(l to r: Eiza González, D.J. Cotrona, Brandon Soo Hoo, Zane Holtz, Madison Davenport, Jesse Garcia)
NYCC 2015: FROM DUSK TIL DAWN ROUNDTABLE PART 1
Interview conducted by Karin Crighton
Robert Rodriguez’ cult-classic-turned-series From Dusk Till Dawn is heading into its second season finale on his own El Rey Network. The cast and Rodriguez joined reports for a roundtable about the series, their characters, and working with a legend of indie film.
As this roundtable questions regarding the second season, there are a spoilers through Season 2, Episode 7.
DJ Cotrona plays Seth Gecko, the brains of the Gecko Brothers operation, and Jesse Garcia plays Texas Ranger Frederico Gonzalez, the lawman desperately trying to take them down.
The group reporter questions appear in italics. Answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Reporter: Growing up were you guys a big fan of the original movie? When you were approached, was this something you jumped on right away, working with Robert Rodriguez on a new network?
DJ Cotrona: I remember I was sick, I was in the pharmacy buying cold medicine and my phone rang. My agent called me and said, “Hey, a meeting came up very last minute, can you be at this address in an hour?”, and I said, “No, I’m sick, I need a week. I’ll call you when I’m feeling better.”
“It’s Robert Rodriguez, he wants to sit down with you.”
“I’m leaving the pharmacy, I’ll be right there.”
I’m a giant fan of Robert’s. I always have been, he’s one of the reasons I wanted to become an actor. I went into it just excited trying to get a job with him. We sat down and he chatted with me about his network and his vision for it and it was amazing. He wanted to create a network of his creative influences and his tastes, so I was sold. Then he told me about Dusk, that he wanted to revisit it. I was a giant fan of the film. It can be intimidating to take on the mantel of something that’s so iconic, but I think we see that more and more these days. Also we have a very special privilege here in that we’re not doing it for someone else with a reinterpretation of the film, it’s Robert himself visiting his own property as our director, our editor, his hands on every part of the creative process. To get to play this character, in this project, with Robert himself, as an actor, and as a fan, it’s a no brainer! And we just go to work every day and do the best that we can.
Jesse Garcia: And we’re happy to go to work. There’s a lot of jobs that I’ve done that were, “Fuck, I’ve got to go to work today, this sucks.” Which is terrible and ungrateful, being an actor you’re grateful for every job you have. But there are some gigs that are just money gigs; you’re hoping to pay some bills. But this job everyone took a pay cut, no one’s getting what they usually get for TV quotes [the term used to describe union pay rates] because it’s a startup network. It’s Robert’s baby, it’s our baby too, really, we just wanted to work with Robert. Robert’s such an iconic filmmaker. I was huge fan right from the very beginning, before I even wanted to be an actor when I was watching El Mariachi on tape. When I got the call to first meet with him, I was like, “What? Yeah, I’ll be there. Rush hour in LA? I’ll be there. I’ll be there a couple hours early just to sit in the car and hang out.” When I finally booked it, it was a whirlwind thing. I had a callback Friday night, booked it, got on a plane Sunday, was sitting across a diner table from Don Johnson Monday morning at 5:30am. It’s a dream come true for me; working with one of my favorites and learning from one of the best. And to get to work with these guys, they’re all great. Luckily, we all genuinely like each other!
DJC: That’s not a sound bite, it usually is, but we do all get along. It’s the environment Robert sets up. He’s one of the godfathers of independent film from way back in the ‘90s, and that spirit lives on in Austin in Troublemaker, where we shoot the series, and the way Robert works. We’re far away from LA, we’re far away from New York, we’re far away from the industry; it’s familial. The crew Robert uses is primarily the crew Robert uses on his films. Everybody knows each other. We have a working rhythm and a speed.
JG: The speed is fast.
DJC: We do everything by instinct. There’s no wrong answer. We get strong ownership of our characters. Robert trusts us to come up with the best ideas we have. Creatively, by far, it’s the most satisfying job I’ve done.
Reporter: From Dusk Till Dawn has a massive cult following. Going into season 2, do you feel any trepidation building upon the mythology of Seth Gecko (who was in the original film) and Frederico Gonzalez (who’s an original character)? Are you able to create as an actor or are you handcuffed to what came before?
DJC: Getting to point we’re at in the second season was always the design. The characters are obviously very iconic, you feel like that movie just came out because it’s so evocative and powerful. I’m one of that fan base. By design of the first season, we retread a lot of moments and then expand on them, reintroduce to the audience the characters, the world, the relationships. But the goal was always to get to the second season. The reason Robert was excited, and all of us were, was to re-explore this world and take it new places and in order to do that we have to get past what was established in the first. So by the time we get to the second season, everybody’s excited. There’s no problem of being afraid, it’s an embarrassment of riches. We can do no wrong. It’s creatively trying to figure out what makes sense for a character as an area to explore, but what are the boundaries? If you go too far in one direction, are you creating a new character that doesn’t feel like the person it should. I feel like we’ve struck a really good balance, and again, we’re doing it with Robert, so there’s no wrong answer.
JG: And there’s some cool stuff with the Mesoamerican mythology that we’re staying true to. I’m learning about a bunch of stuff (there’s a little bit of creative license to do some of these things) but I didn’t know some of this stuff existed. I’ve gone to flea markets and I see these books, and I text them to Carlos Coto (our showrunner) and he says, “Yeah, we got those.” And I say, “Of course you do.”
DJC: I thought it was just them making shit up for the show, but I caught a couple of shows on the Discovery Channel one time. “Wait a minute, that’s real? I thought that was Jake Busey just rambling!” The last shot of the film is that cool pullout where you finally see the back of the Titty Twister where you finally see that it’s a giant temple. Robert has that painting in one of the main rooms at Troublemaker, and he’s been staring at it for twenty years. He had a lot more material for the original Dusk film that he couldn’t fit into the story. So he’s been thinking about this an extrapolating on it and we’re lucky enough to be the recipients of that drawer with all the dust opening and bringing those ideas to light.
JG: I watch it as a fan and I see the stuff that everyone’s doing. I’m kind of the lone wolf, the law guy, so I’m either chasing these guys or trying to figure something out. So when I see these guys’ performances, I think “Oh that was really cool!” or “That was awesome!”, they respond, “Oh, no, no...”
DJC: Is that me or Zane? Or both?
JG: It’s a combination of both.
DJC: We’re morphing into the same person.
JG: Even being in it, as a fan, I’m enjoying watching the show. And I don’t like watching my own shows. But this one, I do.
DJC: Me neither, but I like watching this one.
Reporter: I’m loving the dialogue this season; that scene where “I’m not your friend”...
DJC: Episode 2!
Reporter: Yes, the soliloquies! How do you two find the tone, the rhythm? Do you practice them together?
DJC: For the majority of the first season, it was Zane and I bouncing the stuff back and forth to each other. We just did the work. We shoot the show really quickly, with not a lot of prep, so we took it upon ourselves to try and not fuck up. Every night Zane and I would get together and ramble our dialogue back and forth kind of like that scene in Reservoir Dogs. We’d ramble and walk around in a circle until we didn’t even have to think about it and we had it.
JG: I think it was one of the first takes where you and Zane were walking from the car to the convenience store, Robert goes “Fuck, that’s how they’re going to do it? Shit.” [said with positivity] They ended up using the first take.
DJC: The first shot of us together with the walk and talk was the first day, the first shot, the first take for us and it just clicked. There’s no interesting, ethereal answer. We just sit in a room and we clunk-ily say the dialogue to each other until it feels right and we dissect it until we understand it. And we all get giant pieces of material, everybody works different.
JG: The first season they set us up in these condos, so we have our own little Melrose Place. So we would have days where we’d go to each other’s condos and rehearse with each other. We all put in a lot of work and nobody wanted to be that person that fucked up. Especially being in a Robert Rodriguez show, you wanted to live up to his name and live up to the name of the show. At the end of the day, the answer to your question is we just put in the work.
DJC: And it’s also there are no mistakes. And Robert makes us feel that way. When you get to your job, your director has a certain opinion or the project you’re working on has a certain tone and you need to stay within the lines, color within the parameters, and I expected that with this, but Robert really trusts us to just go for it. He’s big on following your instincts. When it comes to big, verbose pieces of dialogue that is a gift. When you feel that safe to just go nuts and try ridiculous shit, it works better. You find the natural vibe faster. I think you have more fun with it! If we’re having fun it’s more enjoyable.
JG: These guys are killing it. He and Zane are killing it with those monologues! I can’t do that. I say, “Give me a couple words here and there. I’m okay with that, give me a little dialogue.”
Reporter: I wanted to ask you about your characters. Do you feel Seth is getting closure with his season, especially in the most recent episode? And how does Freddie feel about his role as peacekeeper in this whole situation?
JG: He’s still resisting a little bit, but he’s coming to terms that he has to do this. He's got to do this because he wants his family back. That was one of the lines, “You do what you got to do and it comes back.” Something like that. I don’t remember her lines, I barely remember my lines! I think for me as me playing Freddie it’s a lot of fun. You get to learn a bunch of different things about him and little by little he becomes more of a badass. Which is fun for me, I get into some really cool fight scenes. And the fight scenes you see towards the end of the season are ridiculous.
DJC: Ridiculous. Robert pulled out all the stops in the finale.
JG: The finale is going to be awesome. Freddie, with the development of his character, is coming together really nicely.
DJC: When we shot the first season, when I got the script, I knew who this guy way. I knew what his demons were, I knew what the problems were, I knew what I was going to try and play. I was really excited about it. Obviously, at the end of the first season, when we split Seth and Richie - they’re one person. This is a sick codependent romance movie about two brothers. At the start of the second season, when I saw how broken Seth was, that the writers wanted to start there, I didn’t like it. I was like, “This can’t be right. Seth’s a control freak. He would never go this far.” But after looking it and talking to everybody, I was wrong. It was a great place to start. Because that’s all he has in the world: his brother. No matter how much he messes things up for him, he’s half of him. It was really great to cut this guy in half and see the PT Barnum/vaudevillian guy in front: what does he look like when he’s completely given up? It was fun to start him from nothing and what he had to do to rebuild himself and discover why he lives and what is important to him.
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