Robert Rodriguez is a director who can’t easily be placed in a specific category or box. He’s made family-friendly films like Spy Kids, noir crime thrillers like Sin City, and blockbuster action movies like Alita: Battle Angel. His newest film, the sci-fi thriller Hypnotic, just had its international premiere at the Cannes Film Festival and is now available on-demand in the U.S.
In the movie, Ben Affleck plays a detective who suffers from grief and trauma over his missing daughter. However, a mysterious clue left behind at a bank heist sends him on a cat-and-mouse chase with the man he believes has his daughter. But with mind control and false realities all in play, nothing in Hypnotic is as it seems. Halfway through the film, a major twist completely changes everything the audience thinks they know and alters the entire trajectory of the story.
Rodriguez was able to take a break from his busy schedule at Cannes to chat about his new film and also reflect on his 1998 cult hit The Faculty, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
Digital Trends: I’ve heard that Hypnotic is your passion project and that you’ve wanted to make this movie for a long time. Where did the idea come from and how did it all come together?
Robert Rodriguez: The real core influence came from one of my earliest memories in theaters. My mom took me to see a double feature of Hitchcock‘s Rebecca and Spellbound. The Salvador Dali dream sequence [in Spellbound] really stuck with me. I’ve been a fan of Hitchcock’s films for so long. I even did a Hitchcock-type thriller earlier in my career called El Mariachi that was heavily inspired by those kinds of movies he did where a guy is usually misidentified as a bad guy and then chased.
When I was making Spy Kids 2, Hitchcock’s Vertigo had just been restored and given a limited release. I was watching it and going, “Wow, another one of these Hitchcock films that has the twists and turns, a strong leading man, and a one-word title that’s very mysterious.” Then I knew I wanted to come up with something like that. I wondered what one-word title he would have used if he had kept going for another 10 films. You know, he had Psycho, Frenzy, Spellbound, Vertigo, Notorious…and then it just popped right in my head — Hypnotic.
I thought that was cool, but then I had to ask what it meant. So I thought of a guy who couldn’t be caught. Someone you’re so close to catching, but then suddenly the cops shoot each other, you’re framed for it, and he walks off with your bank account. So some of the key scenes in the movie, like the bank heist, were actually from the first jaunt of writing I did and then put aside, thinking “One day I’ll finish this.” Before I knew it, 15 years had gone by before I picked it up again and created the new ending.
But then I got Alita and worked on that project. Later, as we were just about to finally start shooting Hypnotic, COVID hit and we had to stop. The production actually got shut down two more times after we started in 2021 too. So it was a long road.
Hypnotic has about three major twists, the first of which comes about halfway through the movie. Dealing with hypnotics and mind control offered a lot of room to play with, but I have to ask, as a filmmaker how do you construct a story and keep everything in line when you’ve got so many twists and turns?
To me, that’s what made the movie so much fun. The hypnotic world is more fun and had so many layers. The first part of the film you can make look like a Ridley Scott (Blade Runner) or Michael Mann (Heat) movie, with heightened music, heightened colors, and heightened grain. But then the real world is more antiseptic and clean, and then when you go back into the hypnotic world, you’re back into the cool movie again. Instead of wearing red blazers, you’re wearing leather jackets. It gave us lots to play with and allowed the actors to play different characters, which they loved.
One thing I noticed about Hypnotic is something I’ve noticed with many of your other movies too, like Planet Terror and The Faculty –– they can’t easily be placed in one genre. Hypnotic is part action and part thriller, with some sci-fi aspects thrown in. You do a great job at making films that blend a lot of genres, but I also know that audiences and critics usually want things that easily fit into defined categories. Do you ever feel worried about doing your own thing, knowing it won’t fit into the standardized boxes Hollywood wants them to?
Not really, not when you look at the long run. I always love genre-mixed movies. They always say if you mix genres, you’re movie isn’t going to be as successful. It’s conventional wisdom, and it isn’t wrong, they’ve got the data to show you that. But I go for it anyways. When me and Quentin [Tarantino] did From Dusk Till Dawn, we knew that mixing genres would limit the audience. But 30 years later, people still come up to me and talk about it.
It’s hard sometimes to get people to head to a theater to see a mixed-genre film, but over the long haul, people come around and love it, so you just have to make a choice. I personally like mixed-genre movies, and I found that over time people respond to them a lot. Like I’ve never heard people talk so enthusiastically about The Faculty until the last couple of years. I hear about that movie so much now.
Ok, since we’re on the topic of The Faculty, I have to tell you that it’s my favorite movie of all time. I’ve written numerous articles about it and have the poster hanging on my wall. This year also marks the movie’s 25th anniversary after premiering in 1998, so I’d love to ask a few questions about it. First off, the cast. How did you get such a fantastic ensemble of actors ranging from teen heartthrobs to horror legends, Broadway stars, and even Jon Stewart?
Honestly, it was little by little. First off, I knew I wanted Elijah Wood. I didn’t even want to do the movie unless we got Elijah. I actually flew to meet him on another set to convince him to do the movie. I knew the lead in the movie needed to be really good, and Elijah was fantastic, so I knew I needed him.
For Josh Hartnett, he came in to audition and was dropping his papers, he had his pages mixed up, he didn’t really read the scene right, and then he just walked out, and I was like … that’s the guy. The studio called me and was like, “You’re hiring that guy?!?” I told them that I had been watching for weeks people come in and try to act like the cool guy, but Hartnett was the first guy to come in who actually is the cool guy. That guy is just so freakin’ cool that I just needed to roll camera on him.
Then for Stokely, Clea DuVall comes in wearing sunglasses. She does a whole scene wearing sunglasses, barely even looking up. She walks out and I go, “That’s Stokely!” They were like, “That girl? You can’t even see her face!” And I was like, “I know, that’s the character!” Later on, I told her about the audition and she was like, “Oh shit! I was so nervous I must have forgotten to take my sunglasses off!” I had thought it was a character choice, but she hadn’t even intended on doing it on purpose. Everything just kind of came together magically.
Jon Stewart was doing a late-night talk show at the time, but it wasn’t The Daily Show, he had a show before that. I first met him because I was a guest on his show for Desperado. When I was casting The Faculty, I just remembered him and was like, that guy is so charming and so funny, I’m gonna get that guy to be one of the teachers.
And for Salma Hayek, I had already worked with her a bunch. And she says that now she gets so many people bringing her The Faculty stuff to sign. She recently told me that the movie gets brought up to her a lot now and she has people asking her to sign stuff for her character as the nurse from The Faculty.
For Bebe Neuwirth, I was a huge fan of hers. I saw her in Chicago and she was just awesome. She has such a great voice, it’s very mysterious. I knew she would give the principal a really great edge.
And oh my God, Piper Laurie, she scared the shit out of me. We were filming the scene where she cuts up Bebe Neuwirth with the scissors, and Laurie seemed like such a soft-spoken woman so I tried showing her what I wanted and was telling her to slash downward toward the camera. And then she takes the scissors from me and starts doing the motion you see in the movie with that blank stare. It was so creepy, and then I was like…wait she was in Carrie, so of course she knows what she’s doing! That look she gave was just so macabre.
How did you get chosen to direct The Faculty?
Well, I knew I wanted to do Spy Kids, but The Faculty was something the studio really wanted me to make. They had this Kevin Williamson script [referring to The Faculty‘s screenplay] and Scream was already a big hit and they were like, “Look, you have to do this right now because these teen movies might be dead in a year! So you gotta make this right now, and you’re not ready to make Spy Kids anyways.” Which was true, I still had some script work and stuff to do on Spy Kids, so I figured The Faculty would be a good one for me to do where I could find a crew and a space in Austin, Texas, and then I could just jump right into Spy Kids after.
Making The Faculty was just a blast. There was so much young energy and the actors were just so into it. I will say, I was worried it wouldn’t do well though. I wanted them to use a different title because our target audience wasn’t gonna want to see a movie about teachers. So I fought for a better title.
Did you have some title ideas in your head?
I did. There was Alienated, but my favorite idea was The Others. And the studio was like, “No no, let’s just go with The Faculty.” Then two years later that same studio released a movie titled The Others with Nicole Kidman. But I came up with that name for The Faculty. I mean, it’s possible that its script already had that title, but yeah, I wanted that title for my movie. I think The Faculty didn’t perform as well as it could have because of the title.
I remember growing up there was a movie with Nick Nolte called Teachers. And I remember being like … what kid wants to see a movie about teachers? That’s what I was worried about with my movie, that we weren’t going to attract a younger audience because of the title. They even had to shoot extra footage of the faculty doing stuff like closing windows and locking doors for the trailer, which just strengthened the idea of teachers being the bad guys. So yeah, I think they didn’t know how to sell it, which is why I think so many people discovered it later and are now coming out and being like, “Hey, this movie is pretty good!”
Hypnotic is available digitally on-demand and The Faculty is streaming on Max.
- Scott Adkins on his new sequel to the cult action hit Accident Man
- Robert Rodriguez will revive Spy Kids franchise at Netflix