Still Raising His Hand

Robert Rodriguez unleashes Sharkboy and Lavagirl this weekend

By Mark Sotelo
Published on LatinoLA: June 10, 2005

Still Raising His Hand

"I thought it would be a great idea, a family making a movie for other families," says Director Robert Rodriguez about his new kid friendly action film The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl, which opens nationwide Friday.

This imaginative 3D entry into the competitive summer movie arena is quite literally a family affair. Co-produced with wife Elizabeth Avellan, the concept of the film came from the mind of Rodriguez then 7-year-old son Racer Max.

Though often lighthearted and filled with even more action then the Spykids series, Sharkboy and Lavagirl is at heart about childhood imagination and the loss of identity that occurs when ones vision of the self and the world is stripped of color, possibility and dreams.

The films hero is 10-year-old Max, a daydreamer who does not fit in with his classmates and whose face alternates between a cringe and a frown at his own unpopularity.

Max imagination instead of being nurtured makes him an object of ridicule by his teacher Mr. Electricidad (George Lopez, who also plays Max arch enemy Mr. Electric and two other roles) his mother, (Kristin Davis) who worries it will alienate him further from other kids, and a sadistic school bully (Jacob Davich) who Max has a difficult time shaking throughout the film. Only his father ( David Arquette) a struggling writer is sympathetic to Max creative nature.

To escape and tolerate his environment Max has created an elaborate futuristic world, the visually stunning Planet Drool, seemingly a children?s paradise of endless rollercoaster rides, fantastic high speed racing vehicles, and edible landscapes like the Land of Milk and Cookies.

But his greatest creation, which exists in Max rich coveted book of dreams, are Sharkboy (Taylor Lautner) and Lavagirl (Taylor Dooley) super heroes whose freedom he envies but much to his shock come to actually exist and seek his help with a crises on Planet Drool which is about to be destroyed by the hulking metallic Dr. Electric.

Electric with his cleverly designed Plug Hounds and mean spirited sidekick Minus plot to end all dreaming as we know it and put in place a bleak tyrannical empire where bullies rule and ideas are not allowed.

The films colorful director and Quentin Tarrentino co-conspirator (The two will work together again in a horror film called "Grind") might seem at first glance an unlikely director of children's films. With his famous cowboy hat, long hair, white ruffled shirt, citified pinstripe suit and silver jewelry he looks exactly like the kind of man who would direct a blockbuster like Sin City but this is his forth children's film.

George Lopez thinks he knows why Rodriguez has also been successful at this. "Ever since I first met him I have thought to myself that I don't think I've known anyone who has kept that childlike quality in his mind and body and still become a powerful man as Robert has." Says the actor: "With most people that quality at sometime goes but with Robert it hasn't."

The origins for Sharkboy and Lavagirl couldn't have been more innocuous, the director recalls. "I play shark at my house. We put on the Jaws soundtrack real loud through the speakers and I chase the kids around in the water. I made this pool with a little island in the middle so that if you want to lie down you have to swim back to shore when you're finished. The kids hide on that and I circle around. My son Racer is real crafty and sly and to get out of being eaten he said 'How about you be the sharkdad and I be the sharkboy?'"

The idea stayed with Racer, who wanted to make a movie but Rodriguez instead worked with him on the idea of drawing Sharkboy as a children's book, a family collaboration.

"I encouraged him to come up with a female character as well," said Rodriguez. "I asked him what else he loved besides sharks. He thought for a moment then said, "Lava!"

The production end of the project began with a phone call from Miramax Producer /Executive Bob Weinstein, who, thrilled with the international success of Spy Kids 3D, asked if the director had anything similar on the pipeline. After kicking around a few ideas with Rodriguez, including a different take on the Spy Kids franchise, Weinstein jumped at the Sharkboy and Lavagirl concept.

Rodriguez also wisely help cast the young leads. Sharkboy is a back-flipping acrobat with a temper, who comically sports both a fin and an endless assortment of superhero action poses. We learn early in the film that he lost his father as a young child and was raised by sharks.

Rodriguez was unaware at the time of casting Lautner that the 13 year old brought with him some special skills to the role.

"I do extreme marshal arts in real life and I was never on any wires when doing those kinds of action scenes in the movie. Robert didn't know I did that when he booked me but I have been doing it for six years. Then he saw a DVD of me doing marshal arts and asked me to choreograph my own fight scenes and I was like cool!!!"

Because of the elaborate special affects and landscapes which were added long after the kids had shot their scenes, they had to adapt and trust in their director's instructions about moving and acting in their unseen world.

"You have to have a great imagination to work with the green screen and none of us had done it, before so it was hard at first. We would have been lost if Robert had not helped us. 90 percent of what was filmed was in front of a green screen wall so when we saw the finished movie I thought, wow! Robert and Racer have an amazing imagination," says Lautner.

The fushia haired Lava Girl, like many girls her age, is uncomfortable being in her skin at times and especially regarding the violent nature of her "gift," which is excreting boiling lava and fire. She longs for a clue as what her purpose is and struggles with issues of guilt and self worth at times.

In that way, she does not seem to resemble Taylor Dooley, 12, the confident young actress who in real life is a brunette and bares a striking resemblance to Natalie Portman.

"I hear that a lot," she says, adding that the comparison to Spy Kids' Carmen Cortez, played by Alexa Vega, is another familiar comparison. "People say I look like her or my character is like Carman Cortez, but I never worry about it. I like the Spy Kids movies but were not the same really."

The lead character Max was chosen by Rodriguez for his resemblance to his own son Racer and was given his middle name as the character's first. Played by tow-headed Cayden Boyd, 10, he confesses to having suffered a bully once when he was younger

"Sharkboy would have been really good to know back then," he says. The actors, who all live in close proximity to each other, seem to have a genuine bond of friendship and when asked who is favorite super heroes are, he looked over his co-stars and said, "Sharkboy and Lavagirl, of course!"

All enjoyed the antics of George Lopez, who helped make the set fun for all involved.

"George is a riot!" says Dooley. "He always keep us laughing, and I remember during the classroom scenes he would start throwing paper wads at us and we had to fight to keep a straight face."

Lopez, who uses so much facial expression on his sitcom and stand up, is perfectly cast to play the villain Mr. Electric, who is essentially a magnified face in a glass with electronic hands and feet.

"I was trying things out with my face and was doing this thing where I was winking and Robert says, "God, I really like when you do that thing, but is that winking thing some kind of tick or something?" I said, "No, I'm acting!" And he stopped and goes, "That's pretty good!"

Lopez and Rodriguez have, of course, both been responsible in part for the changing views of Latinos in the entertainment industry and Rodriguez has a very strong point of view on the subject.

"I didn't want to make a Latin film because Latins don't want to feel like 'What, so we get our own little niche movies, that's it?' No, they want to feel a part of world culture, so I wanted to make movies that had the Latin Influence that I grew up with but that are universal. So, I make an action movie and not really point out that they were Latin, even though everybody in the movie is Latin or Spy Kids, they just happen to be Latin but any kid could watch it and want to be Carman or Juni Cortez. You make it all more universal by making it specific."

As a director, a writer, music compose,r and producer, these are good times for Robert Rodriguez and he has a favorite story, which explains his philosophy of life and work.

"This little thought always meant a lot to me growing up: Ask a group of kids who among them can sing an opera, or do a symphony, dance or make a movie, they all raise their hands. You ask those same kids 10 years from now or later the hands start going down. It's the same people but they just keep believing less and less. I always want to be that kid who has his hand up."

For more about Robert Rodriguez including news about Sin City 2 and the DVD, visit my blog http://mediumfried.blogspot.com/, which makes its hectic debut this weekend.

About Mark Sotelo:
Mark Sotelo is an entertainment writer though he is not sure how that happened. Be sure to check out his lively blog at http://www.mediumfried.blogspot.com/ he can be reached at mlsotelo2002@yahoo.com

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