Freddy Rodriguez was pretty tired. The sound of his voice on the phone revealed that much, but what was really telling was the way he would break into yawns. I was only given a few short minutes to talk to the star of Robert Rodriguez’ half of Grindhouse, Planet Terror, and the circumstances weren’t ideal, but you do the best with what you have.
Rodriguez (no relation to his director) plays El Wray, a tow truck driver with a mysterious past who might be the only hope humanity has against a rapidly spreading zombie infection. People who know Rodriguez from Six Feet Under or his guest starring spots on Scrubs will be surprised to see him kicking plenty of ass and shooting all sorts of ordnance and doing it all very convincingly – Rodriguez makes a pretty good badass, it turns out.
Robert Rodriguez is known for his down and dirty, very quick approach to filmmaking. How was that for you?
It wasn’t tough, especially when I realized what Robert was aiming for. Robert edits all of his own films, so when he’s directing you he’s editing in his head, which means he knows what pieces he needs and doesn’t need, which is why he’s able to be so quick. Once I understood that was the reason for his shooting so quick, I got right on.
Had you always wanted to play an action hero?
Yeah. I think every actor secretly wants to play an action hero. I think that goes down to your imagination as a child, or as a child watching action movies you always wish you could be that guy. And what better director to bring an action hero out of you than Robert?
Grindhouse comes from Quentin and Robert’s love of the exploitation genre. Were you familiar with those kinds of films before getting the role?
I was familiar with the genre. My pop, when I was a kid, used to take me to the double feature. That was part of my family entertainment as a child. So I was familiar with it, but it had been a long time since I saw one of those films. I needed to watch them again and gain a new sense of appreciation for them.
Did they sit you down and screen some for you?
We went up to Quentin’s house, and Quentin has a theater in his house. We spent two days watching grindhouse movies all day.
Here’s the thing about these grindhouse movies – some of those are really terrible. What’s it like sitting there for two days and watching so many?
It was pretty rough. It was pretty rough. But they wanted us to watch it because they wanted us to see the element that made it cool. All they wanted to do was take that element and add all the things these grindhouse directors didn’t have back in the day, which was a budget and good actors and good stories. They didn’t have that back in the day.
Each of the films has a reel missing. Did you actually film the stuff that was in the missing reel?
Maybe we did and maybe we didn’t. You have to wait until the missing reel comes out on DVD possibly.
You did sort of an action picture last year, Poseidon, but you got killed very early in the proceedings. Richard Dreyfuss killed you.
That’s right. He kicked me.
What was your experience like with Richard Dreyfuss? I ask because I visited the set of Poseidon and interviewed him and he punched me.
What do you mean he punched you?
He punched me right in the chest.
I have no idea.
He just punched you.
It was the weirdest experience I have ever had. He flicked iced coffee in my face and then he punched me.
Get out of here, man.
I swear to God. So what was your Richard Dreyfuss experience like?
It was actually pretty good. He was always cool with me. But wow. He’s a funny guy, you know. But I’ve never seen him do anything like that.
What do you have coming up next?
Nothing I can really say right now, nothing locked in. I took a well needed break these last few months and I’m about to go back to work soon.
Harsh Times just came out on DVD. Christian Bale is such an intense guy on film – is he as intense to work with?
He’s a very committed actor. Whatever the role calls for is what he’s going to bring to the table. I don’t know if I would classify that as some freakishly intense guy that doesn’t break character all day, but he’s a very committed actor.
Are you going to be coming back to Scrubs anytime soon?
[laughs] Scrubs! I might, I might. I saw Bill Lawrence, the creator, and we talked about it. I was actually supposed to come back last year, but it didn’t happen because I was doing Grindhouse. I couldn’t get away from Austin to do it.