a room where they can't hear each other talk but they
can hear each other think. And the audience--you hear the audience. They're
so surprised by the idea and they laugh. That idea cost $5, because it
doesn't require anything but the idea. And when you don't have the money,
you're forced to come up with things that--you know, instead of thinking, `How
am I going to spend $100 million today?' you think, `How am I going to make
this movie good and interesting and fun for people?' And your thinking goes
to a different area, and it's so fun to try to, you know, solve these
BOGAEV: So do you just sit at your computer and think up some of these
creative solutions, or do you do something or go somewhere to get your head in
that right place to take you back to that kind of kid-wacky creativity?
Mr. RODRIGUEZ: This is the trick. I turn into `Night Guy,' because I found,
you know--and this happens to everybody. The way the workday works, it's
really anti-family, because you're really just starting to get cooking at your
job, whatever it is, near the end of the day. And if you stay late at
work--wow, the kids are already asleep and they've already had dinner and
you've missed it. I switched my schedule around completely, and it works so
If you can be a night person, you should try this. It's really fun. What I
do is I make breakfast for the kids, because I love to cook. They go to
school, I go to sleep. I wake up, I go pick them up from school, we play for
a little while, maybe we'll go swimming. I'll work a little bit in the
garage--I do everything at home, the editing, the sound mix, everything I do
in my garage. And then I'll cook dinner for them, they go to sleep, and then
while they're asleep, I work all night.
And because I'm working all night, no one calls 'cause everyone else is gone
from the office. So you have so much time to just concentrate on the work
you're doing and be creative. And you're really more creative at night. I
think that's why musicians and other artists are night people, because the
world goes to sleep and your mind is also in a semidream state, and you really
can come up with things that you wouldn't normally think of while you're being
distracted during the day. And one full night of work equals at least five
working regular days. I mean, you get so much done in a short amount of time.
That's the trick.
BOGAEV: The screen, technically, jumps out at you in "Spy Kids", in "Spy Kids
2," especially. It really pops. And I know that you're...
Mr. RODRIGUEZ: Oh, good.
BOGAEV: ...you're using this new technology, high-definition digital
Mr. RODRIGUEZ: Yeah.
BOGAEV: ...to film the movie. They were customized for the shoot. How so?
Mr. RODRIGUEZ: Well, these cameras are so incredible. You can go customize
them yourself and give it their own look. And I have to say something real
quick, because people get confused. It's such a new medium that everything is
called digital, whether it's mini-DVD that you shoot at home or high-def, and
there's a big difference. It's almost like there's so many different types of
film. There's super-8, there's 16, there's 35, there's 70mm. The video you
have at home, the little mini-DVD, that's kind of like super-8. This HD is
more like 70mm. I mean, it looks amazing. It looks better than traditional
film. It's much more colorful and feels a lot more like the old Technicolor
movies I grew up watching, and I really wanted that back.
I was really disappointed how "Spy Kids" looked on film, because I was there
on the sets, and the sets were so vibrant and so colorful, but it doesn't
translate to film. Film isn't as good as it used to be, and it just keeps
getting worse because of just the technology itself. But George Lucas turned
me on to these high-def cameras, and he's always 10, 20 years ahead of
everybody, so I thought, `He's Obi-Wan. I'm following him. I'm not going to
wait 10 years to figure this out. I'm going to buy two cameras, hot rod them,
you know, figure out how to give them a really neat look, and go shoot with
them,' and it's just a revelation. I mean, you can shoot so quickly, you can
be so creative, and then the finished image looks like what it was on the set,
very vibrant colors, especially--I like to use a lot of Latin colors, very
childlike colors, very, very poppy, and it's the look I was going for.
BOGAEV: How does the technology, the high-def technology, change the actual
way you go about shooting the scenes?
Mr. RODRIGUEZ: Amazingly--and we're just--because we've gotten used to it.
You don't realize how much you'll dislike film until something better comes
along. When you're shooting a movie, you're literally shooting blind, because
you don't see what you did till the next day when you get dailies back, when
you get to actually see the film, because you're on the set, you have a really
bad monitor, you can't judge color, lighting, performance at all. It's almost
like being a painter painting in the dark, and you have to wait till the next
day to see, `Hmm, I wonder if I used the right color? I wonder if I even hit
the canvas?' And with high definition, you're seeing the best picture on the
set. What you're going to see at the premiere is actually already on the set
while you're doing it.
And that's not a luxury. It's actually a revelation, because when you're
shooting a film, you never really feel like you're getting what you want. Ask
any director; they'll tell you the finished movie is 40 percent to 60 percent
of the vision they had--well, because they were shooting blind. Now I call
this movie-making with the lights on. You can really see what you're doing.
You know when you've got a performance. You know when you've got it right.
You know when you've put the flag in the day's work, and it changes your
attitude completely. Instead of leaving the day wondering, `Did I even get
it? Was I even close?' now you leave--every day's Christmas on the set,
because the actors come over and they look at the monitor and they go, `Oh, my
God, we nailed that,' or `We could do even much better than that. Let's make
this or let's try that.' And it just elevates the art form in a way
that--when you see "Spy Kids 2," it came out much better than it has any right
to be for being a number two, because we were seeing what we were doing as we
were doing it, and we really felt we were making the best movie possible.
BOGAEV: Director Robert Rodriguez. His latest film, "Spy Kids 2," is out on
video and DVD. We'll hear more after the break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
BOGAEV: Back now to our interview with director Robert Rodriguez. His films
include "El Mariachi," "Desperado" and the "Spy Kids" movies.
BOGAEV: Now when you made your first film, "El Mariachi," you made it on this
really nothing budget, $7,000.
Mr. RODRIGUEZ: Right.
BOGAEV: And half of it was money you made by hiring yourself out for medical
Mr. RODRIGUEZ: Yeah. I was from a family of 10. I couldn't go borrow money
from them. I had to sell my body to science. It was just such a--and then
people kept saying, `Wow, $7,000. That's so cheap.' Cheap? When you're from
a family of 10, that's, like, all the money in the world. You know, I had to
be so careful. All the money just went to buying film. Film was so
expensive. That's what I really love about digital is that you can lit--I
could really go make that same movie now for five bucks.
BOGAEV: But was there a weird period early then in your career after "El
Mariachi" was such a hit and attracted attention of Columbia and other
Hollywood studios and they started to woo you? Did they just throw money at
you for hotels and restaurants and expense accounts in Hollywood?
Mr. RODRIGUEZ: It's not that they'd throw money, that's just really the
business has built itself into. And I was from Texas, so it was really
strange. I was very broke, but they--you know, part of the budgets that they
have--and that's why studios have a lot of overhead, is when you bring someone
who's considered a talent, you--oh, they put you in a real nice hotel. You
know, you get what's called a per diem, which is a daily expense account.
And I was so poor and from a family of 10. I was thinking, `Wow, this is a
really great hotel I'm staying in. Could I just have the money instead that
you're spending, and I'll go check into a smaller hotel? In fact, I'll go
sleep in my office because it's a really nice office. It's got a shower and
everything.' So they said, `Well, no one's ever asked that before.' So they
gave me the money that they would normally spend on a nice hotel. They just
let me take it as a per diem check. And I put that away, and I was able to
put my brother through school and buy a new car. And I just slept in my
office for a year.
It was pretty--when you come from a family of 10, the survival instinct never
goes away. But, you know, in Hollywood, they don't think anything twice of
this. `Oh, yeah, you're coming. We'll fly you up first class. We'll put you
in a nice hotel.' And I'm, like, `You know, I don't really need any of that.
It's really all about the work,' you know?
BOGAEV: Now critics called "El Mariachi" a quasi-spaghetti Western. And
"Desperado" was a kind of English-language version of "El Mariachi." And
you're filming now, or you're finishing now, the third in this series of
Westerns. It's due out next year.
Mr. RODRIGUEZ: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Yeah.
BOGAEV: And you also made a horror/comedy, written by and starring Quentin
Tarantino, called "From Dusk Till Dawn." What's the connection between these
shoot-'em-up films and blood and gore and sweet, you know, G-rated "Spy Kids"
family films? And the only thing that's obvious to me is that they're all
funny and they're all fantasies.
Mr. RODRIGUEZ: They're all funny--yeah, they're all fantasies. I'm into
fantasy filmmaking. What happened was before "Mariachi" came out, all I did
was family comedies because, again, I was from such a big family. I would be
at home, and I was 12 making these little action movies, and all I had around
me were my little brothers and sisters to star in them. So I made them the
action stars. And they would always win contests. So I thought, `Wow, that's
kind of a winning combination: have kids that are really younger than you
would expect doing action and comedy,' and audiences of all ages loved it. So
I really thought that would be my big movie.
And when I had to make my first film for the Spanish video market, they only
wanted an action film, so I made "El Mariachi." But even that, I couldn't
take very seriously. So I made him a guitar player who becomes a hit man.
And then Columbia wanted an action movie, so I said, `Well, let's do
"Desperado,"' which, again, is still kind of comical, and if you look at it,
is very fantastical. It's a made-up Mexico. It's guys shooting missiles out
of their guitar cases. It really makes very little sense. But I had a good
time as a cartoonist making it.
And then when they offer me "From Dusk Till Dawn," that's even a bigger
cartoon of a movie. Very comical, again, a lot of gadgets and a lot of just
imagination overdrive in what's supposed to be a horror movie. You know, I
knew every day, `OK, I've got to do something horrific because that's the
audience,' but I couldn't help but be very kind of cartoony about it.
Mr. RODRIGUEZ: And I was really just gaining experience to do my "Spy Kids"
movie, because I knew that was going to be the big one. I was really just
learning effects, learning how to make a movie myself in that arena so that I
could make it a very personalized movie like I had done with "Mariachi," which
really stripped down the process so that I would be free to create whatever I
wanted. And I was really just building up to do "Spy Kids."
BOGAEV: Well, you know, I couldn't sleep one night, and I turned on the TV at
about 2 AM. And next thing I know, I'm seeing these half-naked screaming
vampire women attacking bikers. And there's green goo flying everywhere and
there's buckets of blood and people are hitting each other with lopped off
body parts. And I'm thinking, `Who left the TV on the X-rated Sci-Fi
Channel?' And then I realize, `Wow, isn't that George Clooney? And there's
Juliette Lewis. And there's--Harvey Keitel is in this movie. Good God, this
is supposed to be a real movie.'
Mr. RODRIGUEZ: That's so funny. Quentin's biggest thrill was the fact that
he's hoping someone would watch it exactly the way you did, you know? His
only regret was that they give that away when the movie comes out that it's
two movies in one. But he said the way someone should see it is they should
just be watching it on cable, watching this very desperate-hours-type,
serious, you know, movie, and then suddenly, you turn the page and it's this
wacky vampire film. And you're wondering, `What did I just drink? What
happened? What's going on?'
And that was actually George Clooney's first movie. He was still on "ER" at
that time, and I really thought he could be a big star. And I gave him his
first, you know, big break.
BOGAEV: So when you make that kind of horror-gore fest, do things get out of
hand? Does someone on the crew say, `Look, I can make blood spurt 20 feet, or
eyeballs pop out 20 feet' so you just let 'em?
Mr. RODRIGUEZ: It's kind of a fun job in a way. It's really harder to make a
movie like that than something that I'm more inclined to do, like a "Spy
Kids"-type movie. You still have to be creative. I mean, I'd walk on the set
and, you know, I'm not a morning guy and you always have to shoot in the
mornings. So I get on the set and I'm thinking, `OK, here we go. We're going
to do another day. What are we doing today?' `Oh, well, at this point in the
script, it says we have to pull Tom Savini's head off and kick it around the
room.' `Oh, OK. Well, that sounds like fun. Let's do that.'
And it is kind of creative and fun in a different way 'cause you know it's for
a very limited audience. It's for the horror audience. So you got to kind of
come up with, `How am I going to make a horror movie when I'm not a horror
guy?' And so it is a challenge. It is--I'm much more comfortable making
these "Spy Kids" movies. And what's funny is just because the other movies
came out first, you think it's odd that I'm making a family film when really
everyone in my family thought it was odd I was making those other films. So
it was completely backwards. And if you actually go back and watch "Dusk Till
Dawn" and "Desperado," you really see the "Spy Kids" in all those movies.
BOGAEV: Well, we have a clip from "From Dusk Till Dawn." And in this scene,
George Clooney is--he plays this biker criminal who's dragged some hostages,
played Juliette Lewis and Harvey Keitel, to a biker bar, which turns out to be
a haven for creatures of the undead. And Clooney and everyone else are all
just now coming to grips with this strange turn of events.
(Soundbite of "From Dusk Till Dawn")
Mr. HARVEY KEITEL: (As Jacob Fuller) Does anybody know what's going on here?
Mr. GEORGE CLOONEY: (As Seth Gecko) I know what's going on. We've got a
bunch of (censored) vampires out there trying to get in here and suck our
(censored) blood. And that's it, plain and simple. And I don't want to hear
anything about, `I don't believe in vampires,' because I don't (censored)
believe in vampires. But I believe in my own two eyes, and what I saw is
(censored) vampires. Now do we all agree that what we are dealing with is
Ms. JULIETTE LEWIS: (As Kate Fuller) Yes.
Mr. CLOONEY: You, too, Preacher?
Mr. KEITEL: I don't believe in vampires, but I believe in what I saw.
Mr. CLOONEY: Good for you. All right. Now that we all agree that we're
dealing with vampires, what do we know about vampires? Crosses hurt vampires.
Do we have a cross?
Mr. KEITEL: In the motor home.
Mr. CLOONEY: In other words, no.
ERNEST LIU: (As Scott Fuller) Wait a second. I mean, just look around. We
got crosses all over the place. All you got to do is put two sticks together
and you got a cross.
Mr. TOM SAVINI: (As Sex Machine) Yeah, he's right. Peter Cushing does that
all the time.
Mr. CLOONEY: OK, I'll buy that. So we've got crosses covered. What else?
Mr. FRED WILLIAMSON: (As Frost) Wooden stakes in the heart been working good
so far. And garlic, sunlight, holy water.
Mr. SAVINI: I'm not sure. Doesn't silver have something to do with vampires?
LIU: That's werewolves.
Mr. SAVINI: I know silver bullets are werewolves, but I'm sure silver has
something to do with vampires.
Ms. LEWIS: Well, does anybody have any silver? OK. Then who cares?
Mr. KEITEL: Has anybody here read a real book about vampires, or are we just
remembering what some movie said? I mean, a real book.
Mr. SAVINI: You mean like a Time-Life book?
Mr. KEITEL: I take it the answer's no.
BOGAEV: A clip from my guest Robert Rodriguez's 1996 mock horror-road movie
"From Dusk Till Dawn."
So how did you even get away with making a movie that was literally two movies
in one, first, this very serious, dark, "Pulp Fiction"-like road movie, which
turns into a vampire fest?
Mr. RODRIGUEZ: That's the great thing about Hollywood is that nobody wanted
to make this movie. Quentin had written--this was one of the first scripts
Quentin wrote. And everyone said, `Oh, my God, it's two movies in one. It
makes absolutely no sense. You'll never get this movie made.' And then he
made "Pulp Fiction," and suddenly everyone wanted to make this movie. There
was a huge bidding war for it because they go, `Oh, my God, it's great. It's
two movies in one.' Suddenly, its disadvantage became its advantage.
And it gave us creative freedom to do whatever we wanted because Quentin and I
both--we make movies very inexpensively, and that's the trick. If you're
given a chance to make your movie, it would make the most sense to try to get
as much money as you can from the studio to make the best movie, right?
Wrong. The more money you get, the more they're all over you questioning your
every decision. You almost, like, become the painter who keeps getting the
paint brush pulled out of his hand and they say, `Use red, not yellow.'
You're, like, `Why?' `I don't know. Because you're spending so much money,
we want to make sure you do it right,' and then it becomes wrong.
So our trick has always been use very little money, be very creative and then
you have the creative freedom to do whatever you want. So that's why I've
always kept my budgets lower so I can make a family film without having to
have people question your move. And the studios support that because if you
make the movie inexpensively, no matter what, it'll be profitable. "Dusk Till
Dawn" was very profitable 'cause it cost us $10 million, but we had the
freedom to just do something that could become a cult movie.
BOGAEV: Robert Rodriguez recorded last summer. His latest film, "Spy Kids 2"
is out on video and DVD. Coming up, a review of the new Bruce Willis film.
This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Movie "Tears of the Sun"
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:
Bruce Willis stars in the new film "Tears of the Sun," directed by Antoine
Fuqua, who made "Training Day." Willis plays the leader of a Navy SEALs unit
on a rescue mission in Nigeria. Film critic David Edelstein has a review.
DAVID EDELSTEIN reporting:
There's a sequence in the new Bruce Willis war picture "Tears of the Sun" that
split me down the middle. I wanted to cheer my head off, and I wanted to
throw things at the screen.
Willis plays Navy SEAL Lieutenant A.K. Waters, who leads an elite squadron
into the Nigerian countryside after a fictional coup by a military dictator.
His task is to retrieve a Doctors Without Borders physician, played by Monica
Bellucci, from a Catholic mission in a remote village. But the doctor won't
leave without the villager she's caring for. She wants Waters to get them to
Cameroon, which is against the lieutenant's orders, and this lieutenant is an
So here's the scene that tore me apart. The Navy SEALs and the 50 or so
Nigerians are moving through the jungle and they pass a village where
guerrillas are raping, torturing and murdering men, women and children. One
of Waters' men reports they have a, quote, "ringside seat to an ethnic
cleansing." But can they walk away from these blood-freezing cries?
Down the embankment a guerrilla pours gasoline over a man on his knees, then
takes a lighter out of his pocket and holds it aloft. Waters turns to his
team's ace sniper, who's already in position, and says, `Zippo first,' and the
sniper says, `Yeah.' And after a nearly unendurable few beats, Zippo takes
two or three in the chest.
The SEALs are too late to save most of the villagers, but when one American
soldier pulls a guerrilla off a horribly mutilated woman with a dead baby, he
forces the killer to regard his handiwork, then he guts him.
My own gut reaction is easily stated: Onward, Christian soldiers. Cleanse
those ethnic cleansers. Here's Willis as Lieutenant Waters taking a poll of
his men. He wants to know what they think of his unprecedented show of
(Soundbite of "Tears of the Sun")
Mr. BRUCE WILLIS ("Lieutenant A.K. Waters"): It's been strongly suggested
that we turn over Arthur and abandon these refugees out here in the bush.
I'll tell you right now I'm not going to do that. I can't do that. I broke
my own rule and brought you guys along with me. I want to hear what you guys
have to say about it, that's all. Speak freely.
Unidentified Man: Let's get these people to safety. Let's finish the job.
Mr. WILLIS: How about you, Red?
"RED": I'm going to get them out or I'm going to die trying.
EDELSTEIN: Willis underplays manfully. His great bald head is used like an
eagle's, as an emblem of toughness and liberty. At the end of the scene
you've just heard, he makes an amazing declaration. He says he's saving the
villagers `for all the years we've been told to stand down or stand by, for
On one hand, "Tears of the Sun" is an inspiring story of American valor and
self-sacrifice. On the other, it seems so far removed from the real world
that it amounts to a sort of opium dream of heroism, a collective fantasy to
make us feel better about ourselves on the eve of a controversial military
action. This is how we'd like Americans to be seen, as great soldiers and
great moral individualists policing the planet, protecting the helpless.
But has any American platoon ever moved in to stop an ethnic cleansing? Even
UN troops have a spotty record in Africa and the Balkans when it comes to
engaging the enemy. This vision of a sensitive, humanistic, morally engaged
American military is very appealing, but it might not be grounded in anything
but Hollywood corn and national hubris.
"Tears of the Sun" is directed by Antoine Fuqua, the music video hotshot who
did "Training Day," and he's a smart filmmaker. There are no fussy effects in
the battle scenes, just good scary quiet before the storm, then fast and fluid
action. Yet it doesn't cut very deep. It doesn't have the acid ironies or
the dizzying lack of gravity that David O. Russell brought to "Three Kings,"
another brutal war movie about amoral soldiers moved to do the right thing.
"Tears of the Sun" opens with actual footage of a civilian being shot by a
Nigerian army officer at close range, and it strikes me as obscene to use a
real-life atrocity as a prelude to a Hollywood fantasy starring this year's
international sex goddess, Monica Belucci. Don't misunderstand, Belucci is a
brave and surprisingly down-to-earth actress. But when the Navy shows Waters
and his squad her picture and she has huge dark eyes and puffy cover-girl
lips, and they don't explode in whoops, you know you're in never-never land, a
place where warriors are gentlemen and African peasants give thanks in song to
their great American saviors.
BOGAEV: David Edelstein is film critic for the online magazine Slate.
BOGAEV: For Terry Gross, I'm Barbara Bogaev.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.