Before Once Upon A Time In Mexico, director Robert Rodriguez reinvigorated the movie western with his feature debut El Mariachi and sequel Desperado in the early 90s. From there he took a batty turn with vampire flick From Dusk Till Dawn, drew more blood in The Faculty, and then stunned everyone with the family friendly Spy Kids trilogy. That experience turned him on to digital filmmaking and, with neo-noir Sin City, he takes technology to the next step.
Have you always wanted to make a film noir?
Yeah, I was always a big fan of noir. I almost remade Kiss Me Deadly back in 1997 and Michael Mann was producing that, but I was just afraid it would be too nostalgic. What I liked about Frank's material is that, although it is in that tradition of noir, it is so updated and so savage and new that it wouldn't feel like a nostalgia trip. That's why I was so excited about it. It felt more like the movie I should do.
You left the Director's Guild to be able to co-direct with Frank Miller. Wasn't that a painful decision to make?
It was a pretty quick decision. You know, you're in Texas and you're on your train and the train is going very fast down the track and we're all really excited to be making this movie. And then suddenly some guys from LA are standing in front of the train, waving their hands and saying, "Stop!" I just looked at Frank and stepped on the gas. I mean it was a surprise. I didn't know it was against the rules to have two directors. I thought I'd seen two directors on other movies before but they had a rule.
What was the rule exactly?
Their argument was that I was established and Frank wasn't. But I told them he directs better than most directors in Hollywood. If you look at his books you can see he was already a great filmmaker. He was just using paper instead of a camera. My whole argument was that I thought visual storytelling was the same whether it was on the page or on the screen. I thought what he was doing in the books was so much bolder than anything we were doing in cinema that I just wanted to make that happen on the screen. Rather than go through a long process of having to get them [The Director's Guild] to change their rules, it was just easier for me to leave at that time. It wasn't a real big deal.
Why did you give Quentin Tarantino a shot at directing part of this movie?
Yeah, he's this kid who's been following me around for a number of years and he wanted to learn more about digital... I told him about it last year. It took him a while to make Kill Bill, which he thought was going to be a very fast shoot, and I told him, "If you had shot on digital it would've been much faster. So next time I'm shooting something you should come and direct a sequence so you can see what it's like to work with actors in that way and see what the technology is about." I thought he would really enjoy it and he did because he got to see how it's really more about performance than a technical exercise. It's actually the reverse of what you would normally think making a green screen movie would be about.
Which scene did Tarantino direct and how is green screen more helpful for the actors?
He shot that scene between Clive [Owen] and Benicio [Del Toro] in the rain, on the road, in a car and there was no rain, no road, and no car! He got to see how all that stuff could just go away so he could concentrate on getting a great performance from the actors. He said, "You're right. If this had been a regular movie we would have spent all day rigging the car, dragging it down the road, ruining the sound with water, and then we would have been, like, "hurry, hurry now and let's get the performance!" Instead, the process gets reversed.
Did any of the actors need special provisions to help them feel the scene?
I actually built Brittany [Murphy] a partial set because in her rehearsals she was running around so much I thought I'd give my CG artists a break and put at least two walls up. That way Brittany could run loose and we wouldn't have to try tracking everything. She had these two established walls and the other two were phantom walls, but that's how movie sets are anyway. They usually only have a couple of pieces anyway. So, that really allowed her to cut loose in scenes where she had so much dialogue.
Mickey [Rourke] had this one piece of music he would play on the set to get him into the character of Marv. We couldn't use it in the movie because it was too expensive. It was a Johnny Cash song - it was actually a remake of a Nine Inch Nails song called Hurt. You play that song and if you listen to that song that's how he did Marv for all the voiceover. It would just help him to get into that place - that Marv place. We got some remarkable work from him just from playing that song. That's his time machine. His transport.
Why did you think Elijah Wood would make such a convincing psycho?
I worked with him in The Faculty and he has these really piercing blue eyes that women love but that I always found quite creepy. I told him back then, "One day I will cast you as a psychopath," never thinking that it would actually come about. He was one of the first people to see my early tests for Sin City and said, "Oh, I would kill to be in that movie!" So when he said that...
Two sequels to Sin City have already been announced. What can you tell us about those?
It's just because we're lazy. There are actually seven books but we're going the easy route and bowing out after a couple more. I know we're doing a second one for sure and that's based on A Dame To Kill For, which is a book that takes place before these other stories so that means Marv would be back and Goldie and Wendy, the twin sisters, would be alive together. A lot of the characters show up again in that so it would probably be the most interesting one to help make this story more complete. Then there are some others that I really like in there, but we'll see what we can fit in. It might just be wiser to shoot the material for the third one while we're making the second one.
Sin City is released in UK cinemas on Thursday 3rd June 2005.