After the sequel “Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over” wrapped in 2003, actress Alexa Vega though playing her role as a pint-size secret agent was complete. At 15 years old, Vega didn’t exactly put the “kid” in “Spy Kids” anymore. She was growing up fast.
“I really thought it was over after ‘Spy Kids 3,’” Alexa said during an exclusive interview to promote “Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D,” the fourth film of the franchise. “I was really floored when I heard we were coming back. To come back eight years later is so wonderful.”
In “Spy Kids 4,” Vega reprises her role as Carmen Cortez, but does so as a secondary character. Now a young woman, Carmen and her onscreen brother Juni (played once again by Daryl Sabara), pass the touch to a new pair of spy kids (Rowan Blachard and Mason Cook) for a whole different adventure against a supervillain known as the Timekeeper (Jeremy Piven).
During our interview, Vega, who has starred in such films as “Repo: The Genetic Opera” and “From Prada to Nada” since the last “Spy Kids” film, talked about what she cherishes most from the first three films and what she’s looking for in the industry now that she’s not a kid anymore.
Did you give Rowan and Mason any advice from all your years of “Spy Kids” experience?
I told them to enjoy every moment and not to expect anything from it. If good things are going to happen, then just let them happen. Don’t have any expectations, that way when things do happen it can be that much more exciting.
It’s been 10 years since the first “Spy Kids” hit theaters. Do you remember most of it?
I remember all of it. I was so little, but I remember everything. I had never done a film like that before. I had never been a part of anything that cool. We had gadgets and we did stunts. It was the first time I was ever on a harness, which was exciting. I remember the first time walking back on the set for “Spy Kids 4” and seeing a lot of our old sets and getting giddy. I was like, “Can you believe we were as little as these little kids are when we started this movie?”
So, when you looked at Rowan did it feel pretty surreal?
It was very surreal. It was so weird. I was like, “I don’t ever remember being that little in the movie.” When our costume designer pulled out all of our old costumes I couldn’t believe it. The pants were so small!
Over these last 10 years what have been some of the highlights for you in this franchise?
I think the highlight is being a part of this film franchise that people truly love. I loved working with the same cast and crew for all of the films. You really become a family. That was definitely my favorite thing out of everything. Working with Robert Rodriguez was wonderful. I call him papi like if he was my dad.
I know you and Robert have become great friends over the last decade. I read he even walked you down the aisle and gave you away at your wedding last year.
He did. We’ve become very close. I love him.
I’m sure you could brag about him as a person all day, but tell me about him from an actress’s perspective who has worked with him four times.
The thing with Robert is that he’s a very hands-on, do-it-all director. He writes, directs, scores, and edits. I don’t know how he does it all. It takes so much work. He is truly a genius. I feel like a lot of directors are inspired by him because if he wants to make a movie he will get it made by any means possible.
I’ve been to Troublemaker Studios once before to interview Robert. What is it like to be in that environment as an actress? It must feel like its own little world out there in Austin.
It really is. During the first “Spy Kids,” Troublemaker was just starting. It wasn’t even near what it is today. I was kind of a part of that growth during these last three films and now coming back for this fourth one. It’s fun to see how far it has come along. I think shooting there is a huge part of the process. Robert really brings something wonderful to that community in Austin.
Some of Robert’s fans of his more hardcore action films like “Sin City” wish he would stop making kids’ movies. What do you think about how he switches back and forth from family-friendly movies like “Spy Kids” to movies as ultra-violent as “Machete?”
I feel like it’s so easy to get bored. I would be the same way if I had to play the same character over and over again. You really want to change it up. If you look at some of the characters I’ve played, they’re all so different. I think that’s how Robert does it. You don’t want to be stuck in the same genre all the time. You want to keep people guessing. What makes Johnny Depp so brilliant is you truly have no idea what kind of character he’s going to play next.
What are you specifically looking for in the film industry now that you are a bit older? You’re in your early 20s and you have a better idea about how everything works, so what kind of roles do you want?
It’s not something specific. It just comes down to finding the right project. If a script comes together and you end up liking the people who are part of it, that’s when you can make magic happen. It’s a huge combination of trying to find something you think you can deliver on and a director you think you can collaborate with to make a good picture.
Has it felt like a cutthroat business for you so far?
Absolutely. The older you get, the more competition there is. When you’re younger, there aren’t very many kid actors. It’s a lot easier to get jobs. Now, I’m going up against these beautiful and talented actresses. To be in the running with some of the company I’ve been in is just flattering. It is hard. You really have to build your name in this business as quickly as possible.
How do you feel like you separate yourself from the crowd?
You know, I’m very fortunate. I can still play roles that are very young. I just finished playing a 15-year-old character on a TV show. It helps. I think I just like to keep people guessing. I’ve done very different films like “Repo: The Genetic Opera” and I know have a very different fan base from that movie – more of the goth crowd and people who are a little edgier than the “Spy Kids” audience. It’s nice to have that support from all ends. It comes down to the fan base at the end of the day. They’re the ones rooting for you. If you can keep your fans happy, I think you can have a good, solid career.
Did Robert cook anything on set for you?
(Laughs) He made his famous grilled cheese sandwiches. He makes them with Texas toast and lots of butter. They’re delicious.