Robert Rodriguez can’t help immersing himself in his film projects. Hollywood and the movie-going public love him for it.
Robert Rodriguez can’t come to the phone right now. Not that he doesn’t love talking movies. The 33-year-old director is just much happier making them.
It’s summertime in Austin, Texas, but Mr. Rodriguez isn’t enjoying the bluebonnets or basking in the success of Spy Kids, which grossed $105 million in its first nine weeks of release. He’s already busy shooting his next picture.
Between shooting the final film of the El Mariachi/Desperado trilogy in Mexico, gearing up for a Spy Kids sequel, and planning a biopic about late blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan, he seldom has time for journalists. In fact, he declined to be interviewed for this story.
“He just enjoys the heck out of what he does,” says Bel Hernandez, editor and publisher of Latin Heat, an entertainment trade magazine that has followed his career. “To him, it’s not work. It’s something that keeps him going and something that he loves to do.”
Anointed one of the hottest filmmakers of his generation and praised for his ability to make hit movies on the cheap, Mr. Rodriguez remains unaffected by all the attention. He’d rather be on a set juggling duties as director, cameraman, film editor, special effects guru, and the guy who strums guitar during breaks. Or with his wife and three kids in Austin, Texas, where they make their home.
“He’s very loyal, thoughtful, sensitive,” says Charles Ramirez Berg, a film professor at the University of Texas at Austin and a longtime friend and mentor who had a bit part in Spy Kids. “He never fell for the Hollywood thing or got swept off his feet.”
Actually, it happened the other way around. The Texas native swept Hollywood off its feet in 1992 with El Mariachi, which he made for only $7,000. The film tells the story of a gentle musician mistaken for a killer who carries weapons in a guitar case. Mr. Rodriguez, then a college student, raised money for El Mariachi by serving as a paid subject in a cholesterol medication study. He recruited a fellow “lab rat” to play the movie’s head villain.
Today, he commands big bucks for his movie budgets (Spy Kids was made for $36 million) and top stars are eager to work with him. Yet he remains thrifty and still loves putting friends and relatives in his movies. He has never forgotten his roots.
“Living in Austin helps a lot,” says his wife and producer, Elizabeth Avellan. “[We keep] as close to a normal life as we can with our children. He’s a family guy. Our families are always around us. That helps you remember where you came from.”
Born in San Antonio, Texas, Mr. Rodriguez grew up in a family of 10 children. As a kid, he drew flip-page movies in the margins of dictionaries. After getting his first video camera, he recruited his brothers and sisters to star in homemade movies. At the all-boys St. Anthony Catholic High School, he filmed football games and, to the delight of classmates, made movies that spoofed the priests. He also was a skilled artist and cartoonist.
High school peers say his talents were formidable even then.
Monica Caballero, a San Antonio attorney who also graduated in 1986 from one of the city’s Catholic high schools, recalled seeing his drawings in a student anthology. Vivid, offbeat, and sophisticated, they included a sketch of some thumbs playing soccer with an eyeball and a sketch of a hand drawing another hand. They reminded Ms. Caballero of M.C. Escher’s work.
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