How did Quentin first approach you about the film? "Well, I was in Tahiti actually. I was on vacation, and I had worked with Freddy Rodriguez on Poseidon and Dreamer. The release of Poseidon was still in the future. I forget how I got this message, but I called him back, and we played a little phone tag, and finally when I got ahold of him, he said 'I'm doing this movie with Robert Rodrigeuz and Quentin Tarantino is doing his own movie, and they're gonna put 'em together for a double feature under the name Grindhouse. And I said 'that sounds like fun, that sounds interesting.' And he said 'yeah, I think Quentin is gonna come to you with this, I know Mickey Rourke is maybe happening, maybe not happening.' Then I found out later there were also other people -- Ving Rhames was a name. I kind of got the gist of what the character might sort of be in the vein of. Then somewhere along the line, Quentin called and then I called him back, and we played phone tag, but in our phone messages we began to strike up a relationship.
Then all of a sudden, he just said 'I want you to do this.' He said 'I want you to add this to your rogue's gallery of characters.' He said 'you've played some phenomenal characters and I want you to do this one.' And I remember sending a message back to him saying 'I suppose it is about time we worked together.' I knew what he meant. I had spent an hour with him, and I knew that he knew a lot of the things I'd done, and I knew that he was specifically interested in some of the stuff I'd done with John Carpenter. And I knew that Rodriguez was, because he came down to the set of Escape from L.A., when he was just kind of getting going. So I got the drift, the gist of what was going on. Then I read the script and my only concern was, as has happened sometimes in the past, there's a director you want to work with, but then you read the part and you go 'ehh ... I don't wanna do that guy,' or 'that's not the kind of movie I want to do with this director'...It would be like getting a script from Sam Peckinpah and he wants you to play, I don't know, the gay smithee. And you go, 'well, that could be fun ... but I don't want to do that with him.'
We hear there's so much more for the international version and the DVD. "Yeah, there's a lot of stuff. He's got a lot of guts, man. He really, really, really knows what he's doing. He's a genius. I don't know if I've ever said that before. He knows everything about everything I've ever done. He knows every line from every movie. It's really shocking, and obviously it's not just me. It's crazy, what he knows. But it also plays over to how much fun it is to do it, on the day. Because if you're in cahoots, you feel like 'this is pretty special.'"
You were working when some of these Grindhouse films were in their heyday -- did you go to these types of films? "I interviewed for them! I used to sit there with Ronnie Howard. Ronnie Howard called me up a couple weeks ago and said 'I can't wait to see this,' and I said 'why do you say that?' and he said 'cause I was afraid of getting typecast as a director of those kinds of movies.' It was a group of guys, and we used to run into each other on interviews, and once in a while, it would be for one of these. I don't know if it was Ronnie, or Don Johnson or Treat Williams, or whoever it was, but I remember saying one time 'If you get this part, are you actually going to do it?' and I remember them saying 'I don't know man, I don't know ... the thing where the guy's eating the rats? I don't know...' I never did get one of them, but I went to them."
Aren't you and Goldie doing something together? "Goldie's been working -- this is a typical Hollywood story -- she's been working on this screenplay ... she's had this screenplay that she wrote, for a lot of years. Wants to direct it, is gonna star in it, and she wants me to be in the movie. Every day she gets an inch closer. I watch the tenacity that she has and I admire it greatly, and I just say to myself "There but for the grace of God, go I." It's like, a bit of hell. Anybody who gets a movie made -- they deserve a hand, man."
What about the John Wayne imitation thing? "That's kind of a perfect example of what's fun about working with Quentin, because you know what it is you're going to do. I was just working away, we were just doing stuff, and I had already done some rehearsing before, and I said 'you know, I've got to try some different things here to try to find out what I might do in the movie,' and he said 'I totally understand.' And I was just doing everything I could think of. Then I sort of honed in and I said to Quentin 'probably this?' and he said 'yeah, I think so' but as the picture went along, and as we continued on, we'd keep talking about it and this and that, and I feel very free with him, and that's saying a lot, because sometimes if you do something that's very, very bad and the director includes it in the movie, you'll wish you never, ever done it. It shuts you down. It might shut you down for five years.
So with Quentin you feel very, very free, and I was just doing the scene and John Wayne popped into my head, and I said 'this crazy fuck ... why not? He might have worked for them.' And I just started doing it, and the fucking girls were looking at me like ....' And instead of saying 'okay, cut, yeah, there's that, now let's try it regular,' Quentin said 'keep it rolling, keep it rolling! Go to this part of the speech and do that. Go to this part of the speech and do John Wayne. Now do Brando!" He just went right with it, and we finished the take and we were howling. And we looked at each other and said 'who knows? Maybe that's the right thing -- maybe it's a creepy right thing.'"
They've announced that they're remaking The Thing. "They actually re-did one of the movies I did at Disney -- The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. They remade that. They took Stargate and made it into this most successful series. They took Backdraft and made that into two television shows, that both did good, I guess. They're gonna remake The Thing, and they're talking about remaking Escape from New York. You know what? Whatever, and good on' ya. I feel like we did what we did, and that's always gonna be there. It'll be there to be compared, I'm sure it will be, they have to do that. My thoughts on it were, as a joke, you know when somebody said that about Gerard Butler playing Snake ... it is interesting to create a role that is iconic, and then have somebody go do that. That's interesting. At the same time, I had a sort of joke response, which is the way look at life, which is 'Oh my god, wait 'til Stuntman Mike [his character in Death Proof] hears about this.' (laughter). That's how I feel about! Maybe 30 years from now, someone's gonna do Stuntman Mike, and, well ... I got my version. You know, that's kind of all I think about it, I don't know what else to say."
Did Quentin write this for you? "No, he wrote this for Zoe. He met Zoe on Kill Bill. She was Uma Thurman's stunt-woman on that, and it was really how he described it. He wrote that script and gave it to Uma on her 30th birthday. Then, through the experience of meeting Zoe and having her work on it, he's always said that he had two actresses for that movie. Uma Thurman is The Bride as she walks and talks, the look of her, but Zoe Bell is the bad-ass side of her. So there were two actresses in that, and it was necessary -- the collaboration was very strong. And four years later, when him and Robert sat down and were like 'let's make this double feature,' he was like 'I'm going to make this my homage to great car chases and great Grindhouse gearhead kind of things.' So much of it is about stunts -- you have Stuntman Mike and you have Zoe Bell and you have Tracie Thoms playing a stuntwoman, based on a friend of his.
He was like ' I know that my car-chase movie is going to have Zoe Bell strapped to the hood, and she's going to play Zoe Bell, New Zealand stuntwoman. I want people to know when they are watching this that the woman who is doing that great dialogue actually does step out of the car and go down the hood with nothing. She can really do it. She's so bad-ass. And it was really weird for me, because I had only known her as an actress up to that point -- we shot all through Austin, then we had six weeks of hiatus. We had auditioned for and gotten the role, and we were supposed to shoot it over the summer; it didn't happen until the fall.
We didn't really start doing the stunts until winter-time. So I've known her for months, and I'd been rehearsing with her and doing dialogue, so I knew her as an actress. So literally, when she's like 'check this out' and she steps out of the car, I was like [breathes in quickly, heavily] I was really like ... when we do that scene and Tracie and I are balling our eyes out, it was really weird, because we had already been shooting for so many weeks, it was really easy. All you had to do was sit in the car and look at the empty spot where Zoe had just been. It was just like, the idea of it, because there were a lot of close calls. We were going 70-miles per hour. They are very controlled situations, but anything can happen. It was an insurance nightmare to make a movie with your lead actress doing your own stunts.
So the idea, of how hurt she really could get -- as easy as she makes it look -- there was this one thing where they were doing the shot where they show her being launched, and she steps on this jib, where as soon as you step on it, it shoots you off, and she made it look so easy and so graceful, that I was like 'I want to do it!' and she was like 'No, really, Rosario, I've seen people crush their genitalia, because you have to keep your legs strong, and I'm going to be in so much pain tomorrow, as much as I make this look easy, it's because I've been doing it for years. Believe me, this is very dangerous.'"
She's lucky, like a cat, you say. "She is Zoe the Cat! That story, that was a really interesting thing -- when I started shooting on the film, I realized that the character of mine, it was kind of difficult to play Abernathy, because a lot of it is based on Quentin's personality. That character, that story that I tell around the table, it actually happened to Quentin and Zoe four years ago, when they were in China. They were all drunk and having a great time, and she was like 'Step back, I'm gonna take a picture of you!' and he almost fell in a ditch and freaked out about it, in pure, true Quentin style: "What are you trying to do, kill me?!'" He was just really freaked out, and then two seconds later, she falls in the ditch. Not only did she fall in the ditch -- its a ditch that, he said, when she landed she had to get pulled out, because her fingers didn't reach the top, that's how deep it was -- she landed on her feet. She fell and she said in her head, when she stepped off, literally 'Oh, there's that ditch Quentin was talking about,' and falls on her feet and stood up and was like 'Hey!' and Quentin's like 'I would have died. If I fell in there, they would have had to helicopter me out of there, seriously. How do you do that?'
There are shots you can see -- we were talking about it -- when she did that launch thing, and he had told her he wanted her to land on her back and she flew off, and she was like maybe 12 inches off the ground, and she flipped in mid-air and landed on her back. It defies gravity. This woman really is Zoe the Cat. She's phenomenal.
What are you working on next? "I just produced my first feature, which got into the Tribeca Film Festival. It's an exploration of sexual violence and revenge. It's called Descent. Then I have a comic book that I started last year and I'm producing the feature with Dimension, with Bob Weinstein. It's called OCT: The Occult Crimes Taskforce. The main protagonist is a female, Sophia Ortiz, who looks like me, and the basic premise is that she polices magical crimes in New York City. A little Constantine, a little BPRD, maybe Men in Black a little bit, but it's not any of those different things, just the tone of it. We have three issues [of the comic] out right now, and we're releasing our fourth soon. I've been doing the comic for all of last year, and we've always made it to be a multi-platform kind of material."
What do you do to keep in shape? "I've always been really, really, really flexible. I have a hard time doing yoga for that reason, because when I go in, out of the blue, if I haven't exercised or anything in ages, I can do all the poses immediately, so I hyper-extend, which is dangerous. So its been nice warming up, doing the spinning first, I've been strength-training and building up muscles so when I go into the Yoga, I'm doing it with strength as opposed to over-flexing, so I've felt a lot stronger. And my butt is looking better. My mom made fun of me when I got Rent -- I told her I have the line where they say I have the 'best ass below 14th street' and she laughed at me and said 'you'? So I've been really excited, because Quentin complimented me on my butt yesterday, and he looks, so that's good."
Tracie and Zoe both had the stuntwoman thing going on -- did you feel like an outsider when with them? "One of the best compliments ever was every single time I was in there they were like 'we love having you in there.' I really watch a lot of things, I'm very attentive to a lot of stuff and I knew my position was a very easy one, so I would make sure ... a lot of times Tracie can't do anything or say anything to mess up a take, so when we're going around curves or whatever, I'd give a lot of directions to help out, sometimes I'd scream to Zoe 'move your foot' here or there, because she can't see where she's driving. So I think we all got along really well. I met Tracie I think, briefly when we were doing Sin City, but I got really tight with Jeff on Sin City, cause I was that weird freak who wanted to keep doing the shot over and over, of me tearing out Alexis Bledel's neck with my teeth -- I loved that stuff so much. I was so bummed that the only stunt I had to do was getting whacked, and hit with a chair.
For this, I was like 'can you strap me to the hood of the car? I'm a great hood ornament, I swear.' I was so excited about doing any of these different stunts, but I wasn't able to, but they were really cool about letting me be in the car most of the time, so that's really me most of the time in that car. I have a tremendous respect for what these guys do, and especially since they were really not cutting any corners. Quentin was like 'if we can't do it ourselves, then it's not going to be in the movie, we're not CGI-special-effecting anything. We also didn't have the time. We just finished shooting a month and a half ago."
What's the word on Sin City 2? "Dame to Kill For, baby. We're shooting it this summer."
Marley Shelton and Josh Brolin
Marley, how did you get into this part? MS: "I worked with Robert on Sin City, so we had a relationship. I auditioned for him here, and it was a few months before they actually told me I had the part. I think they were playing around with the schedule because Robert's wife Elizabeth was nine months pregnant, so they pushed production back. It was originally supposed to go a few months earlier, and I think that's why there was that lag time. They decided to wait until after she had the baby to start."
What is wrong with this marriage [meaning the horrible marriage of their two characters]? MS: "If the zombies had never infiltrated our town, it could have gone on this way for thirty more years. The zombie effect was the catalyst!"
How did you prepare for the role? MS: "The first order of business when we first started rehearsing was, he [Rodriguez] handed us these books called "His Needs, Her Needs." They were pop-psychology books on how to salvage a doomed relationship. And he very seriously said "I want you guys to take these home, read them tonight, tomorrow we're going to discuss." Then we discussed all the principles and how to do the opposite in the movie!"
Talk about the incident with the needles. MS: "There was a very strange thing that happened with the needles, which was art imitating life imitating art. The first scene, in which Nicky Katt, who plays Joe, the first zombie victim, has to come get his arm amputated. Somehow -- true story -- we had prop needles that were retractable needles and they got switched with real needles, which were the picture needles for the close-ups. Nicky and I are looking at each other and we're saying the dialogue while I'm administering the anesthetic, and then they yell 'cut,' and then we look down and he goes "I think my arm is bleeding," and he was gushing blood. I had punctured his veins. It was so horrifying, and just to make it even weirder, the guy who plays Dr. Felix, his colleague, who shows all the grotesque pictures on the screen, was Robert's real doctor. He was like 'wouldn't it be funny if I had Dr. Felix play Dr. Felix?' And he's got this great, hilarious bedside manner that really is him. Like, that's the way he talks.We were like 'Dr. Felix, what do we do!' It was so surreal. I know surreal is an over-used term, but ... he had the strangest reaction. I think he was a little bit stunned."
Some of the stuff is really over the top, no? MS: "Robert wanted everything that was just so wrong to be incorporated into the film. Stuff you would never do -- the cardinal sins of movie-making or storytelling -- stuff that's just off-the-charts wrong, we had to throw in there."
Josh, what have you done since Grindhouse? JB: "I did the Coen Brothers film, I did American Gangster, I finished that."
Do you live or die in that? JB: "I'm not gonna tell you that. That was a huge bone of contention between Ridley and I, to figure that out, what direction we wanted to go with it. Then Paul Haggis' film, In the Valley of Elah, it's called. It's about a parent's feeling of his son going to war in Iraq. It's very personal. Tommy Lee Jones is the parent."
What was it like working with Michael Parks in Grindhouse? MS: "Michael Parks always plays this character Earl McGraw in all of Quentin's movies and in Dusk Till Dawn, which they both directed. So Robert and Quentin, of course, wanted to have Earl McGraw in both of their movies in Grindhouse. Then Robert had the idea to make the big reveal that Dakota Block is actually Dakota McGraw, his daughter. That was cool enough, but then Quentin, riffing off of that, said 'you know what? I'm going to throw you into my scene with Michael Parks, in my movie, cause that will be even funnier and cooler. So that's how it came about.
I love him. I could spend hours and hours listening to him. There's a scene that will be in the international version [someone tries to cut her off] oh ...umm ... where Michael Parks and I have to bury poor Tony, my son, and there's no other place, so that the zombies don't desecrate him, so we have to resort to, 'where are we going to bury him,' so we decide to bury him in the barbecue pit at J.T.'s Barbecue Shack. It's the strangest scene, because Michael Parks loves poetry, and in rehearsal, he would spout off these E.E. Cummings poems. So we wrote in -- it's a very nice funeral, actually -- he's reciting this E.E. Cummings poem called "Let It Go" and I'm saying that I hate the world and hate everyone and he's like "Let it go, dear, let it go." It's so bizarre -- that's where the whole thing of the black tear -- it actually did happen, the mascara tear."
In some markets, the two films are being released separately, right? MS: "Yeah, in longer versions. We also shot a version of the movie where Tony lives -- an alternate version, and apparently that's going to be on the DVD."
Josh, was Death Proof inspired by your father's film The Car? JB: "Well, Quentin brought up ... Death Proof I know was at least partially inspired -- I don't know how much -- because Quentin came up to me and he was like 'hey, your dad, The Car ... remember that movie, where you couldn't see who was in the car? Was it the devil? Was it not?' Everybody knows this, it's become a cliche, about what an encyclopedia Quentin is, but it really is fascinating that he knows everything in every film, from whence it came, and where it went from that point, and what was based on that film ... but I know The Car had a big influence on him writing Death Proof."
Did you have to practice with the guns? Did you want to let them do it digitally? "I had months of training for that stuff. It wouldn't be right [to let them do it digitally.] I wouldn't let them do that, I wanted to do it. I had months of training. The knives, the guns, the fight choreography, even the physical training -- I had to get in excellent shape."
Did you approach the role lightly? "No, I took it pretty serious, when I found out I was going to do it, and that was one of the things Robert and I discussed, you know -- we said, how are we gonna play this guy? I don't know if you guys have ever seen real Grindhouse movies, man, but they are terrible. Terrible acting, everywhere, and I wasn't sure if he wanted us to play it that way as sort of tongue-in-cheek. There were so many over-the-top elements in the film already, he just said 'just play it straight, man, just play it real."
Was handling the knives the hardest thing? "Yeah, the knives, all of it was equally hard. The guns -- that gun sequence that you saw -- the spinning gun sequence -- the guns that I used were not supposed to be the guns I was supposed to use. Usually in those scenes they prepare the guns for you, so they are balanced and shaved, for your own safety as well, but because I had already established that those were the guns I was using in previous scenes, I had to use those guns that you saw. They weren't prepared for that, but I had to just go in and do it."
Did Robert know you from Six Feet Under? "No, not really. I auditioned for it, like everyone else. We knew each other before -- the genius of Robert is that he always thinks outside of the box. That's what makes him him. So where maybe an average studio person or an average director thinking within the studio system would look at me and not even think twice about casting me, Robert would say 'yeah, this could work,' you know. I brought something internally to the audition that he saw."
It must be weird to go from Poseidon to Grindhouse -- do you have a preference or is it all just work? "As long as the projects that I'm doing are different and versatile and I'm getting to work with great directors, I don't really have a preference."
What's the backstory on your character? "You have to wait for the missing reel. [laughter] Well, listen, you look at the film and you say 'why does this guy have all these skills?' 'Why does he have a past relationship with Bruce Willis' character and Michael Biehn's -- and they are both ex-military guys. So you put the pieces together and you say 'well, an ex-military guy ... ex-military bad-ass.'"
What was it like to work with Rose? "It was great. Rose and I had wonderful chemistry, and she's really funny in real life, and so we laughed a lot on the set -- she could always make me laugh. She made Robert laugh too."
What about the intimate scene? Was that funny to do? "Yeah, it was funny, we laughed a lot. There's a lot of stuff you'll see in there, we're just laughing cause it's ... those things are always ridiculous."
Does this character change what you want to play in the future? "Yeah, I think it changes it a little bit. I think it changes peoples' perceptions of me in the entertainment industry, or in the world. I think when perceptions are changed of an actor, then people start to see you as different characters."
Was it tough when you were painted as an overnight sensation after Six Feet Under? "Well, people always define you by your hits. That's just the way it is. I remember seeing an advertisement for The Black Dahlia, and it was like "from the director of Scarface." Scarface was 1983!"
We heard that they were trying to keep everybody on a night schedule, and you'd go to midnight movies on weekends and stuff. What about that? "Yeah, that was always the hard part -- just trying to stay up at night. Because the days you weren't working, you just wanted to sleep, you know. But it was like 'stay up!' We'd all try to keep each other up, and what was even harder for me, was I would have to perform those fight sequences -- I'd get a knock at my trailer at, say, four in the morning, saying 'come on come do this elaborate fight sequence.'"
What movies did you watch to research? "We had these huge Grindhouse screenings at Quentin's house. Quentin has this beautiful theater he built in his house, and we would go there and watch these movies. I remember we saw a movie called Zombie, it was 1970s. There was one called Philander Manor or, um, Chinese Hercules -- this guy, this Asian guy who was jacked up on steroids. He was so big he could barely move. So he made us watch these movies, you know, and we knew why he was showing it to us -- he wanted us to get a sense of the tone -- but we just didn't get it. We'd be there watching it, and Robert and Quentin would be there in front just laughing their heads off."
Do you think kids today will respond to a vibe from 30 years ago? "I think the twenty-year old will respond to it because they are horror films, and that's the genre that's really popular right now, with Saw and The Hills Have Eyes and all those movies. So that's what they'll have to relate to. And the response I've been getting from the older crowd is nostalgia -- they're like, 'wow, a double feature, I remember that when I was a kid. I wanna go see it.' So you have those two audiences, and then you have the Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez fans.'"
But they're really better than the old crap ones. "That's the genius or Robert and Quentin. There were elements of them that were cool -- so what Robert and Quentin do is go in and take those elements that are cool and add a budget and add real actors and add all the things that were missing. That was the thing about Grindhouse movies -- they didn't have big movie stars or big budgets, so they just worked with what they had. But there was that element that was cool."
Do you think Robert's is the best zombie movie ever made? Are you a zombie movie fan? "I'm not a big fan, so I can't really give an opinion. I think it's great."
What are you working on next? "I'm about to start something -- I haven't signed the papers yet, as they say. I've actually had a couple months off. I had four movies out last year, and five seasons of my show. One movie this year."
Would you say Robert is an actor's director? "Yeah, he's definitely an actor's director. It just inspired me -- the energy this man has to do all those things. His set-up in Austin is incredible -- he's like the George Lucas of Austin. He's created his own Hollywood. This guy has his own sound stages, his own mixing booths, his own editing facilities -- he's 100 percent self-sufficient."