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Harry goes to the SPY KIDS 2 set and learns which Uber-God has been cast in the movie!

There are days that will live forever in my memory and today is just such a day.

Robert Rodriguez had called me to ask me to visit the set of SPY KIDS 2 for an actor’s last day of shooting. I had asked him what actor, Robert would only say that it was an Uber-God that I would kill myself if I did not meet him.

An Uber-God.

When someone like Robert Rodriguez mentions a term like Uber-God, he does know what that means. It means an actor that has left such an indelible impression upon your psyche that the mere mention of their name sends you into spasms of praise and impersonation attempts. An Uber-God is an actor that you hold in the highest possible personal esteem, and whom you love as you love a member of your own family, for being a film geek… you have spent this sort of time with him or her.

Now SPY KIDS 2 has some very cool people in it. You have Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino, two wonderful actors and people. You have Mike Judge, Steve Buscemi and Bill Paxton… all super cool, but for me, they are gods in training.

Who could this Uber-God be?

Well I get to the Austin Studio, making my way with my crutches through the hallway, past the offices and the screening room. Suddenly I see Elizabeth Avellan, producer and enchantress. It turns out that I’m approaching the set from the most difficult possible way. There were insane heaping piles of loose cables that I had to climb over… Equipment that I had to maneuver quite precariously. Suddenly I find myself on the back side of an immense Green Screen, only a little further to go. There… there is the edge of the screen just 4 more feet.

As I rounded the green, 45 ft away from me… sitting in a director’s chair clutching a gorgeous acoustical guitar, eyes clenched close singing up to the heavens quietly in Spanish with a silver halo of backlit hair was RICARDO MONTALBAN!!!!


He still did not see me. He had a smile, oh such a smile across his face as he strummed. The set was a flurry of preparation behind him, yet here… here he was in his own peaceful state of bliss… just that beautiful guitar, that beautiful voice and that smile which screamed 4-strip Technicolor!

OHMYGOD! This really is an Uber-God. I sent my father home to get my STAR TREK 2: WRATH OF KHAN poster and the KILL BILL script. I must get them signed… OHMYGOD…. It is Khan… It is THE LATIN LOVER… The man who swam and kissed the lips of the most beautiful woman in the world… Esther Williams! He made 3 films with the radiant Esther Williams!

Oh my. Da Plane boss Da… Oh my… Your face, I never forget a face… I spit my last spat at you…. Oh I have hurt you, and I wish to go on HURTinnnnng you, I shall leave you as you left me, buried for all eternity in the center of a dead planet… buried aliiiiiiveeee…. Burrrried aliiiiiiiiiveeee.

Oh damn, must compose self. Oh dear god. Oh my. Oh my… Elizabeth was headed over to him and was gesturing in my general direction… Oh hell, I have to go shake hands with KHAN!!!! Oh my…

As I made my way over and shook his firm hand shake and met those steely beyond charismatic eyes of his, I nearly pulled an AMELIE and turned into a cascade of tears.

How many thousands of times have I watched his Khan? Is there a single line of his that I can’t quote from that film. I mean, this isn’t just meeting a regular person… This is the man who can make fantasies come to pass. He can look into you and see what it is that your soul wants. He is a man that knows everything that is best in life, the feel of Corinthian Leather… The smell of an Autumn breeze upon a beach… The scent of a woman’s neck… He is THE LATIN LOVER for all time. And he is burned for all time into my consciousness as one of the greatest screen villains of all time.

As I found my chair to rest my weary withered legs, Father Geek ran back to the house to get that which I needed signed. For twenty minutes my thoughts drifted in and out of memories of Ricardo in film. Suddenly I remembered… Oh yes… I’m on a film set, I’m supposed to be paying attention to what is going on.

A bit later I moved to behind the camera… that oh so tiny camera, oh yeah, it is that Sony 24 fp High Def camera… Very odd, I’d say that it is about 60% lens, 40 percent camera & tape. The boom is no longer the big fuzzy thing, it’s a tiny little thing on the end of the big rod. There are zillions of cables and now the dolly has a grounding wire hooked to it like a battery cables on a car. There was no more checking of gate. Reloading was a matter of seconds, and I’d say there were far less lighting arrays. The graphic monitors on set, Apple Cinema Displays… ohhhohohohohhhhhh, I want one. Well, they were all synced up, so there would be no moray problems here.

There was Rodriguez with his walker, Robert threw out his back this weekend, and now he is worse than me. Hunched over a walker, watching playback from a Kraftmatic Bed, being wheeled over to lunch. Me… I’m hobbling about on these crutches… Robert has Mr Photo come over and snap off a series of shots of Robert and his walker and me and my crutches… Robert says, "Look, we’ll keep this photo, then in 50 years we’ll take another with my walker and your crutches and we can tell people, ‘this was us when we were young’" Ahhhh, gallow’s humor for the youthful pair of cripples. ARGH!

The stand-ins were blocking the shot on set. Behind me was this immense green screen, with a smaller set that was the control station for an immense grownup spy sub that looked like a giant undersea insectoidish type of thing… VERY COOL.

Turns out that Ricardo Montalban is playing Carla Gugino’s Father, who was a spy himself. The wonderful Holland Taylor (Judge Roberta Kittleson from the idiot box's brain series THE PRACTICE) is his esposa, the Grandmother of Juni and Carmen) It turns out that Antonio Banderas never sought his permission to marry his daughter, and of course with someone like Antonio, well… he could never be the one for Ricardo’s daughter.

Robert and I hobbled our way over to the Kraftmatic Station where a pair of High Def monitors were. He started feeding these long thing video tape looking things into a player thing and the most amazing playback in history unfurled. I pushed my face as close to the monitor as possible and could not see pixels or anything. I literally felt like that moth that tries to fly into my TV set… it just looked like another reality.

Robert pointed out how none of this would be the right colors, because you shoot all the shots with greenscreen without filters, but in post… you can do anything. He showed me the highlights of Ricardo’s recent performances. Sterling. Ricardo just eats up the scenes. Your eyes instantly going to him with a smile forming on your face below.

There was this one scene in particular that just freaking ruled.

Antonio is at the controls of this immense super-submarine, behind him gathered around in close is his wife, her mom and Ricardo. Now during this scene the lighting is like something right out of Mario Bava’s PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES… that sort of color use and saturation. Really chewable photography. Ricardo is just over Antonio’s left shoulder and is goading him, teasing him, tormenting him. Ricardo is hurting Antonio with praise, empty and disingeniune. Banderas looks like a worm on the hook and Ricardo? Ricardo looks like the most deliciously wicked good man ever. He’s all pimped out in this red zipped up the middle jacket that is right out of the days when STAR TREK production design ruled. The scene was pure candy, a real delight.

Another scene he showed was a special treat for during the end credits with Ricardo… and this scene, I keep for me. It is a gem though.

I also saw the epic fight scene between Antonio Banderas and Mike Judge. Talk about holy shades of DOC SAVAGE. This fight scene could be super-imposed with Ron Ely and Paul Wexler… Doc Savage vs Captain Seas. An absolutely hilarious fight. Totally unpretentious. Very funny. Mike Judge is the man!

The scene that Robert was shooting this day was the ‘reveal’ for Ricardo. His entrance scene. It is shot with him in the foreground from behind… peering at all that is unfolding before him… His daughter, his incompetent son-in-law and his wife. His daughter is telling them to stay here, because it is a dangerous mission. His wife says that they want to help because Juni and Carmen are their only grandkids, Ricardo stops her… he whispers something to her (still not seeing his face), she says, "Well, they don’t count," and then she walks off camera. Ricardo turns his wheelchair to the left giving us a noble profile caked in shadow and filled with nobility.

Sitting to my left the whole time they blocked, rehearsed and taped (can’t use the word filmed anymore) the scene was Melanie Griffith. I met her briefly on the set of SPY KIDS during the opening storybook romance spy scene at the Omni Hotel. Other than, "Nice to meet you," we hadn’t said a single word more. Today, however we chatted about back injuries, San Miguel De Allende and other small talk. She really is quite a captivating lady. She was very down to Earth. Somehow I can’t look at her and not flash upon DePalma’s BODY DOUBLE… God I love that film.

Right after they finished this scene we all went for lunch. All that I had was a small piece of chicken breast and salad, but the whole time I regretted not sitting down at Ricardo’s table, but I felt it would have been pretentious and self-assuming to sit there. But later when Robert and his parents sat there, Robert invited me over.

I sat opposite of Ricardo and we chatted about many things. Robert, Ricardo and I all talked about mutual back problems, weight loss plans, leg exercises and finally Ricardo’s films.

We talked about two things primarily. STAR TREK 2: WRATH OF KHAN and his Esther Williams films beginning with FIESTA. Now, as much as I love WRATH OF KHAN to death, Ricardo was the man in the Esther Williams films that I love.

First, I had him sign the poster for WRATH OF KHAN and the script to KILL BILL. Now Ricardo questioned why I would have him sign this script for which he had never seen. I turned to page three, and showed him the quote that Quentin has that he said in WRATH OF KHAN. Ricardo was quite taken a back.

He had no idea that Quentin was a fan of his. This is when Robert and I began quoting Quentin’s 40 minute introduction to STAR TREK 2: WRATH OF KHAN. Again, Ricardo was quite taken by surprise.

When Robert mentioned that Quentin even began quoting Pauline Kael’s review of Khan, Ricardo was shocked… You see, Ricardo is quite humble, confident, but humble. Proud, but never arrogant. Sure of himself, but always graceful to others. He is the type of man of which there are very few if any in the world.

After so much praising about WRATH OF KHAN, Ricardo told Robert and I... "All that I really remember from that was Shatner coming up to me much later and saying, 'Thank you for your performance,' that it had really helped him to know what to do for his performance. We never acted in a scene together, I shot my scenes first. I told Shatner, "You're welcome," but then all I got was a Wall."

This is when I mentioned that I knew where my FIESTA poster was, and Ricardo’s face lit up like a Christmas tree.

"Ah yesss, my first American film, till that time all my work had been in Mexico." He remembered how he had been working in Mexico for quite a while up until that time and had his name above the title and all of that. But Louis B Mayer had seen him in this film he’d done in Mexico and decided that he was the man he was looking for to play Esther Williams’ twin brother in FIESTA. He said that Mary Astor played his Mother, that Esther was his twin sister, that it was really quite silly. That you’d never get away with that now. He had a far thicker accent at that time and that it was ridiculous to conceive that he and Esther were related, much less twins, but he said that movies were more about fun at that time, less concerned with making reality.

As he talked there was such affinity in his voice. Such a rich quality of love and affection for the times. Here is a man that has sung duets with Lena Horne, recorded albums with her. He was on the cover of LIFE magazine. He is Ricardo Montalban, we were all enjoying the conversation, suddenly he says, "I do believe it is time to go back to work." Robert looked at his watch, and sure enough the time was exact. Amazing.

I bid him a fond farewell. Robert left, leaving me with his parents and Elizabeth.

As Dad and I left the studio area here in Austin, my cel phone rang. It was ‘The Dude’ Jeff Dowd, I asked him, "Guess who I just had lunch with?"

He said, "George Bush?"

I said, "Ricardo Montalban."

This is when the Dude started screaming about how I was the man, and how that was the coolest thing imaginable and ya know… That’s not a unique reaction to the name Ricardo Montalban.

When I asked Tim League of the Alamo Drafthouse to guess who I met today, he had no idea, when I said Ricardo Montalban… Tim did a double-take, his jaw dropped and he said, "I had no idea you were going to say something so important."

Ya know, this report isn’t too terribly informative… I suppose that’s because I didn’t see much on a set that was mainly green screen, on a single scene and watching just one set up.

But this is more about a particularly cool day in my life. I hope you enjoyed it a bit. Me, I’ll never forget my lunch with Khan, he ate far better than me.

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