Patricia Vonne might be a musician at heart, but when her brother, Austin-based filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, calls her for a role in one of his movies, she’s always up for the challenge.
In Rodriguez’s newest film, the long-awaited sequel “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For,” Vonne, who like Robert was born in San Antonio, reprises her role as Dallas (AKA Zorro Girl), a member of the “Old Town Girls,” a group of women who aren’t afraid to defend their turf in the rundown streets of Basin City.
During an interview with me to talk about “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For,” Vonne, who started her own record label (Bandolera Records) and continues to perform around the world, also explained how she was cast in some of her brother’s movies and how she feels when she puts on the Zorro mask to become her character. She also talked about some of the early conversations she’s had with Robert about creating some original music-based content for his new TV network, El Rey.
“Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” is the sixth feature film of your brother’s that you’ve had a role in. What does it take for you to land a role in one of Robert’s movies? Do you have to audition or do you sort of know when there might be a role available to play? Or do you just say, “Hey, I’m your sister! Put me in your movie!”?
In Robert’s early years, since there are 10 children in our family, we were his go-to actors in his short flicks. I audition most of the time, but if Robert has it in his head that I would be right for a part, he’ll let me know.
So, let’s start from the top. How did you get your role as a dead body in “Four Rooms?”
For “Four Rooms,” Robert called and explained that the producers wanted to use a mannequin for the dead body that is found in the hotel bed spring under the mattress. He called me in New York City where I was living at the time and asked me to send photos of myself contorted in dead positions since I would be stuffed in the bed spring. He convinced the producers that it was more effective using a real person. Since Robert and I used to play “dead bodies” as children, and have contests in the pool of who could play dead best with eyes wide open and bubbles floating out of our mouth, his mind was made up. But he had to prove it to the powers that be. In that case he did. I sure had fun with that role! We still laugh about it today.
How about “Desperado?”
In “Desperado,” my whole family drove down there for a week to be on set and to lend support. He ended up putting not only myself in a bar scene where Antonio Banderas saves me from a knife wielding maniac, but he also put my uncles and siblings in the fight shots and bar scene as well. My sister Angela had a speaking role: “The beer tastes like piss.” So, for that film in particular, it was like old times – all in the family.
What about the first “Sin City?”
This is my favorite story! Robert called me with a cryptic phone message: “Come down to the studio as fast as you can. Bring a red dress, red lipstick and style your hair like Veronica Lake.” This “film test” was what lured Frank Miller to sign on to co-direct “Sin City.” Frank later told me from that test he decided I was “Dallas.” He asked Robert, “Who is the girl in the ‘test?’ She’s very exotic and would be perfect for one of the roles.” Robert answered: “She’s my little sister.” Next thing I knew I was going in for a fitting and noticed Frank’s drawing of Zorro Girl on the wall. I had most of her outfit in my own wardrobe since I perform on stage and that is usually my “look.” The bolero hat was mine. The black studded pants, blood red sash, everything [was mine] but the mask. It was so exciting!
And “Spy Kids?”
For “Spy Kids,” Robert called my younger sister and I to choreograph the Don Quixote ballet segment. We are both classically trained in ballet so it made Robert’s life easier just to call us. We were thrilled to make a mini Baryshnikov out of the young actor (Daryl Sabara). He then asked my sister and I to be the bridesmaids in the scene with Carla Gugino where we rip her dress so she can escape off the cliff from the marauders.
Last but not least, “Machete Kills.”
For “Machete Kills,” I auditioned for the role of the screaming tourist and I was up against an actress who was pregnant. Since it was a very emotional role, they didn’t want liability with the other actress, so I fulfilled it.
What makes Dallas such a fun character to play in this new film? What kind of mindset do you have to get into when you put that black Zorro mask on?
I think “Warrior” when I put it on – ready to stand for something. On the film set though, I got into the mindset of my character, Dallas, with Frank Miller’s direction. Frank would direct me on how to hold the pistols and how to stand. He said, “Western style like an outlaw at the OK Corral” for [Dallas'] mannerisms and her fierce attitude. He told me, “You’re an Old Town girl. You make the rules!”
Are there any elements of your career as a musician that you take with you into an acting role? I’m assuming confidence plays a role in both aspects.
Absolutely. As an indie artist, it can be a struggle and a challenge but there is personal achievement and encouragement to keep going. I lived and worked in New York City for 11 years and started my band there. Since 2003, I have released five albums on my own label Bandolera [Records], which means “female bandit.” It has always been important to me to own my songs, write my own songs and to have freedom as an artist. The music business has prepared me for opportunities that are an extension of music and singing. Like owning the stage at the Montreux Jazz Festival, I make sure I am ready to own the part in a film or a project and do the best I can.
“Sin City” (the graphic novel and the first film) has been criticized by some for its depiction of women. As a woman with a role in the film, what do you say to someone who thinks all the women in the franchise are merely objects of fantasy or something merely to lust after?
Frank Miller’s “Sin City” is his creation. You’re not going to find a plethora of virgins there or weak and powerless women. One needs to understand his graphic novel. “Sin City” a sordid town filled with evil and vices and hyper masculine men and powerful, battle-ready women who are resilient and there to defend their turf.
Other than Robert’s movies, what other types of films do you enjoy watching? Are there any actors/actresses/directors you follow?
I love documentaries – real lives, real people. I just watched “Afternoon of the Faun,” which was devastating. I just watched the Cesar Chavez documentary (“Cesar’s Last Fast”) and Ann Richards documentary. Both were uplifting and inspiring. I also just saw a documentary on Ida Lupino, a pioneer female director! I love foreign films and Carlos Saura films, too. I love having movie nights with my brother. We watch Kung Fu flicks, old Westerns, Billy Wilder films, Hitchcock, “Twilight Zone” episodes, the classics, musicals, whatever our mood is.
Have any opportunities come up or are any on the rise to do something on El Rey Network, either as an actress or a musician? From a music standpoint, have you had any conversations with Robert about music programming that would be a good fit for the network?
Yes, I have suggested music programming to Robert for El Rey. I think it’s still in its early stages of collecting content, but I am actively making music videos of my songs including original animation. I’d want to be ready for the opportunity. I am excited to go in a different direction with my writing and collaborate with my brothers and sisters who are also writers and find an avenue through El Rey to bring positive female role models to the forefront. I know Robert wants to as well. I am hoping there can be a spin-off for Zorro Girl. I have filmed promotional videos for my character to help promote “Sin City,” but to also encourage interest in strong female characters. I collaborated with my trainer, Janell Smith, to incorporate self defense moves into our one-minute video for my character in “Sin City.” It can be seen later this month on my website.
Since you’re a guitar player, I was wondering if you know where the torso-guitar the vampire band in “From Dusk Till Dawn” went after production? Have you ever gotten a chance to play it?
Tito Larriva probably has it hanging on his wall as a memento. He was our musical hero growing up and inspired all my albums to be bilingual and original music. I was lucky to go on tour with him as a member of his band “Tito and Tarantula” after he made that movie. He invited me to go on an 8-week tour of Europe. That was a dream come true for me! I got to play his telecaster every night that he used in his band the Cruzados. It wasn’t the torso guitar but it was the guitar for me!