Starring Antonio Banderas, Joaquim de Almeida, Salma Hayek and Danny Trejo, 1995’s Desperado is a relatively low-budget action movie famed nonetheless for its explosive visual effects.
This tale of revenge against a Mexican drug lord was young director Robert Rodriguez’s first chance to helm a star-studded movie – but the film’s financial restraints led to some pretty dangerous shooting conditions, as well as some impressively inventive decisions by the crew. Here are some things you probably didn’t know about Desperado.
20. Robert Rodriguez and Danny Trejo discovered they were related on set
Desperado marked the first collaboration between writer-director Robert Rodriguez and actor Danny Trejo.
At the time, Trejo was a comparatively little-known bit-part actor, but a memorable one thanks to his grizzled looks and tattoos.
Rodriguez and Trejo didn’t know one another before they started filming – so they were taken aback to discover they’re related.
In a 2011 interview with Remezcla, Trejo recalled a visit from his family while he was making the movie in Acuña, Mexico.
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“My relatives came down from San Antonio to visit me, [and] my uncle said, ‘Hey, that’s your cousin!’ So we’re lifelong friends now.”
Rodriguez and Trejo have teamed up for many more movies since Desperado, including From Dusk Till Dawn, Spy Kids and Machete.
19. The film cost a thousand times more than Rodriguez’s previous film
Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez announced himself to the world with his first feature, El Mariachi, in 1992.
Rodriguez (aged just 23 at the time) wrote, directed and produced the film himself on a minuscule budget of $7,000. Notoriously, the ambitious young man raised nearly half of this budget by participating in drug trials.
Thanks to El Mariachi’s huge critical and commercial success, Rodriguez was able to secure $7 million – literally a thousand times the cost of his first film – for the sequel.
This may have been big money for the independent filmmaker, but it was still small change by Hollywood standards: consider the budgets of such other 1995 action movies as Bad Boys ($19 million), Tank Girl ($25 million) and The Quick and the Dead ($35 million).
Although it works just fine as a standalone film, Desperado is actually the second in a trilogy centred on the mysterious gunslinging Mariachi.
In the original El Mariachi, the title role was taken by Carlos Gallardo. While Desperado sees the better-known Antonio Banderas take over in the lead, Gallardo still appears in the sequel as the Mariachi’s old friend Campa.
For the third and final movie of the Mexico Trilogy, 2003’s Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Rodriguez enjoyed an even more lavish budget of $29 million.
18. The violence was heavily censored to avoid an NC-17 rating
The filmmakers were determined to make Desperado a full-on, all-out, guns-blazing action movie.
However, they made the film’s violence so over-the-top that it threatened to get them in trouble with the ratings board.
In an unusual and inventive move, the film’s prop department devised guns that would fire fake blood, rather than using the traditional squibs (a very small explosive which simulates the impact of a gunshot).
Desperado’s blood-firing guns made a big gory splash, as any character who was shot would seemingly spurt blood on impact.
Unfortunately, this was a little too effective. The realism proved too much for an R-rating, so most of these shooting scenes had to be edited out.
The cuts were made to avoid an NC-17 rating, which would have severely limited the film’s chances of making a profit at the box office.
17. Due the film’s small budget, only two stuntmen were used for all the characters
Shooting a movie as action-heavy as Desperado on a budget of just $7 million presented some serious challenges.
Limited time and resources meant that the filmmakers had to cut corners in some surprising ways.
For instance, you might expect that, given Desperado’s body count, it would have a large team of stunt performers on set.
In reality, they had only two – and every single stunt on Desperado was performed by these same two experts.
In many of the battle scenes, this pair had to re-shoot as multiple characters, fighting and perishing several times over.
One half of this daring duo was Henry Kingi Jr (above), who has since performed stunts in the Fast & Furious franchise, Captain America: Civil War and the Melissa McCarthy flick Spy.
16. Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek got their hair singed in an explosion
It’s long since been established that any action-adventure worth its salt must feature a shot in which the heroes casually walk away from an explosion.
Desperado features one of the most memorable instances of this – but, while it may look super-cool in the movie, things got a little too close for comfort for stars Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek.
In a 2019 interview with WUWF, Banderas recalled, “There was an explosion behind us, a fire that has to fill the whole entire screen. There was no CGI. That was for real.
“And I remember the smell of, you know, burned hair… my hair, Salma’s hair and everybody that was behind the camera’s hair.”
As stunt crew on the film was limited, Banderas and Hayek were both called upon to do their own stunts on multiple occasions.
Banderas recalls leaping between buildings with a cable for support and striking his head against a roof.
The actor reflects, “we were playing with our lives right then,” and admits he would not do anything similar today. (Banderas has stepped back from more physical demanding roles since suffering a heart attack in 2017.)
15. The producers filmed Steve Buscemi and Cheech Marin at top speed because they could only afford them for a week
With Steve Buscemi and Cheech Marin in the roles of “Buscemi” and the bartender, Desperado drew some pretty serious star power.
But once again, budget constraints meant that shooting scenes became something of a blur.
The crew were only able to afford the in-demand Buscemi and Marin for seven and six days respectively.
Because of this, all of Buscemi and Marin’s scenes had to be filmed as quickly as possible.
You’ll notice in the bar shootout that Marin barely appears at all – his scenes in the background were filmed separately from the main event.
This meant that reaction shots of Marin could be added in at the producers’ convenience during post-production.
14. Quentin Tarantino cameos in the film as ‘Pick-Up Guy’
Acclaimed filmmaker Quentin Tarantino is a very close friend of Desperado writer-director Robert Rodriguez.
Rodriguez and Tarantino met when their respective debut films – El Mariachi and Reservoir Dogs – premiered back-to-back at the Sundance Film Festival in 1992.
The duo immediately hit it off, bonding over similar taste in movies, and striking up a long-lasting friendship and occasional professional partnership.
Desperado became their first collaboration. Tarantino appears as the so-called ‘Pick-Up Guy’, who wanders into the bar, tells a lengthy joke, and is soon thereafter killed in the big bar shoot-out.
According to Rodriguez, Tarantino ad-libbed his character’s rambling joke about a bartender and a urinating man.
- Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images
The duo would reunite on Rodriguez’ next film as director, From Dusk Till Dawn, for which Tarantino wrote the screenplay and took one of the leading roles.
Later, Rodriguez would contribute music to Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies, Tarantino would ‘guest direct’ a scene in Sin City, and the directors would collaborate on ‘double feature’ Grindhouse.
13. The crotch gun was originally going to be fired on-screen
Desperado features a brief but memorable shot of a bizarre, extremely phallic-looking firearm attached to a codpiece.
This proves to be nothing more than a throwaway appearance – but originally, this hilariously odd gun was meant to play a bigger part of the action.
A scene was shot in which Banderas’ Mariachi shoots an attacking enemy with said gun – but the gory aftermath of this was one of the aforementioned moments which was deemed too excessive to be passed in an R-rating.
The gun was also meant to go off to comic effect during the love scene between the Mariachi and Salma Hayek’s Carolina.
The weapon would go on to make another appearance in Robert Rodriguez’s next movie, From Dusk Till Dawn, in which it is worn by Tom Savini’s appropriately-named character Sex Machine.
Later, it would make yet another appearance in Machete Kills, worn by Sofia Vergara – who also sports a similarly-armed bra.
12. Antonio Banderas directed the bathroom scene
Robert Rodriguez is celebrated for doing basically everything on a movie, from writing and directing to operating the camera and setting up the lights.
However, the one-man film crew is not above delegating tasks to others, as proved by one scene in Desperado.
The director allowed his leading man Antonio Banderas to essentially take over as director for one short scene.
- Credit: Robert Rodriguez/El Rey Network
It’s one of the film’s more repulsive moments, in which Tarantino’s pick-up guy negotiates a highly unsanitary bathroom.
The cramped conditions meant the team had to use a “2nd unit crew”, which is a spare, smaller crew that completes scenes shot at awkward angles.
Robert Rodriguez didn’t enjoy this kind of work, and he allowed an enthusiastic Antonio Banderas to take over as director for this single scene.
This wasn’t the last time Rodriguez would share directorial responsibilities; later, he would co-direct the Sin City movies with Frank Miller, and invite Tarantino to direct a single scene in the first movie.
11. Jennifer Lopez auditioned to play Carolina
For the key role of Carolina – the Mariachi’s one friend in town and future lover – Rodriguez cast Salma Hayek.
Another up-and-coming Latina actress was also a contender for the part: Jennifer Lopez.
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At the time, Lopez had worked most extensively as a dancer, and was just breaking through in dramatic roles.
Neither film was a big hit, but Lopez would soon move into major leading roles with Selena and Out of Sight.
Then in 1999, the artist soon to be known as ‘J-Lo’ would find a whole new level of fame by branching out into music.
10. Raul Julia was the first choice for Bucho, but he died before filming began
For the role of Desperado’s chief antagonist Bucho, the filmmakers had a big name in mind: Raul Julia.
Julia was one of the most successful Latin American actors of his generation, and a bona fide movie star in the early 90s.
However, Julia had quietly been fighting an illness which had grown more severe than most people in the film industry knew.
The actor signed on to play Bucho, but passed away in October 1994 before production began. His last film proved to be Street Fighter: The Movie.
The role of Desperado’s lead bad guy Bucho would instead go to Joaquim de Almeida.
9. John Leguizamo was the second choice for lead behind Antonio Banderas
The acclaimed Spanish actor Antonio Banderas was always the first choice to take the lead role of the Mariachi in Desperado.
However, if Banderas turned it down or proved to be unavailable, Robert Rodriguez reportedly had a surprising second choice.
The next name on the director’s wishlist for the leading role in Desperado is said to have been John Leguizamo.
Ultimately, Banderas said yes to the role – but it’s strange to think what a different movie Desperado might have been if Leguizamo had wound up in the lead.
Leguizamo would go on to take roles in Executive Decision, Romeo + Juliet and Spawn.
8. The studio wanted to cast Cameron Diaz as Carolina instead of Salma Hayek
Like Banderas, Salma Hayek was always the first choice for her role in Desperado. Director Robert Rodriguez cast her in his 1994 TV movie Roadracers to prove she was up to the task.
However, studio Columbia Pictures were highly resistant to casting the unknown Latina actress as the female lead in a major Hollywood movie.
Hayek recalls, “I remember Cameron Diaz was huge at the time and her last name was Diaz, so they said she can be Mexican. She was part of the list, and I had to audition again.”
Ultimately, Diaz (who is of Cuban descent, not Mexican) was passed over, and the studio agreed to the director’s insistence on casting Hayek.
Diaz would next be seen in largely forgotten comedy-dramas The Last Supper and She’s the One, but she would gradually work up to more prominent roles with 1997’s My Best Friend’s Wedding.
7. Banderas and Rodriguez were originally going to make The Mask of Zorro together next
After Desperado proved a reasonable success (more than recouping its budget with box office takings of $25 million), director Robert Rodriguez was offered a big follow-up project.
Producer Steven Spielberg and executives at TriStar Pictures were impressed enough by the team of Rodriguez and Antonio Banderas to offer them The Mask of Zorro.
The new big-screen take on the classic Latino hero had been in the works for some time, and all concerned thought it would be perfect for the hot young director and his hip leading man.
Both men signed on – but Rodriguez eventually dropped out after insisting on a higher budget than the studio would agree to. It’s also reported that the director wanted to make the film R-rated, with similar levels of bloodshed to Desperado.
Banderas stayed on, and would make 1998’s The Mask of Zorro alongside Anthony Hopkins and Catherine Zeta Jones, with GoldenEye‘s Martin Campbell directing. It was a hit, eventually spawning a sequel in 2005’s The Legend of Zorro.
This would not be Rodriguez’s last dalliance with Zorro: in December 2020, it was announced that the filmmaker is producing a gender-reversed take on the character for television, poised to be directed by his sister Rebecca Rodriguez.
6. The entire crew showed up to watch the love scene being filmed – but they were all kicked out
As well as giving Salma Hayek her first leading role, Desperado was also the first time the actress was called on to do nudity on film.
Knowing that his leading lady was nervous about it, Robert Rodriguez and producer Elizabeth Avellán (also Rodriguez’s wife at the time) told the whole crew not to come in for the shooting of that scene.
However, the bulk of the crew members apparently showed up anyway, hoping to watch the scene – but they were all kicked out.
Reflecting on her difficulty shooting the scene, Hayek says Rodriguez and Avellán were “amazing… [It was] Robert, Antonio, Elizabeth and I. Robert was operating the camera. I think there was no sound. Elizabeth was moving cable.”
Despite all this, Hayek admits she still found the scene very difficult to film, and recalls temporarily walking out – taking her family with her – when the scene played at the premiere.
This was not the last time Robert Rodriguez would push Salma Hayek out of her comfort zone: on their next movie, From Dusk Till Dawn, the director forced her to tackle her fear of snakes by making her dance with a python.
5. Quentin Tarantino told Rodriguez to call the sequel Once Upon a Time in Mexico
Desperado was initially conceived as more of a remake than a sequel to El Mariachi, with the working title of El Pistolero (the Gunman).
As such, Robert Rodriguez hadn’t really thought of the film in terms of an ongoing series – until Quentin Tarantino persuaded him otherwise.
During his time on set, Tarantino declared that Desperado was the second instalment in Rodriguez’ equivalent of the ‘Dollars’ trilogy (the three Westerns from director Sergio Leone that made Clint Eastwood a movie star).
Rodriguez recalls Tarantino enthusing, “‘[El] Mariachi is your A Fistful Of Dollars; this’ll be your For A Few Dollars More, now you gotta do The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly.
“It’s gotta be epic. And you gotta call it Once Upon A Time In Mexico.’ [Laughs.] And I was like, ‘What? Yeah, whatever.’”
Nonetheless, this came to pass: Rodriguez would write and direct trilogy closer Once Upon a Time in Mexico in 2003, with Banderas, Hayek and a star-studded supporting cast including Johnny Depp.
4. An unused song Rodriguez recorded ended up being used in Kill Bill Vol. 2
Initially, Robert Rodriguez intended for Desperado to feature a rock recording of popular Mexican song Malagueña Salerosa.
This didn’t wind up happening – but years later, Rodriguez recorded the song with his own band, Chingon.
That’s right – on top of his many skills as a filmmaker, Rodriguez is also a highly competent musician.
When Quentin Tarantino heard his friend’s recording of Malagueña Salerosa, he fell in love with it.
Tarantino would then use the recording on the end credits of his movie Kill Bill Vol. 2.
- Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Robert Rodriguez has composed and performed music for many of his own films, and some for other people’s films as well.
Most notably, Rodriguez wrote and performed the action theme ‘Avenging Angel’ for British action comedy Hot Fuzz.
3. The film helped launch Antonio Banderas as an action star
Antonio Banderas made his name in his native Spain, appearing in the films of internationally acclaimed director Pedro Almodóvar.
Then when he first made the move to Hollywood, it was via similarly sensitive and topical films like Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and Philadelphia.
But from 1995 onwards, Banderas would be synonymous with large-scale action – and Desperado was a big part of that.
The actor would go on to more all-action roles in the aforementioned Zorro movies, plus period adventure The 13th Warrior, boxing drama Play It to the Bone, and video game movie Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever. All of this made him enough of an established action man to land a role in The Expendables 3, alongside numerous other old-school action men.
And of course, Desperado also started a long partnership between Banderas and director Robert Rodriguez – although the main franchise the duo have collaborated on is the family-friendly Spy Kids movies.
2. The first bar scene was filmed in a real bar called the Corona Club in Mexico
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The bulk of photography for Desperado took place in the Mexican city of Ciudad Acuña, also referred to as simply Acuña.
Acuña is right on the border of Mexico and the United States, four hours’ drive from director Robert Rodriguez’ home base of Austin, Texas.
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This very same town had been used as the main location for the preceding film, El Mariachi.
On both films, Robert Rodriguez and company made extensive use of real, existing locations.
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This includes a real bar known as the Corona Club, where much of Desperado’s first act takes place.
El Mariachi also features an early scene filmed in the Corona Club. Today, the walls of this establishment are covered with photos from Rodriguez’s films.
1. The film is namechecked in the Gomez song Tijuana Lady
By the late 90s, the films of Robert Rodriguez were cult favourites in the United Kingdom.
Among the Brits to have seen and enjoyed the movies were the members of indie rock band Gomez.
The eclectic Southport-based five piece made a splash in 1998 with their acclaimed debut album Bring It On, which won them the coveted Mercury Music Prize amongst other honours.
- Credit: Jay Blakesberg
The album features a track entitled Tijuana Lady, a Mexican-themed ballad which makes reference to the films of Rodriguez.
The lyrics go, “Tijuana lady which way d’you flow/I’m a El Mariachi Desperado.”
- Credit: Gomeztheband.com
Although many have praised the song’s beauty, the band themselves admitted that, lyrically, it was really a tongue-in-cheek mishmash of Mexican cliches.