Interview: Carlos Gallardo | MOVIE MASTERCLASSES

PrintE-mail Written by Andrew Pollard

Carlos Gallardo first came to international prominence for his starring role in 1992’s El Mariachi. Having grown up as an avid lover of film, he and long-time friend Robert Rodriguez dreamt of making movies. An actor, director and producer, Gallardo is heading to UK shores to present several movie masterclasses at the end of this month. We got the chance to have a chat with this multi-talented Mexican about the legendary El Mariachi trilogy, his plans going forward and the aim of his upcoming UK visit.

Starburst: You’re going to be over in the UK towards the end of this month for some ‘movie masterclasses.’ What can you tell us about these?

Carlos Gallardo: Well, first of all, I’m very excited to be back in the UK. I was there in 2012 and there’s a lot of similarities to Mexico City and the architecture. It felt like home. Not that Mexico City is my particular home, but my family is there. The masterclasses, basically they’re something I’ve done in the past, particularly in the ‘90s, where I went to a lot of universities. I think my biggest crowd in a big university was about 900 people, and they were talking about $100 for that. I’ve learned a lot. I want to make sure that I’m there to inspire people and try to show them what I did. I’m not going to tell them how we did it, I’m not going to tell them the way to do it. I’m there to tell them there’s one way, a different way. I’m making sure that everybody gets really comfortable. I’m not there to tell them what to do, but just enjoy your life and see the experience that I did. I hope to inspire them or help them, and there’s questions and answers. I really get down into the crowd and the audience to encourage them. I understand that a lot of people might be afraid of questions and answers, so I’ve prepared a couple of things to basically show the audience what was done in the past. But also, there’s a short film that I’m going to present, that I’m going to perfect, that was made 10 years ago. It was an $80 film that I shot, directed, and Robert [Rodriguez] wrote it. There was no crew. That’s only an example. But we still go back, we still play with that from then, from years ago. So I have that and I have plenty of other things I’m going to show from the past. Then we’ll be talking about distributing and producing. It’s to show them that if you really want to be a director, if you really want to make movies, sometimes you can’t wait 10 years to make your movie, to get financing. We know how hard it is to get that, even in our world. We have to go out there too, to try and sell our stuff. So it’s a process that never ends. And that’s one of the main things that people think, “I’ll get paid and this is going to be easy.” But it’s not, because there’s more competition.

So you’re not going into these events from just a directing perspective or a producing perspective or an acting perspective?

No, the whole filmmaking thing. From my perspective, I’m a producer, an actor, a director. I think directing is a big task and it’s got a lot of responsibility, and I don’t do it because I don’t want to do it. In all reality, I know how hard it is and I know that you have to be physically in shape because everyone’s asking questions. A lot of people that go and teach these type of classes, they’re probably not doing what they’re saying, which is in the realistic word, when I turn into channels at 3am, there’s some guy telling you how to make money. Guess what? I found out something. I found out that if you’re not in real estate, you can’t do that as a hobby. You can’t do that in any type of thing, even filmmaking, from my perspective. It’s 24/7, you have to really love this and really be passionate. A couple of days ago, I went to pick up something from a store and there was an actor there, I guess working or hadn’t had a break. I didn’t know him, but I discovered that if you get a job that you like then you’ll likely end up doing that. So get a job that you hate, that you wake up every morning hating, like I did in 1990 working for a hardware store. I hated that so much, but it had me thinking about my passion. I ended up making El Mariachi and Desperado right after that. But kids out there, they get a job, they stay there because they like it, and most likely they’re going to stay there forever. I’ve been to restaurants for the past 12 years and I see the same people there. Why don’t you quit? They say they can’t because they have too many bills now and they have to pay the rent. If they stay there, they become managers, they begin to have families. I have to tell the truth; I have to be cruel. I have to criticise myself as well, I have to tell them about those stories. I’m all prepared to criticise myself and put myself on the line. But I love to work, and Robert loves to work. Even since a kid, he’s been a workaholic. Like Quentin [Tarantino]. Quentin likes filmmaking and Quentin likes writing. I have that but I also encourage people to understand that sometimes young people want things for the wrong reasons. Basically, what you really want, you don’t know. I said it a couple of days ago, I said a lot of people know what they want but they really, really don’t know what they really want. I want to be very clear that I’m there to inspire, I’m there to help people in any possible way by explanation and by example. The short film is very important, because the choice of that, even though we’ve done El Mariachi, Desperado, Bravo and One Upon a Time in Mexico, there is still that short film that we loved to do. A lot of people in my home town wondered why we were doing that, doing that with a little camera. I think that’s an inspiration.

What do you hope to get out of these sessions then? Is it just to inspire a new generation of filmmakers?

Possibly. The people that attend the classes don’t want to be doctors or lawyers; these classes are meant for people who are studying to be filmmakers. I just tell my story, but in this scenario it’s targeted for people that are already in filmmaking or people that are production assistants, maybe young people that are trying to get into the business. And also older people that haven’t directed or produced. That’s the main story. What we had before, 25 years ago when we started, like two recorders, two VCRS, we were trying to edit, we had one channel of sound. What do we have today? You can make a movie with an iPhone! The iPhone is much better, it looks much better than the movie that I’m going to show and that is 8 minutes long. But people will understand it’s not about the look, it’s always about the story. You have to have a good story and you have to have a good style. I like a stylistic film. If you have good actors then you don’t have to move the camera that much, but we’re talking about people who are beginners and who want to try and make a movie. So you have to have good actors and a good style to make it interesting. So I think that short film kind of explains that or gives across that idea. From my computer, I’m also trying to show movies that we did when we were 13 or so. At Sundance, it was recently the 20th anniversary for El Mariachi. We showed the film, but before the film we showed a 10-minute short film that Robert and I did when we were 14 or 15. When you see that movie as somebody with an experience in the film industry, they talk about the shots and the camera movements.

Most people will be familiar with yourself for El Mariachi. As well as starring, you produced and co-wrote the movie. How did that first come about and when did you first meet Robert? How long ago was that seed planted?

I met Robert when I was a freshman in high school. We’d spend the full years of high school and college just making these type of films. I had already directed something at 12-years-old, but when I saw him I just said, “You take the camera.” I took him to Mexico and showed him all this stuff, the guns and police, and that’s just because my family had a lot of relations there. We took him to the ranch, and it was like we were in the jungle. It was like a whole world opened up. So we started making movies, all the way through high school and college. We’d made about 8 movies before El Mariachi, so it took practice to make the master. A lot of people think that movie was our first film. Truly now, I don’t consider it our first film. I consider it about our tenth film, to be honest with you.

El Mariachi was followed by Desperado. You were the star of El Mariachi then involved in a smaller role and behind the camera in Desperado. Was there any moment when you were going to take the lead role in Desperado or was it always the case to go a different direction?

No, no, no. The reality of the story is that a year after El Mariachi, prior to Desperado, everybody was set to go, but in the summer there was conflict at the studios, with the CEOs. So they changed management and we were stopped. Many movies were stopped then. We came back again a year later and things were changed, things were a little bit different. Antonio [Banderas] had done Philadelphia with Columbia Pictures, so I wasn’t gonna fight it. I thought it was better for us to make a movie than for me to be fighting for it. I was so young and I just cared to make another film. When Robert got that opportunity, and being one of my best friends, I didn’t have that professional time in the acting – I had 10 years prior but mostly with no crew, no people around. When you start seeing 100 people in front of you, it becomes a little bit different… nervous, I guess. When you see Desperado, there’s a scene with Mocco [Peter Maquardt] where we’re singing, and when we stop singing, Antonio looks at Mocco, the guy in the white suit, If you see that again, look at his hand. He is so nervous and shaking! That’s because they were not actors. For me, I have 20 years of experience on top of me, but it was an inter-studio decision and I didn’t fight for it. It’s not that I lost the part, I opted to make a movie. Remember, in El Mariachi we got a deal with Columbia Pictures, so the best thing to do was to try and cope with the whole system. What I know now I wish I knew, so we could’ve gone into an office at Sony and we could’ve done so much. But we didn’t know, we were too young to know. I wanted to keep working, to stay in the business. Then, after Desperado, Robert went off to Miramax and got a 5-year deal there, and I did Single Action, Bravo, Eastside, and Bandido. I went on to make movies that cost from $11,000, and that’s what I’m going to talk about to these students; that you can make a movie. El Mariachi cost $7,000, Single Action cost $11,000. These are examples. Again, you have to show them and be truthful. I’m saying that a lot of people talk about the past but they’re doing nothing today. I can talk about the Desperado experience, that we just wanted to make a movie. At the end of the day, we cannot put a price on art. And El Mariachi is like some art that we did, but it’s not the best movie we’ve ever done, artistic-wise. We just did it with all our hearts and our soul and our passion, and now we’re in the business to make movies.

Before any of the filmmaking started, what kind of films influenced yourself and your decisions?

I think the first film was A Fistful of Dollars. After that, I think the ‘70s were kinda weird for film. You had The Godfather, but a lot of other films were awful. Into the ‘80s, the first films that really got me were Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior and Escape from New York. They were perfect films. I think if we were 20 today, I think the films we’d love to make would be like that movie Drive. I spoke to Robert yesterday and I said that if that movie was done 20 years ago, we would be making that type of film. But those are the three main films that I can tell you. And I own them, I carry them with me in my phone.

Our personal favourite out of those would be Escape from New York, with us being big John Carpenter fans…

Did you know that Kurt Russell, he was talking like Clint Eastwood? And there’s my connection with A Fistful of Dollars. The only reason I know this is because Quentin, he worked on Death Proof. When I was on the set he told me. The great thing is for people to find out but not find out. Like Drive, who’s that actor in Drive? Ryan Gosling! Who’s he doing? Again another great example, but he’s playing Mickey Rourke. Knowing Mickey and Kurt first hand, then watching these stories around me, it’s like I’m dreaming or something.

Obviously you were the star of El Mariachi, but how much did your role behind the camera vary between El Mariachi and Desperado?

With El Mariachi, I was wearing so many hats; I was doing the squibs, the effects, the location prepping, getting all the permits, talking to the army, getting the real guns from the police. Then when we got to the set, most of the actors were friends of mine. So I knew they could act. They had to act. I was in front of them feeding them the lines and Robert was at the side and looking at the camera. Everybody was looking at me when they were acting, but when I was acting I was looking at a wall. So every time the camera’s on me, I’m talking to nobody, and I think I did a good job. That was my main thing, and trying to secure the locations. When we got to the nitty-gritty it was to get the actors in the right positions and the right mental state, because the camera would only roll once because it would use too much money. I co-wrote it in Spanish and gave it that lingo. Translating it fully would not give it the full appeal, so my job was to give it that translation factor and watch it play out as a realistic story from that specific town and the way people talk.

You mentioned using guns on the El Mariachi set, what’s the most hairy moment you’ve had on a set?

Well a lot of people get hurt. In Desperado, stunt people got hurt. We had a camera and there was this big explosion, a guy was supposed to go over the wall, and when he jumped he went into the wall. So he got some burns. But for me, in El Mariachi, the bus scene, I told the guy to keep going and to just not stop. The bus was going to hit me at 5 miles per hour, but at 5 miles per hour it still hit me pretty bad. It hit my leg and it hurt me pretty bad; I didn’t break it, but it was pretty intense. And the next night I went to the doctor in Mexico and asked for something strong but he wouldn’t do it, he just wouldn’t do it. But it goes with the job.

Concluding the trilogy, you were involved in Once Upon a Time in Mexico in a producing capacity.

That movie was really, really shot in the way that Robert shoots his movies; it was very fast, it was just moving. That movie was shot in 7 weeks. But Robert’s shooting for TV now, for El Rey, and that’s also really fast. I haven’t been to the sets lately but Once Upon a Time in Mexico was completely insane. We were moving at a pace just like Desperado, just like El Mariachi. It was very much like home.

Did you feel it was a worthy end to the trilogy?

For myself, I still think that, again, it’s more clean; the shooting and the editing are cleaner. It was our first attempt at digital. It’s a more cleaner film but very different. I can say that the trilogy would be three movies that have to do with the same story but style-wise they’re all different. They change with the chorus of time. I think if you were a family and those were your three kids, I suppose the younger will always be the more spoilt. In this case the older one is the more spoilt.

You touched on the El Rey network. Are you going to be involved with Robert with that at all?

Yeah, definitely. We’re just developing it now. Do you remember MTV back in the ‘80s? It was just videos. So it’s going to take a while; it’s going to take 5 or 10 years to start up. But he’s working really hard. He wants to do this and he’s working so much. He’s working too much. He’s working insanely. He is shooting 10 episodes of a series but as a sole director. That’s insane! He’s doing all of them. That’s crazy! There’ll be a lot of opportunity, and I’m pretty sure in time the material will be there as well. Maybe I’ll do a Double Action or Triple Action scenario, after Single Action the first film.

And there’s a plan to get a Bandido series up and running?

Yeah, definitely. I’m still thinking that I’m going to wait to repeat that film before it goes into a series. And I don’t wanna be the lead guy. We have to rewrite it. I want a young guy to come in and do it. The whole premise of it is who is this guy that went into the bar. And the first scene is there’s some old men in the bar that say, “No, there was another kid that came before,” which they’re talking about  Bandido. And then they go looking for that guy. The whole thing, I have to protect the rights to that and we have to play it very clever. And that’s why we’re going to call it Bandido. But that’s a young kid that goes out looking for this other character, who’s very old and doesn’t remember anything. And he never does recoup his memory. But the whole idea is, from something they can look for, at the end he becomes Bandido as well. We’re going to have to be clever enough to bring in young actors so we have that audience that we need.

Do you have a rough target for when you’re looking to get that rebooted?

No, right now we’re developing, then it needs a rewrite, and I haven’t found the right scenario to do that yet. I’m just now concentrating on a lot of things I’m doing with the studio. I’m going to be doing that for the next year or 2 years, on the acting side. That also takes a lot of time.

And going forward, do you see yourself more comfortable behind the camera or in front of it?

My approach is that I want to get back into studio movies as an actor and see how different things are today. And once I do that, I have a feeling what’s going to happen is that I’m going to be directing in the future. I feel comfortable that I’ll be making a movie with no money at all or with a budget.

Carlos will be hosting the ‘How to Make a Micro Budget Film & Sell It’ masterclasses on the following dates:

Monday, 28th April: Glasgow

Wednesday, 30th April: Lancaster

Thursday, 1st May: Newcastle

Saturday, 3rd May: London

Monday, 5th May: Manchester

For full event information and ticket details, visit For further details on all of Carlos’ latest projects, you can keep track of him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.


Find your local STARBURST stockist HERE, or buy direct from us HERE. For our digital edition (available to read on your iOS, Android, Amazon, Windows 8, Samsung and/or Huawei device - all for just £1.99), visit MAGZTER DIGITAL NEWSSTAND.



scroll back to top

Add comment

Security code

Sign up today!