Rodríguez was born June 20, 1968 in San Antonio, Texas, the son of Mexican-American parents Rebecca (née Villegas), a nurse, and Cecilio G. Rodríguez, a salesman. He began his interest in film at age 7 when his father bought one of the first VCRs, which came with a camera.
While attending St. Anthony High School Seminary, he was commissioned to videotape the school's football games. According to his sister he was fired soon after for shooting them with a cinematic style, getting shots of parents' reactions and the ball traveling through the air instead of shooting the whole play. There he met Carlos Gallardo; they both shot films on video throughout high school and college. After graduating Rodriguez went to the College of Communication at the University of Texas where he also developed a love of cartooning. His grades were not good enough to get into the school's film program, so he invented a daily comic strip entitled Los Hooligans with many of the characters based on his siblings – in particular, one of his sisters, Maricarmen. The comic proved to be quite successful, running for three years in the student newspaper The Daily Texan while Rodríguez continued to make short films.
Rodríguez grew up shooting action and horror short films on video, and editing on two VCRs. Finally, in the fall of 1990, his entry in a local film contest earned him a spot in the university's film program where he made the award-winning 16 mm short "Bedhead". The film chronicles the amusing misadventures of a young girl whose older brother sports an incredibly tangled mess of hair that she cannot tolerate. Even at this early stage, Rodríguez's trademark style began to emerge: quick cuts, intense zooms, and fast camera movements deployed with a sense of humor that offsets the action.
This short film attracted enough attention to encourage him to seriously attempt a career as a filmmaker. He went on to shoot the action flick El Mariachi in Spanish. El Mariachi, which was shot for around $7,000 with money raised by his friend Carlos Gallardo and participating in medical research studies, won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival in 1993. The film, originally intended for the Spanish-language low-budget home-video market, was "cleaned up" with several hundred thousand dollars before being distributed by Columbia Pictures in the United States, still being promoted as "the movie made for $7,000". Rodríguez described his experiences making the film in his book Rebel Without a Crew. The book and film inspired legions of hopeful filmmakers to pick up cameras and make no-budget movies. The film and the book are widely considered important touchstones of the independent film movement of the 1990s.
His next feature film was Desperado, a sequel to El Mariachi starring Antonio Banderas. The film introduced Salma Hayek to American audiences. Rodríguez went on to collaborate with Quentin Tarantino on the vampire thriller, From Dusk till Dawn (he co-produced two sequels), and with Kevin Williamson on the horror film The Faculty.
In 2001, Rodríguez enjoyed his first $100,000,000 (USD) Hollywood hit with Spy Kids, which went on to become a trilogy, with the last film released in a crude form of 3D. A third "mariachi" film also appeared in late 2003, Once Upon a Time in Mexico which completed the Mariachi Trilogy. He operates a production company called Troublemaker Studios, formerly Los Hooligans Productions.
Rodríguez co-directed Sin City (2005), an adaptation of the Frank Miller Sin City comic books; Quentin Tarantino guest-directed a scene. During production in 2004, Rodríguez insisted that Miller direct the film with him because he considered the visual style of Miller's comic art to be just as important as his own in the film. However, the Directors Guild of America would not allow it, citing that only "legitimate teams" could share the director's credit (e.g. the Wachowski Brothers). Rodríguez chose to resign from the DGA, stating, "It was easier for me to quietly resign before shooting because otherwise I'd be forced to make compromises I was unwilling to make or set a precedent that might hurt the guild later on." By resigning from the DGA, Rodríguez was forced to relinquish his director's seat on the film John Carter of Mars (in development) for Paramount Pictures. Rodríguez had already signed on and had been announced as director of that film, planning to begin filming soon after completing Sin City.
Sin City was a critical hit in 2005 as well as a box office success, particularly for a hyperviolent comic book adaptation that did not have name recognition comparable to the X-Men or Spider-Man. He has stated that he is interested in eventually adapting all of Miller's Sin City comic books.
Rodríguez released The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 2005, a superhero-kid movie intended for the same younger audiences as his Spy Kids series. Shark Boy & Lava Girl was based on a story conceived by Rodríguez's 7 year-old son, Racer, who was given credit for the screenplay. The film was not a major success, having grossed 39 million dollars at the box office.
Since 1998, he has owned the film rights to Mike Allred's off-beat comic Madman. The two have hinted at the project being close to beginning on several occasions without anything coming of it. However, other projects have been completed first (Allred was instrumental in connecting Rodríguez with Frank Miller, leading to the production of Sin City). In 2004, Allred, while promoting his comic book, The Golden Plates, announced that a screenplay by George Huang was near completion. In March 2006, it was announced that production on Sin City 2 would be postponed. Allred announced at the 2006 WonderCon that production would likely commence on Madman the Movie in 2006. Huang is actually friends with Rodriguez, who advised him to pursue filmmaking as a career when Rodriguez landed a deal with Columbia Pictureswhere Huang was an employee.
Rodriguez wrote and directed the film Planet Terror for the collaboration with Quentin Tarantino in their double feature Grindhouse (released in 2007). This film was a throwback to the Grindhouse exploitative cinema of the past.
He also has a series of "Ten Minute Film School" segments on several of his DVD releases, showing aspiring filmmakers how to make good, profitable movies using inexpensive tactics. Starting with the Once Upon a Time in Mexico DVD, Rodríguez began creating a series called, "Ten Minute Cooking School" where he revealed his recipe for "Puerco Pilbil" (based on Cochinita pibil, an old dish from Yucatán), the same food Johnny Depp's character, "Agent Sands" ate in the film. The popularity of this series led to the inclusion of another "Cooking School" on the two-disc version of the "Sin City" DVD where Rodríguez teaches the viewer how to make "Sin City Breakfast Tacos," a dish (made for his cast and crew during late-night shoots) utilizing his grandmother's tortilla recipe and different egg mixes for the filling. He had initially planned to release a third "Cooking School" with the October 16 DVD release of "Planet Terror" but then announced on the "Film School" segment of the DVD that he would put it on the upcoming Grindhouse Theatrical DVD set instead. The Cooking School, titled "Texas Barbecue...from the GRAVE!," is a dish based on the "secret barbecue recipe" of "JT Hague," Jeff Fahey's character in the film.
A strong supporter of digital film making, Rodríguez was introduced to this by director George Lucas, who personally invited Rodríguez to use the digital cameras at Lucas' headquarters.
In May 2007 it was announced that Rodríguez had signed on to direct a remake of Barbarella for a 2008 release. At the 2007 Comic-Conconvention, actress Rosario Dawson announced that because of Barbarella, production of Sin City 2 would be put on hold. She also announced that she would be playing an amazon in the Barbarella film.
In May 2008 Rodriguez is said to be shopping around a prison drama television series called Woman in Chains!, with Rose McGowan being a possibility for a lead role.
As of June 2008, plans to remake the film Barbarella with Rose McGowan as the lead have been delayed; the actress and director are instead remaking the film Red Sonja.
As of May 2009, Rodriguez plans to produce a live-action remake of Fire and Ice, a 1983 film collaboration between painter Frank Frazettaand animator Ralph Bakshi. The deal was closed shortly after Frazetta's death.
On April 23, 2009, it was announced that Rodriguez would produce a new Predator sequel, entitled Predators. This film's script was based on early drafts he had written after seeing the original. Rodriguez's ideas included a planet-sized game preserve and various creatures used by the Predators to hunt a group of abducted yet skilled humans. Opening to mixed reviews, the film fared reasonably well at the box office - forming speculation that a sequel may be in the works.
Machete is a feature film directed by Rodriguez and released in September 2010. It is an expansion of a fake trailer Rodriguez directed for the 2007 film Grindhouse. It starred Danny Trejo as the title character. Trejo, Rodriquez' 2nd cousin, has worked with him in some of his other movies such as From Dusk till Dawn, Once Upon a Time in Mexico and Spy Kids, where Trejo's character was also known as Machete. Although originally announced to be released direct-to-DVD as an extra on the Planet Terror DVD, the film was produced as a theatrical release.
According to Rodriguez, the origins of the film go back to Desperado. He says, "When I met Danny, I said, 'This guy should be like the Mexican Jean-Claude Van Damme or Charles Bronson, putting out a movie every year and his name should be Machete.' So I decided to do that way back when, never got around to it until finally now. So now, of course, I want to keep going and do a feature." In an interview withRolling Stone magazine, Rodriguez said that he wrote the screenplay back in 1993 when he cast Trejo in Desperado. "So I wrote him this idea of a federale from Mexico who gets hired to do hatchet jobs in the U.S. I had heard sometimes FBI or DEA have a really tough job that they don't want to get their own agents killed on, they'll hire an agent from Mexico to come do the job for $25,000. I thought, "That's Machete. He would come and do a really dangerous job for a lot of money to him but for everyone else over here it's peanuts." But I never got around to making it."
Rodriguez hoped to film Machete at the same time as Sin City 2. Additionally, during Comic-Con International 2008, he took the time to speak about Machete, including such topics as: status, possible sequels after the release of Machete, and production priorities. It was also revealed that he has regularly pulled sequences from it for his other productions including Once Upon a Time in Mexico. Machete was released in theaters September 3, 2010 in the U.S.A.
On May 5, 2010, Robert Rodriguez responded to Arizona's controversial immigration law by releasing an "illegal" trailer on Ain't It Cool News. The fake trailer combined elements of the Machete trailer that appeared in Grindhouse with footage from the actual film, and implied that the film would be about Machete leading a revolt against anti-immigration politicians and border vigilantes. Several movie websites, including Internet Movie Database, reported that it was the official teaser for the film. However, Rodriguez later revealed the trailer to be a joke, explaining "it was Cinco de Mayo and I had too much tequila."
Rodriguez announced in April 2006 that he and his wife Elizabeth Avellán, with whom he had five children, separated after 16 years of marriage.
He reportedly had a "dalliance" with actress Rose McGowan during the shooting of Grindhouse. In October 2007, Elle Magazinerevealed that Rodríguez cast McGowan as the title role in his remake of Barbarella. After some reports of them breaking up and being together again, they split up in October 2009.
The "one-man film crew" and "Mariachi-style"
Rodríguez not only has the usual credits of producing, directing and writing his films, he also frequently serves as editor, director of photography, camera operator, steadicam operator, composer, production designer, visual effects supervisor, and sound editor on his films. This has earned him the nickname of "the one-man film crew." He abbreviates his numerous roles in his film credits; Once Upon A Time In Mexico, for instance, is "shot, chopped, and scored by Robert Rodriguez", and Sin City is "shot and cut by Robert Rodriguez."
He calls his style of making movies "Mariachi-style" (in reference to his first feature film El Mariachi) in which (according to the back cover of his book Rebel Without a Crew) "Creativity, not money, is used to solve problems." Stu Maschwitz coined the term "Robert Rodriguez list", i.e. you make a list of things you have access to like cool cars, apartments, horses, samurai swords and so on, and then write the screenplay based on that list.
The only actors that are not listed are ones that appeared in the Spy Kids movies only, and no other Rodriguez film. These actors includeAlan Cumming, Mike Judge, Matt O'Leary, Emily Osment, Tony Shalhoub and Alexa Vega.
1Tarantino has collaborated with Rodriguez in more ways than just an actor.