“I wasn’t asking for guidance, I was just doing it.”
It has to be a hell of a thing knowing that what you did inspired so many. They never knew when they picked that camera up and started filming that history would be made. $7,000.00. It’s not a myth, it’s not a story pushed by some publicist. It happened. They made a film for $7,000 that gave birth to a new independent film movement. Carlos Gallardo and Robert Rodriguez together convinced people that they could do it. Hell of a thing.
I have been a fan of EL MARIACHI since the moment the credits rolled. I think that film has the ability to impress on multiple levels and knowing the back-story just heightens the experience. I dug what Antonio Banderas did with the role in the two sequels but as Carlos points out in the interview, they went in another direction. The character went from innocence to hard boiled. As is often the case with film, the first one is still the best. We grabbed an hour so with Carlos last week as this is what went down…
DAILY GRINDHOUSE: Thanks for hanging out with us. You and Robert really changed the way independent movies are made and you have inspired a lot of people so we appreciate it.
CARLOS GALLARDO: Oh no it’s my pleasure, I will turn that around. Without the fans and people like you writing about us and our work we aren’t really able to do what we do so I really thank you for having me.
So we just talked to the Soska twins last week and they said you were a cool cat to work with.
CG: I believe in them you know? They have so much energy and they work hard. They do some really great things and I really love those guys. It’s a tough business but they are doing some really amazing things.
Have you seen the film yet?
CG: I saw the first half a long time ago. They sent me a copy but the copy was misplaced at my house because I constantly moving between Texas and L.A. and my sister forgot where she put the package. It’s not the first time that’s happened. My sister has lost many, many things.
Is she an older sister or younger sister?
CG: Older sister yes. She’s twenty years older.
It’s always the older sister that’s fucking things up.
CG: (Laughs) Yes exactly. That’s exactly right.
Yeah DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK though is a really great film. It’s one of my favorite flicks of the year. Your scene with CJ Wallis turned out pretty well I think.
CG: Yeah you know it was pretty funny because like a year before I did that, I had this idea about how I would play God. I don’t recall how we got connected but it was just funny that I was thinking about that and then here come the Soska twins asking me to play God so it was pretty cool.
You have been into film since a really early age. It sounds like you kind of made your mind up at 5 or 6. Do you remember the first film you saw that kind of put you on this course?
CG: Yes, I was 6 years old and I wanted to do film, I hadn’t done film yet obviously but one of our babysitters was asking the kids what we wanted to do? I looked over at the TV and said that I wanted to be in there. It was probably at the age of 11 that I was thinking about the camera and how nice it would be if someone had a camera to record the good and bad things I was doing in the backyard or whatever. Then it was around 12 years old that I got an 8MM camera from a doctor that my dad knew, and I shot and acted out a 2 minute scene of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK.
So the two movies that made me take that step were ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and THE ROAD WARRIOR. Of course after that I went on to being a freshman in high school and that’s where I met Robert. The reason why I liked THE ROAD WARRIOR and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK was that they didn’t talk a lot and I hated my voice, I thought it was too high, I still do sometimes. But they were both big and tough action guys you know?
Did you see those on TV or in the theater?
CG: Oh no back then it was all the theater and it wasn’t just once or twice it was several times each. I think I saw THE ROAD WARRIOR in San Antonio, Texas and I saw ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK in Acuña where we shot Mariachi. In the old days they use to re-release the movies again and again. So I saw them a couple of times.
So as a child in Acuña back then, what is that like to be trying to track down films? For the kids in the states we had video stores, theaters, cable, I mean movies are everywhere. I know you had theaters, but did you have the same access to the other stuff?
CG: Well not really but we had a TV that picked up the signal from San Antonio so we had like 13 channels, it wasn’t digital. We had channels 2, 4, 5, 6, and Televisa had one channel like 13 or 11 but most of the channels came from the states. Acuña was a small town and a quiet town. I could walk places. It was a different era. I was a happy kid and I have nothing negative to say about my childhood. My backyard was like my own little world.
So your backyard was kind of like your set where you created these worlds to film in?
CG: Yeah my backyard and then we also had a hospital next to my house with probably 13 rooms. But it was really scary so we didn’t want to go inside.
Did your parents encourage you to follow the dream of filmmaking?
CG: Well my first camera came from that doctor. The second camera from an architect that my dad knew, and he later bought that camera from him for me. He also went, after that, he went and bought an $800 camera for me. So you have to understand, my dad retired in the 70’s and they were raising me in the 80’s but it may just as well be the 50’s because they were so much older than me. My sisters were even like 20 years older than me. So they had pretty much done their lives. My Dad was 50 when I was born. So, they didn’t sit down with me and say hey, follow your dreams, but they gave me the tools. I wasn’t asking for guidance, I was just doing it.
What genres right now do you dig the most? Are you action oriented?
CG: It depends on my mood. I still go to the movies all the time. I go as an audience member though, not as a producer, director, or actor. I don’t go to the movies to bad mouth them; the script was bad, this is terrible, that kind of stuff. My main thing is I am an actor; I have written stuff, I have co-written stuff with Robert. I am an actor first and a producer second. So, I go to the movies, I enjoy action movies. I see myself as an action guy. The past couple of years I’ve been doing other type of roles. I really enjoy action films but I also enjoy films that make me think. THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU is one that I really enjoyed.
It’s a pretty challenging movie isn’t it?
CG: Oh yeah, quantum physics is something I have been into lately and there’s a lot of things in my life that I look back at and think wow, did I create that? I see a lot of stuff like that in life. But I go to movies by myself in the afternoon on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. I remember in Toronto we use to go to the movies at night time and there was nobody around because it was so cold. I love to get into the movie as part of the audience. Nothing else. When it’s over, and this is kind of funny, I always felt kind of connected with the main guy. I always come out of a movie feeling great. By the way, I just saw CONTAGION and I just came out of that movie feeling tired. I didn’t want to drink, I didn’t want to go out, I didn’t want to do anything.
Yeah it’s just one of those flicks where you want to go out and by a gas mask, duct tape the windows and lock yourself into a clean room.
CG: (Laughs) Yeah, exactly. That’s what I do with movies, they are very personal. I get connected with the characters and how they acted. That goes beyond what I have said before to anybody. So I come out cheerful and I want to do it again.
Man I know exactly what you mean. I remember both with EL MARIACHI and DESPERADO there is a shot of El walking into the town and DESPERADO has nearly that same shot. You and Antonio just have this cool fucking strut that is just badass. I was in high school when I saw EL MARIACHI and I remember watching that and coming out trying to have that same badass walk as you had. That’s funny that you pull things like that out of films still to this day.
CG: You know what the greatest thing is? The camera translates it into these things. The camera picks up on things that I don’t even try to do. I always tell people if I don’t speak to you, or I am just watching people, they may think I am being an asshole, but the camera doesn’t see that. It just sees a cool asshole. I’ve been called an asshole several times and I have to say no, no, I just have a way of thinking. So the camera sees it a certain way. I do have a way of walking a certain way, so you’re correct but I also have to give credit to the camera.
I know EL MARIACHI was your first film as an actor but were you working in films previously in any capacity?
CG: Yes I was. I was 23 when I made that film and I had met Robert ten years earlier in private school, and in freshman year I went to Mexico to shoot my first 30 minute boring movie. Robert didn’t know me that well at that point so he didn’t want to come with me so I took another friend. Then in my freshman year I brought it back and they said… they were like city kids you know? So they were more interested in why I shot it in the desert and why I had this big ugly guy in it and that kind of thing. It was called THE MAN FROM THE LAND DOWN UNDER. I remember Robert making fun of me asking me why I called it that he was like “That’s Australia man” and I was like no, no it’s the land down under, you know Mexico. It was based on that Men at Work song (sings) he comes from the land down under.
So anyway, I was getting new ideas from movies and Robert at that point was really into Miami Vice and how they were using music in the show. So for ten years we shot videos that were 10 or 15 minutes long, and Robert would shoot and edit. I am still looking for kids that can edit by the way, but I can’t find them. I know they’re out there though with their Macs. There is a movie on YouTube called THE BAG which is really good. I am getting off topic though which I always do.
Anyway, the first film that Robert did was BEDHEAD, then for me Hollywood came to my town and I took a job working for a movie called LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE. I was just talking about this yesterday. So I was working for the film, and I realized all of the problems were the same. The same problems we had, they had. The difference was they had lights and 35MM. Same problems with sets, same problems with actors, same problems with effects. All you need is a good camera. So after LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE we shot EL MARIACHI.
What were you doing behind the scenes on LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE?
CG: I was a PA, I learned a lot and I think that was kind of like my graduation being on a set and being paid for the first time.
So when did you and Robert start creating the story for what would eventually become EL MARIACHI?
CG: You know I think it was always kind of there. The last movie Robert and I did before that was called RETURN OF THE RAT and I am dressed in all black with a leather jacket. I think it was more of an evolution of many things that we did. When Robert said let’s make this movie called EL MARIACHI I was first like no way! I don’t see myself as a mariachi. So what we did is create an outfit that was more of a charro outfit, and a charro is a type of cowboy in Mexico. I just said fuck no I am not wearing a crazy mariachi outfit and we did the charro instead. I think we both choose the jacket. Choosing the outfit was great and I think choosing that jacket made me look tall.
You have worked in a lot of different capacities in film. On EL MARIACHI you were doing like 8 things at one time; producer, writer, special effects, acting. Was there a role that you felt most comfortable with?
CG: I did the same thing that I had done for 10 years working in small films. What I enjoy the most though is being in front of the camera though. Even as you grow, you tend to ask yourself what you like the most. I still enjoy that very much. MARIACHI was very tiring, it was just myself, Robert and a guy who used to work at my house. We would sometimes have to call our friends up and ask them to help and sometimes they would show up and sometimes they wouldn’t. I mean there was no payment or anything like that but it was a real movie. How did they know that though? You know what I mean?
Robert took care of the camera, and the writing, and I took care of the other things like making sure we had everything to do the shots we wanted. There was an explosion that was going to happen in one of the scenes that we didn’t get to do but… to answer your question though I like being in front of the camera. I have been asked to produce a bunch of movies and I always decline because I don’t like really doing that. I love to act AND produce because that way I can be in all the meetings. This next movie I am doing called ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE is an ensemble film and I have always wanted to do that, but yeah acting is what I like best. If I am going to produce now I put myself as executive producer cause then I can work less on that kind of thing.
Where was the explosion going to be in MARIACHI?
CG: I don’t remember where that was going to go. The guy who did the effects for LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE showed me how to make squibs and that kind of thing. He was going to come down and show us how to do the explosion but he never came down because he didn’t really believe in us or whatever. But that same man was in a movie I did called SINGLE ACTION.
That was the first film you directed right?
CG: Yeah SINGLE ACTION. The cost of that film was only $11,000 and it’s probably the only film in the world like EL MARIACHI that has that same kind of feel. I got to have a lot of props and things like that from DESPERADO, and the old man in that film is that same man who did the effects for LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE. That old man had a great personality and I told him he should act, and in the end he agreed.
What is your favorite scene from EL MARIACHI?
CG: Probably the bathtub scene. It was the first scene that I saw, the first one that Robert cut, the first time I saw myself on film. The first time you see yourself on film it’s like wow, I’m in the movie now! What’s it called when you put that thing on the cattle?
You mean branding?
CG: Yeah “branding”, that’s what it did to me when I first saw it.
That’s a great scene. You’re coming up on the 20th anniversary of that flick, what do you think of that film now?
CG: Well, we have two anniversaries for that film (laughs). We have the date when we shot it and the anniversary when it was released. The anniversary of when we shot it just past, it was July or August of this year. I think though that we don’t go by that. We went by that when we did ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO cause we shot that film…(long pause)… oh that’s weird. We shot that film in 2001, we shot EL MARIACHI in ’91 and it was released in ’93, wow I just thought about that. We shot ONCE UPON A TIME in 2001 and released it in 2003.
Do you have a favorite between DESPERADO and ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO?
CG: Well, you know what they say about all the films you do being like children? In this case though, I think the oldest one is a very special one cause it was kind of the first big one we did. Not just because of that, it’s also because of what happened to us. You know? The others were just things we always wanted to do. You have to understand that EL MARIACHI was done with everything we had, all the energy we had, and all the creativity we could possibly come up with. It was something that needed to be done. It wasn’t the dream yet; we wanted explosions, we wanted to kick ass, nice stunts, so what we did I am not sure you can repeat it again. It just came through us.
The other movies were just kind of the dream. Now we’re exploding things, and now we don’t have to think so much. EL MARIACHI we just had to think through everything so thoroughly. We just had so many new arms and legs with the other two that we could just focus on the fun stuff. With ONCE UPON A TIME we were using HD for the first time. The way that was shot was amazingly fast. It wasn’t like a Hollywood movie. That was the last time that I have seen Robert shoot so fast. We did that in like seven weeks.
Did you like what Antonio did with the character?
CG: Yeah it’s a different character you know? He doesn’t have the innocence that I had. He was more like the Road Warrior you know? That’s why we had to shoot that same scene at the end of the first film. He’s actually wearing the same exact clothes I wore in that scene.
Are you and Robert going to bring back El at some point?
CG: I don’t know about that but what I can tell you is that character will be back in disguise in another movie called EL BANDITO.
Oh cool, is that a sequel to your film from 2004?
CG: Yeah, we sold the movie already. Anytime we do anything with the El Mariachi character it has to go through me, Robert, and Columbia Pictures, so to get all of us in one room is insane. So I decided to do it in disguise.
So tell us about ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, we have heard some pretty cool stuff about that.
CG: You know all I can say at this point is that I am really excited to be working with Chee Cheung. I think he’s going to be the next John Woo and I am excited to introduce him to the world. He can do action and drama which not a lot of directors can do. It’s a zombie movie with a lot of martial arts and its going to be fun to see this director work. He’s only in his 30’s and I enjoy bringing and finding young people along. A lot of people have talent but they just sit in the coffee shop and complain. It takes something special though to have talent and do something with it and also have a little sense of business, and please write this down: To all the guys out there in the coffee shop, you have a lot of talent but your attitude sucks.
Yeah I mean look at the Soska Twins. They had talent, they had an idea, and they made a kick ass film.
Thanks again to Carlos for hanging out with us for a while. Dude is all kinds of cool and truly committed to finding new talent. So don’t be shy about tracking him down and showing him what you can do with a camera, your editing skills, your acting chops. You heard the man: get out of the coffee shop and make a film. You never know what could happen.
SEE YOU ON FORTY DEUCE,
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