Robert Rodriguez, Jessica Alba, Benicio Del Toro for “Sin City”

While so many comic book adaptations have been treated with cynical indifference of late, Robert Rodriguez may have re-energised the genre with his eagerly awaited Sin City. The Sin City in question, is a violent city where the police department is as corrupt as the streets are deadly.

In this movie, we follow three stories, the central of which is Marv, a tough-as-nails and nearly impossible to kill street fighter who goes on a rampage of vengeance when a beautiful woman, Goldie (Jamie King), he sleeps with for only one night is killed while lying in bed with him. Chatting together ion a Los Angeles hotel room, Rodriguez, along with two of the film’s co-stars, Jessica Alba and Benicio del Toro, talked to the media. Garth Franklin reports.

Question: How do you choose what you want to direct?

Robert Rodriguez: It just depends on how it grabs you, it’s got to be something that excites you. It’s why I pursued Frank just like a wild dog, trying to find him to do this movie, because once I got it into my head that it was possible, and I did a test and I saw what it was looking like, I knew I wouldn’t get this excited about another project for a long time. I had to hunt him down and find him and convince him somehow that we’re going to do this movie, because I could already see it and I wanted to do it really bad, so I just felt right. That’s why nothing would get in my way, and then the DGA goes, ‘Oh, you can’t do the movie like that,’ I go, ‘I’m leaving.’ I cannot stop now, this is like a train that’s rolling, and everyone jump aboard, because it’s just too new, it’s too right, and it feels like that way for everything, the Spy Kids movies as well. I just felt it was a way to do something about my family in a way that was entertaining, by just making them spies, this is my family as spies, basically. And this new movie that I’m doing, my little kid came up with, my seven-year-old. The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lavagirl. We were playing in the swimming pool and I’m playing shark, and he said, ‘You’re shark dad and I’m shark boy. Hey, let’s make a movie about shark boy and I’ll be the shark boy,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, whatever.’ So we were drawing it out and it became this movie, and I got real excited about that, again to work with my family on a movie for other families. And so I thought, ‘This is something that I can wake up in the morning and work on, this is going to be – put all our imagination into. So it really, the ideas, the bad ideas or the ideas that you don’t get excited about fall away, and the ones that come forward, are the ones that get your blood pumping and get your heart pumping, and the ones you can’t sleep until you do them. Those are the ones that keep me up all night, and keep me working.

Question: Did the CGI heavy Sky Captain show the way for movies like Sin City?

Robert Rodriguez: They were kind of built at the same time, I had just done a bunch of movies on green screen, I’d done the Spy Kids movies, in fact even the props weren’t there, because it was all simulated from the game, even though they said that was the first movie done on green screen, I’d actually already had been doing that. But when I did Sin City, I hadn’t seen any materials on Sky Captain, I didn’t really know they were doing a green screen movie with HD, I’d already been doing that for a while. But I shot the test and I went and showed Frank the material and it’s very different, because we were shooting on green screen not just to save money, which is why they were doing that, but it was really the only way we could capture these images and get that black and white style, because if we shot it in a real environment, all its things just go gray, because they are all mid-tones. We had to isolate the actors from the background in order to create that very stark black and white – to create a black and white that you’ve never seen before, because if you watch a black and white movie it’s really gray and white, because of all the mid-tones. We had to get rid of all of those, the way Frank did with pen and ink. So I realized this is going to be a total exercise in things I’ve been doing, but that’s why I felt comfortable doing it, because I had already done a lot of stuff as a photographer and as a effects supervisor, coming up with these ideas.

Question: For the actors – can you talk about seeing yourself in that environment for the first time and do you have a favorite scene?

Del Toro: You know, it met the expectations when I saw the movie – it surpassed it. What happens when you’re in a movie for me, I just come in and work for five days and I’m out, I just basically know one story. Usually when I see a movie it’s the other stories that attract me more than my story, I’m looking at my story going, ‘Oh, no.’ But it’s the other stories – it’s just hard to pick one moment, I really enjoy the underwater stuff. I don’t know, there’s something about it –

Robert Rodriguez: Did you find it easier to watch yourself, Mickey did, because he was in make up and he was really playing a character – did you find it easier to look at yourself because you’re really playing someone so different and look different, because he found – I got him to be able to come watch himself on the HD monitor, he said, “I never could have watched, but this is different. I’m literally looking at somebody else.”

Del Toro: I’ve seen Mickey watch himself, and that’s an extreme. I happened to be in a screening room, Mickey Rourke was sitting in front of me, and it was a movie that he was in and I was in and I really saw him shrinking in his seat. I’m going ‘What about me?’ But, yeah, I think it was easier. You know, the movie has that world that grabs you so hardcore, and I think good movies make it easier for you to watch yourself, if you suffer from that same thing that Mickey has, and which I do too. I find it hard for me to watch myself on the screen, kind of boring really. But the movie has such a world that grabs you that it was a ride and you just took it and enjoyed it.

Jessica Alba: I just felt like I was a little line in this piece of music, it was beautiful from beginning to end, I was like, I want to rewind it and see the whole thing all over again, because I don’t think I got to have all the images that I want in my mind, there was so much, it was so visual, and overwhelming, and all the characters were so specific and it was great.

Question: Did you watch yourself?

Jessica Alba: I’m critical of myself, so I just kind of go like, I’m waiting for my part to be over so I can get on with enjoying the movie. That’s sort of my thing, but you made my skin look nice, thanks.

Question: Jessica, talk about training for the role

Jessica Alba: I workout anyway just because it’s healthy to workout, and women have health problems, especially in my family, and so I just work- out just to be healthy anyway, and so that was already a part of it, and I went to strip clubs to see how strippers do it, and I realized that – I wanted a choreographer, and Robert said no. And I was like, (sighs in frustration) ‘Okay.’ He was like, ‘Just feel it. We’re just going to play music, and you’re just going to feel it.’

Robert Rodriguez: I didn’t want it to be dancing, something like Salma Hayek in From Dusk Till Dawn. She wanted a choreographer, she goes, ‘I don’t know how to dance.’ I said, ‘I’m not going to have you doing dance through that one, it’s a little more primal than that.’

Jessica Alba: Mind you, he’s saying Salma Hayek in Dust Till Dawn, the sexiest dance I’ve ever seen on camera, ever. And he’s like, ‘It’ll be like that.’ I was like, ‘Like that? Are you serious? I have to live up to something.’ It’s iconic. There hasn’t been a sexier dance ever, and she wasn’t naked. She was gorgeous.

Robert Rodriguez: And she was just there. You do it, and you go up there, I just knew – you just go up there and dance, you know how to dance, it’s going to be something people wish they could choreograph.

Jessica Alba: He says that, but my heart was beating so fast, I was so nervous, and then I had some Texan teach me how to rope and lasso and I was out there spinning the gun,

Robert Rodriguez: You whacked yourself in the head a few times

Jessica Alba: A couple of times.

Robert Rodriguez: By the time she got to the stage she was like a pro, we were all just watching (looks transfixed)- ‘Oh the tape just run out Robert,’ ‘Oh, oh, okay. Put on another tape, let’s go.’

Question: How is this movie different from The Fantastic Four?

Jessica Alba: Yeah, Fantastic Four couldn’t be more different. Fantastic Four is a family movie, I play a scientist who has a problem expressing her emotions, and her DNA was altered and when she does express her emotions she goes invisible. So when she’s screaming, she goes invisible, when she’s having a meltdown, she goes invisible, and she’s completely frustrated, and the man that she’s in love with ignores her, and she goes invisible. So that’s very frustrating. It’s very big and it’s a huge movie for Fox and there’s a lot of pressure that it does well. So it really couldn’t be more different.

Question: Did you do Into the Deep before this?

Jessica Alba: It’s Into the Blue. I actually got into trouble for calling it Into the Deep once. I did that a long time ago, Jim Cameron has been talking about maybe doing a comic book that involves scuba diving, or fathom, it’s sort of like this girl underwater. And I had been talking to him about possibly doing something like that, and this movie came up and I hadn’t scuba dived in seven months, and they were going to give me a decent paycheck to scuba dive in the Bahamas for five months. I was like, cool. Honestly, that’s why I did that.

Question: What’s going to be on the DVD?

Robert Rodriguez: We shot the full stories of the books, and I knew we could truncate it down knowing that we weren’t going to lose any scenes, eventually they would all be available for people to see. So the DVD will come out as a theatrical cut, and then there will be a separate disc that’s got the individual episodes separated, with their own title card, and you can just watch, The Big Fat Kill from beginning to end in its full cut, as a single story, and then switch over and watch The Yellow Bastard, and that’s 45 minutes, I’ll have all the material back in, so it will be like the experience of picking up the books, where you pick up one story and you read it from beginning to end, and it will have all the material in it. So you can shuffle your own version of the movie and watch them all separately.

Question: Did you cut things out?

Robert Rodriguez: Yeah, there were some things we’d cut out from there, just to pace it for a feature, because they weren’t supposed to be three stories put together when he first wrote them, they were all separate books. So things to kind of pace it for a feature and keep it on the through line, didn’t have as many – Marv, Mickey Rourke, doesn’t go and visit his mom now, like he did in the book, and get his gun and things like that. But we shot all that, and it’s all great stuff. It just wasn’t necessary for the feature, we wanted to be more direct in that. But it’s not going to feel like – when you watch that separate disc, with this material back in, like, ‘Oh, I can see what that was cut.’ They’re really terrific scenes, action scenes, a lot of stuff that people will find – I think it’s going to be somewhat revolutionary to see those kind of scenes that were cut out, be put back in another format, because they seem perfectly fine, and they were, they just needed to be taken out for the long haul of the feature. So I think it really gives another life, and another experience, more akin to reading the books, by doing that. That’s what made it easier for us to say, ‘Let’s just shoot everything, prepare all the effects, and then if we edit stuff out we’re not really cutting it out, and people are never going to see it, they’ll be able to see it in a purer form, in a different format.

Question: Will it be a package

Del Toro: A package. A package.

Robert Rodriguez: A package. And then I’m going to have another 10 minute – there’ll be a 20 minute film school probably for this one, because there are so many things – and I’ll have another 10 minute cooking school, it’s be a Sin City breakfast tacos. I’ll show you how to make a homemade flour tortilla and the best meal you could probably ever learn.

Question: For all three of you, what from your Latin heritage bleeds into your work?

Del Toro: His pizza and jalapeno that Robert makes, it bled into my work.

Robert Rodriguez: I cook a lot. I finally found someone who eats as much as me. Homemade pizza from a pizza oven with jalapenos on them.

Del Toro: Is that a Latin dish?

Rodriguez: It is now.

Alba: And that restaurant, oh my goodness. The best Mexican food I’ve ever had, other than my grandmother’s, of course.

Robert Rodriguez: (sounds like) Fonda San Miguel in Austin. One of the best Mexican – it’s like an interior Mexican restaurant.

Jessica Alba: It’s so authentic and so good.

Question: Can’t hear question – something about doing the school part of the DVD, when he had done special effects on it before.

Robert Rodriguez: Yeah, this kind of movie, there’ll be plenty. That’s why I’m thinking it might be 20 minutes. Each movie’s a different project. Even though the green screen is the same, how you do it is different each time and the project you do is different each time. And I think this one in particular might interest people, because when you see the before and afters you’ll be astonished. It’s astonishing. I’ve shown people and even though they’ve seen green screen-type things before, they went, ‘That’s all you had? Alexis Bledel was walking backwards to make it look like Jackie Boy’s pulling up beside her, and the she’s just walking in place the whole time? They’re not going anywhere?’ It’s pretty amazing stuff that we did in a very small area that will floor people, and then they’ll go, ‘Wow, these actors are unbelievable.’ They’re like, ‘You’re doing this, and you’re doing a performance.’ It’s stuff you would never have to do, but we did, because we had limited means. And I think that’s fascinating.

Question: Was there a balance that you had to get style from overwhelming the story?

Robert Rodriguez: No, the thing about the book is that they go hand-in-hand. To have made a regular movie out of Sin City would have robbed it of how much the images worked on you, because that’s what I’ve always loved about them is that they were great stories on their own, but also the images are what really hits you first. And that’s the affect it’s had, people see a trailer and they say, ‘This looks unbelievable,’ because the visuals hit them. They’re not getting any story, they’re just getting the visuals, and so then you know it’s working, because it goes hand-in-hand, that’s what is so great about Frank’s books and what’s made him so enduring, and so astonishing in the comic world, is that they’re very complete as stories and very original stories, but then the visual element is also revolutionary. So that’s why I wanted to make a movie out of it, because I thought if I could put that on the screen, people have never seen that before, it’ll be a really new experience for them.

Question: Does it worry you that what’s being done digitally later that that could overwhelm your performances?

Del Toro: No, I don’t know if I’m competing with palm trees and stuff like that, but I did feel like usually in movies less is more, but in this movie – or one of the reasons to do it in some ways was that to do more is more. More over-the-top, what we call over-the-top, it’s conducive for that, it’s a comic book and the wizard was stimulating (I think he meant stipulating) that every morning. ‘Yeah, why don’t you do that? Okay.’

Robert Rodriguez: They would be in the world. He would look at the panels and go, ‘Okay, I get my hand cut off here, but in the next panel I’ve got the gun again. How did I get it out of my hand? Maybe I should go chew my fingers off the gun.’ That was his idea. They were coming up with ideas to fill in the panels.

Del Toro: And then maybe I should take the hand and put it into my pocket.

Robert Rodriguez: And I said, ‘For later.’ We were laughing about that.

Del Toro: He was like, ‘Yeah, that’s a good idea, get your hand and put it in your pocket.’

Robert Rodriguez: So that’s why he was like shuffling around, getting his hand, sticking it in his pocket, that wasn’t in the book but it’s sort of in between the lines, because the book jumped from panel to panel. And it was very creative of them to come up with things that helped the story and really filled in the story, and filled in the character and the whole reason to shoot on green screen was to really strip away the background and the effects to really make what was really important, important – which was the performances and the actors, because that’s how his comics are. Sometimes it’s just black behind an actor in the comic of the character, so that you’re really just looking at their eyes or the performance, and the characters need to be what pops out more. That’s what people are going to walk away from here, is how unique the yellow bastard is, or Elijah Wood character is, or Jackie Boy or Nancy, you think about the characters, you’re not thinking about all that other stuff.