The director who transforms actors

The director who transforms actors
US film director Robert Rodriguez

An actor in a typical Robert Rodriguez movie knows that he is probably not going to win any Oscars for his performance.

From the exploitation movie-inspired Machete (2010) to the trigger-happy vampire flick From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), Rodriguez is known for directing low-budget independent films that embrace the B-movie tradition, with over-the-top stories and deliberately cartoonish characters.

But judging by the star-studded credits of his latest film, the director whose films have launched the movie careers of George Clooney, Salma Hayek and Antonio Banderas must be doing something right.

Machete Kills, his campy, casually violent action sequel that opens in Singapore this week, features big names such as Charlie Sheen, Mel Gibson, Antonio Banderas, Lady Gaga and Sofia Vergara, each playing against type to embody larger-than-life characters that count on the audience being in on the joke.

"I'm a big fan of transformations. I really like taking actors and having them do a role they don't usually get to play," says Rodriguez at a recent press conference in Los Angeles. The director also managed to convince these stars to take supporting parts, with the lead role of Machete - a Mexican gun-for-hire and heroic tough guy - played by little-known character actor Danny Trejo, 69.

Of course, appearing in a Robert Rodriguez film carries a certain cachet, even if it is just a supporting role.

The Mexican American director has been an indie hero since he burst onto the scene in 1992 with the self-financed El Mariachi - a whimsical tale of a travelling musician mistaken for a hitman - he scraped together for just US$7,000.

It became an audience favourite at the Sundance festival in 1993 and this landed him a studio deal to make Desperado (1995), a re-worked version of El Mariachi starring Banderas and Hayek that launched both their careers.

It also paved the way for big-budget films such as the comic book-inspired Sin City (2005), a critical and commercial hit, and the child-friendly Spy Kids franchise, which earned more than US$450 million (S$560 million) worldwide from 2001 to 2011.

Even with this mainstream success, however, the divorced father of five is still identified as an indie director in spirit.

He continues to base his production company in Austin, Texas, rather than Hollywood, and has become a vocal proponent of his scrappy, do-it-yourself style of movie-making, which often sees him doubling as editor, cinematographer and cameraman.

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