A superbly crowded room waited anxiously for what was billed as a "one on one" panel featuring actress Rose McGowan, who would be taking on the sword-and-cleavage role of Robert E. Howard character Red Sonja.
Before things began, a recording repeatedly gave people instructions about passes needed to exit and re-enter the room, noting that questions would be pre-screened and ticking off other points of proposed convention etiquette. At the stroke of 2PM, the room was filled to capacity and the panelists were nowhere to be seen.
Director Robert Rodriguez walked on stage at 2:05 and spoke warmly to the crowd. "You all know why you're here!" he said, smiling. "Red Sonja." He noted a poster that was shown with McGowan pre-visualizing. A t-shirt is being given away of her licking a bloody sword.
McGowan came out next in a shiny, tight, green strapless dress. "Hello, awesome people in Comic-Con in San Diego in 2008," she said sultrily. Director Douglas Aarniokoski came out next, and they said the writer was stuck in traffic.
Rodriguez started talking about his 11-year-old adventures tricking his mother into buying the blood soaked Howard magazines, advertising the Dino De Laurentis movie and featuring the Red Sonja subscription ad with a decapitated head. Rodriguez lives in the area where Howard looked down and said, "This is Cimmeria, this is where Conan was born." "I felt a real kinship to this freak," Rodriguez said. "I have a collection of Sin City stuff, and I finally made that. I have a collection of Robert E. Howard stuff, so ... when Rose McGowan came along, we've been trying to find something to work together on, and we did 'Planet Terror' together. I like to work with the same actors and actresses and give them different roles."
"Rose walks in with this comic book and scripts and says, 'I've been reading this script, I don't know if you've heard of it, I think I wanna do it!' She asks, 'do you think this is a property, should I do it?" Rodriguez then spit took his water and said he encouraged her. "It's a geek's dream getting to immerse her in this world you've been collecting since you were a kid. That's how I came to be involved in this, and how it came so quickly. This seemed like something we could jump on right away."
"If anybody would like to bottle Robert Rodriguez' DNA, you can just swab the side of this panel," McGowan joked. "What I liked about it, it was very difficult to read these sorts of things where I could make these scenes kind of funny, I'm the girlfriend and I'm just supposed to set up his jokes. Being a feminist and just loving the underdog, and often in my life being one. I brought it home, and said, 'I'm really interested in female vengeance.' I thought 'therapist.' That's kind of where this took off. This movie is gonna be hard, it's gonna be cold, it's gonna be dirty, and I'm up for it." The crowd cheered. "Someday, I'm gonna be doing a Jane Austen movie, and I asked if [Rodriguez] would ever do anything like that, and he said, 'could there be a dead body in it? I thought this would be a good synergy, after his water spitting." They also battled with swords and lawn spikes on the lawn after deciding to do this project.
She continued, "When I was little, I saw 'La Femme Nikita,' and that was who I wanted to be when I grew up. I think Nikita would be proud. I decided to, as he said, make your own destiny. What I get to do soon is take a big giant sword and kill a lot of people. I think that sums up my attraction."
Rodriguez talked about why he's producing but not directing, but insisted he'd be very hands on, shooting footage and everything. Rodriguez said, "Kind of like 'co-directing,' but not officially, because he's DGA, and I'm not."
"You say that with such disdain," Aarniokowski said.
They announced a Conan project would be coming along soon, "to help integrate the worlds," Rodriguez said.
"Robert calls me up and says, 'Red Sonja,' and I said 'absolutely, let's do it," the director said. "We're gonna shake it up. It's gonna be unlike anything you've ever seen. It's gonna be a ride. We're gonna kick some backside. I have to be aware, it says here, 'some members of your audience will be under eighteen." The crowd laughed at that.
"The style will set it apart from any of the other sword and sandal types of movies you see," Rodriguez said before opening up the floor for questions ... which led to a line of more than 30 people in a matter of seconds.
Rodriguez noted that there will be a tonal match to the Di Laurentis movies, but McGowan said, "I will not have a mullet!"
"We're still discussing that," he joked.
A new recipe will be on the "Grind House" DVD. Best Buy asked him to do a 10 minute cooking disc, but he preferred to keep it on his DVDs as an extra.
What kind of physical prep is McGowan taking on? "I've been working out about three hours a day. Monday I start my sword training," with the sword trainer from the Matrix and "The Wachowski's ninja movie." She's also training in free running (as seen in "Casino Royale") ... but with swords. She's also determined to do her own stunts. "I train to do everything myself, in the 90th percentile of stunts I did on 'Planet Terror.'"
Rodriguez said, "Frank's written a 'Sin City 2' script. We're trying to figure out how we're gonna do it between our projects. He showed me the script three months ago."
"I love to collaborate, and when I tried, I got penalized," Rodriguez said of leaving the DGA. "It was just really bizarre, and I told them 'hey, don't change your rulebook for me, I'll just step out.' That's why I'm only producing in name this movie. We'll have our steady-cams strapped on, back to back."
An 11-year-old came up and professed fandom for "Planet Terror," which concerned some, and asked McGowan what she looked forward to most in this film. "if you saw it in a theatre, that'd made you 9 or 10, which is awesome too. I remember the first movie I saw was 'CHUD,' but that is off topic. With every thrust of my sword, I shall be thinking of people like that," she said, speaking of her disdain for negativity on the internet.
Casting hasn't begun on supporting actors, nor would Rodriguez discuss villains, but noted they would be from the Dynamite Comics. McGowan said they would avoid using villains that had been seen too often before.
The sword is being designed and made now, "but not in China," McGowan said. She plans to keep the sword, "and get another one for my grandchild!"
McGowan and Rodriguez met at Cannes, and she called him "Count F***-ula," and impressed him with her toughness and attitude. He wanted to break her from the "golden handcuffs" of being on "Charmed," and he wrote Cherry based on his experience with her as a person. "Especially my poledancing," she quipped.
3D filmmaking is not out of the question for the film, but through a post production effect and not actual camera work. "Costumes in general are one of my favorite collaborative process. I'm always surprised by actors and actresses who say 'throw something on me.' Red Sonja has an awesome metal bikini, and I couldn't improve on that. I'm a Virgo, and I'm really detail oriented, so even with Cherry's outfits, there's tiny skulls that you wouldn't see unless you are watching on a huge HD screen."
Will Rodriguez return to zombies or "infected people?" "Only if he does Jane Austen," McGowan joked before Rodriguez said he was doing a "Planet Terror" sequel called "Cherry Darling."
"Machete" was written in 1983, and he's been surprised by the popularity, and said "now I have to shoot the movies. With sequels, 'Machete Kills' and 'Machete Kills Again.' I really have so many projects, and things change on a daily basis. The only thing that's still there that I know I'm gonna do are the Machete movies. We get our own Mexploitation character!"
When asked about ratings decisions on "Red Sonja," Rodriguez said, "My name is 'double-R!' That's what you're gonna get! Rose calls me 'Double-R'"
"Arrr ..." she added.
They plan a fourth quarter 2009 release, and when asked if there would be fantasy characters whose blood she'd lick off the sword, she said, "When I was growing up, I dreamed about a question like that," McGowan said. Aarniokoski promised there will be many species of blood slain by the character.
More than twenty new people didn't get their questions answered as the panel ended and bloody-sword-licking shirts were passed out to whoever was fast enough to get one.