Ten years after the original, Rodriguez brings us back to the world of Spy Kids introducing cool new spies, the return of beloved characters and mind blowing gadgets. In addition, this newest installment will introduce 4D Aromascope to bring a new generation of moviegoers an interactive, adventure-packed film that is fun for the whole family.
MoviesOnline sat down with Rodriguez at a roundtable interview in Los Angeles to talk about his new movie, “Spy Kids: All the Time in the World.” He told us what inspired the casting of Jessica Alba, why kids are the perfect audience for 3D and 4D technology, and how he got Ricky Gervais to voice Argonaut, the robotic dog. He also updated us on the status of “Sin City 2” and the “Machete” sequel and how he has 5D in mind for the next Spy Kids movie.
Q: Can you talk about casting Jessica Alba in this?
RR: We were making “Machete” and she was all dressed up for set and she kind of looked like a spy already. She was in a black outfit with high heels. She had brought her baby and the baby’s diaper had exploded in the back seat. I’d seen her try and not get it on herself and clean it up. I just thought wow, if she was a spy, and had to take the baby on missions because she didn’t have a babysitter, that would be a cool thing. So I told her about it. She said “Oh, that’s interesting. That’d be cool to bring the series back, but I couldn’t be a mom to two kids that age. I’d probably have to be a stepmom.” So that was even better for the story. We started talking about it and I started piecing it together. It was during “Machete” when I came up with it.
Q: It’s been ten years since the first Spy Kids came out, what are some of the things you’ve had to take into account to tell this story to a new generation of kids?
RR: I pretty much had to start again pretending like people didn’t see the first ones. So, starting with a new family but that was still connected to the other family for those who were fans. You have to bridge the gap. For people who are fans, you want to pay tribute to that in some way by having the original Spy Kids there, but then, have new kids and a whole new family situation for the new ones. It was pretty fun to figure out how much you do. Coming up with new gadgets, and all that, was the hardest part because I did so many in the other movies. They were jam packed with ideas that were sometimes just throw away ideas but were really great ideas. I thought, man, I used up almost all the good stuff. But then, after thinking about it for a really long time, I finally came up with stuff.
Q: When you started the Spy Kids franchise, did you envision there’d be sequels and you’d keep going with this?
RR: When I wrote the first one, I broke off some of it for a sequel for “Spy Kids 2” because my script was too big, and I thought maybe we could get a second movie out of it, but I certainly didn’t think there was a third or fourth one. I hadn’t thought that far ahead. So it was a surprise.
Q: How challenging was it to do it a fourth time around and raise the bar and get something that’s even better than the third?
RR: We think the whole way through how do we make this keep escalating like we did last time. I’d go let me put in one of my ideas from the first movie that never made it into that movie because I didn’t have enough time or money and couldn’t figure it out which was the robot dog. That was from the first script. I said I finally can do the robot dog now and Ricky Gervais was the perfect opportunity to do that. The series was always pretty innovative for its time in a very scrappy way. We started with “Spy Kids” which broke new ground in family films because people weren’t making family films at that time. Then, with the second one, I was already shooting digital which gave me the idea to try bringing 3D back by shooting with two digital cameras and creating a 3D movie. There hadn’t been a 3D movie in theaters in 20 years. That restarted this whole resurgence of 3D. That was the biggest of the Spy Kids. So, for the fourth one, we thought we’ve got to go 4D. We’ve got to come with more stuff, more gadgets, more everything. It’s got to just be upped. You always try to do that on an escalating scale.
Q: How did you get Ricky Gervais to voice Argonaut, the robotic dog?
RR: I was a fan of his “Flanimals” and I called him up and said I have this funny dog. We had already finished shooting the movie and I was going to add the voice later and I wanted to be able to show him a piece of it. I said I’m going to send you some of the movie but he thought it was a terrific idea and jumped aboard right away. He was great. I wanted him to be this sort of British James Bond-type dog that was very sarcastic, and he said, “Alright. I can do that.”
Q: Do you think kids are the perfect audience for things like 3D or 4D because they embrace the technology?
RR: Yeah. That and the interactivity, like seeing my own kids, they’re just so much into interactive games and gaming. When they go and you tell them to watch a movie, they don’t even know what you’re talking about. Sit there passively for two hours? So I think this bridges the gap because it gives them something to do and it’s like playing a game. It’s just very interactive and fun. And Spy Kids movies, in particular, why they were successful was because they empowered children, and children at that age really want to be empowered seeing other kids flying around and saving the world and that just completely fuels their dream. That’s why they play act it so much. Anything that draws them closer to that experience, like being able to smell what the characters are smelling, makes them feel like they’re part of the movie more, and that even more identifies them with those characters and they’ll end up watching these movies over and over again on video.
Q: Would you do 5D?
RR: Absolutely, I have a 5D in mind. When we get to “Spy Kids 5,” we have to go with 5D. What are we going to do? Go back down to 3? We can’t start climbing backwards.
Q: What we love about your movies is you can go from R rated to PG and you’ve got something for everyone. Is there any particular genre that you prefer?
RR: No. I like mixing it up because I like making the other movies. The genre pictures are fun to make, but then, coming from a family of 10 kids, I have 5 kids of my own, you want to do something with those experiences of that part of your life. That’s why family films are a good outlet for that.
Q: Did the children know about the smell?
RR: No, they didn’t know about the smell.
Q: Was that your intention – to not talk about it on set?
RR: I didn’t want anybody to know. I wanted to keep it a secret so nobody else would have a 4D out there in the theater. As soon as you say it, it gets out into the universe and somebody else goes “Hmmm, 4D.” Not even if they heard of it, they just know it. So you try to keep the stuff quiet and close to the vest. I wasn’t completely sure I was even going to go through with it. I didn’t think anyone needed to know about it until recently.
Q: What kind of advice did you give Rowan Blanchard and Mason Cook?
RR: Don’t mess up. (laughs) No, they were ready. Those kids were fantastic. They came in and it was pretty easy to pick. They really stood out from the rest of the kids. I even went back and rewrote the script based on their personalities. The little boy (Mason) became very smart in the script because he was so sharp. He was more cerebral than physical so I gave him a gadget that would give him the physicality, but he himself wasn’t like a rough and tumble kid. He was just very smart and very sly so I made the script cater more to his sense of humor and sensibilities.
Q: Rowan is younger than Mason, but she plays the role of the older sister?
RR: Yes, because she just comes off as being very sophisticated. They’re supposed to be twins. She’s supposed to be older by 20 minutes.
Q: What have you learned as a director working with kids since the first Spy Kids movies?
RR: Each set of kids is different, but what’s common between them is that they just have such amazing enthusiasm when they come to the set. Most actors have been through it so many times, and even me as a filmmaker has been through it so many times, that when they come on like this is the best day of their life, you’re like wow, we really should appreciate what we have. We actually have a great job. It really gives a different feeling to what you’re doing because you see that somebody really does believe that life begins and ends on the set.
Q: I know you have many ideas for movies. How many scripts do you have that we don’t know about?
RR: Already finished? I don’t have any that are completely finished that are ready to shoot. But I have a bunch of them that are half written or written and ready to be picked up again. Over the years, you just end up collecting them.
Q: Can you give us a clue?
RR: I’m trying to think. I can’t give away the titles.
Q: How is “Sin City 2” coming along?
RR: It’s going good. We’re just finishing the script for that. We’ve already got the money and everything so we can just start shooting. As soon as we’ve got the pages, we go.
Q: What about the “Machete” sequel?
RR: “Machete,” same thing, we’re ready. We’ve already got the budget. It’s like the opposite. I’ve got a new company where we can just finance our own picture. Instead of saying “Oh, we’ve got this great script but we don’t have any money and we’re waiting to get the financing,” it’s the other way around. We’ve got the financing. Now we just need the script. So, as soon as we’re finished writing, we can go shoot.
Q: When I saw this movie, I was shocked at how quickly Alexa had grown up. How does that make you feel?
RR: It’s crazy. That’s why I feel like I’m the timekeeper. I’m going to stop time. I want to freeze time. The kids aren’t just bigger, they’re huge now. They’re not even that old. They’re 14, 15 and they’re tall. I’m like “What happened? Where did it all go?” So yeah, it was pretty surreal to see time go by that fast and visually see time change.
Q: How was it working with Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara again?
RR: It was great. I wrote roughly that they were supposed to be bickering still. I told them “Hey, I need your help. I need you all to come in. You’re older siblings and you’re still fighting.” And they improvised right away. They fell right into the characters which was really fun.
Q: You typically wear a lot of hats when you’re making your movies. Is it because of the need to have creative control or is it to keep costs low?
RR: It’s really about keeping costs low. I’d love to hire the best composer and cinematographer, but we just don’t have the money so they’re mostly scrappy little productions. And everybody is like that. Everybody does multiple jobs on the set. It’s more fun that way too. You have to be really creative and you don’t have a money hose to wash away your problems. You have to figure out how to creatively solve things.
Q: What advice do you have for aspiring screenwriters and directors?
RR: Screenwriters and directors, you just have to write and you have to make movies. I started at 12 just shooting and shooting — it was just a hobby – and cutting them and entering them in contests. After I won a few contests, then I got more confidence to go do my first feature. So really, it’s just by practice. If you want to be a rock star, you’re not going to just walk on stage. You gotta go practice in the garage until your fingers bleed. I always say that – the same with writing and the same with filmmaking – if it’s really your passion, you’ve just got to stick with it and do it.
“Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D” opens in theaters on August 19th.