Robert Rodriguez on 'Machete': "The movie makes Latinos look more badass than ever before"

After producing this summer’s Predators reboot, bad boy Texican filmmaker Robert Rodriguez is back with Machete, starring tough-guy Danny Trejo as a double-crossed ex-Mexican federale. With Rodriguez’s trademark over-the-top violence and butt-kicking chicks and its "We-didn’t-cross-the-border; the-border-crossed-us" take on the immigration issue, the movie is bound to create controversy. When we spoke to Rodriguez, though, he insisted it was all in the name of giving moviegoers a much needed good time.

You’ve been wanting to do this film for 10 years. What’s made you stick with it for such a long time?
The project just wouldn’t go away. Danny [Trejo] has been in many of my movies and he just kept talking about it, because I first mentioned it when we were doing Desperado. And we’ve been going over it and thinking about it, and then when we made the [fake] trailer [which played during Grindhouse, Rodriguez’s double-feature collabo with Quentin Tarantino] the audience wouldn’t let us forget it. It was, ‘When are you going to make that movie?’ The hunger for it wouldn’t die down. We just felt like we had to make it.

Were you surprised at the virulent reaction from conservatives for the Machete trailer that you released on Cinco de Mayo, which made the movie seem like it was a movie about undocumented immigrants rising up and taking revenge?
No. No one had seen a real trailer for the movie, they didn’t know what I knew, they didn’t know what the context of the movie was. I recut the trailer in a way that it seemed like it was about this subject in particular. It’s not really about immigration at all. But immigration is used as a red herring to disguise the fact that the only reason the characters want the border closed is to get the drugs across for a higher price. But the timing was so perfect, with what has going on in Arizona.

You’ve called Machete a ‘Mexploitation’ film, a takeoff on the over-the-top 1970s blaxploitation films. Why did you take that approach?
It had never been done before and it felt really exciting. It’s all tongue in cheek and satirical. Machete has exploitative elements in it: You’re doing as much action, sexiness and humor as possible because in an exploitation film you work without a budget, without stars. We have stars, but we pretend like they’re not stars. That’s why at the beginning, it says, ‘and introducing Don Johnson.’  It’s all in order to amp up the entertainment value—we’re pretending the audience won’t come unless we do that kind of thing. It’s all part of a joke. It’s all tongue-in-cheek and satirical.

Do you think that some Latinos won’t get that and think you’re making us look bad?
No! So far, when we’ve shown the movie, it’s the Latinos who can’t stop screaming at the screen. They think it’s the most awesome thing they’ve ever seen. It’s so cool! I don’t think I’m making us look bad. I think the movie is making us look more badass than ever before.

As in all your previous films, you once again have very sexy female characters who kick ass in Machete. Of all the female characters that you’ve created for the screen which is your favorite?
Oh my gosh! There are a bunch! The ones in this movie are really cool. Jessica Alba’s character [Machete’s deceptively sweet love interest] and Michelle Rodriguez [Taco truck lady/revolutionary] are super-strong. Believe it or not, I think the little girl in Spy Kids [Carmen] is really strong. I think she’s awesome. I have a lot of strong female characters mainly because I have five really strong sisters.

Tell us about giving Danny Trejo his first starring role.
I’ve done nine movies with him, and I’ve always thought that he should be a leading man, for this character in particular. I’ve always believed in him. He’s such a sweet guy. Even on the days he wasn’t filming, he would be there carrying Gatorade around for all the actors and crew people, making sure they were all hydrated because it was really hot. He was just so excited that this was his movie, his big chance.

He recently told us that he likes to grows roses in his spare time—and I have to admit that the image of his huge tough guy gardening was hilarious. What other things does he do that would surprise his fans?
I’ve known about his soft side for a long time, which is why I’ve put him in my family films. He’s such a sweetheart. But that’s also why when he wanted dialogue lines for Desperado, I told him, 'No! You don’t get to talk. No lines. As soon as you say something, people will realize that you’re a puppy dog and it will ruin their whole image of you. I need you to be deadly.' But in From Dusk Till Dawn, I told him, ‘You can talk. It’s a funny movie. People will see that you’re funny.’