Excited to bring you my latest interview, with filmmaker Jack Perez. Jack is responsible for one of the coolest, most unique indie films of the 1990’s, La Cucaracha. Starring genre icons Eric Roberts and Joaquim De Almeida and featuring an early career turn from Michael Pena, it’s a film like no other, a severely underrated south of the border morality play with shades of everything from Peckinpah to Walter Hill, a style all its own and a script that is genuinely one of a kind. The film has just been remastered for streaming release on Amazon prime, and I have included a link to the new trailer here, it’s not a film to be missed. Enjoy!
Nate: What led you to filmmaking? Was it something you always knew you wanted to do, or did you fall into it?
Jack: I got into it very young, one of those Super 8 kids who borrowed the family camera and drafted my sister into doing homemade monster movies. My father was a movie nut, and our primary mode of communication was watching old films together, so that’s what started it.
Nate: Who are some filmmakers that you would say influenced your work, or you are a huge fan of and have looked up to?
Jack: Peckinpah definitely, probably above all others. His work was personal and mythical and expressionistic and truthful. And totally alive! Scorsese, of course – his mastery of the medium also melded with a powerful personal vision. Robert Aldrich, who did such a great range of work: VERA CRUZ and THE DIRTY DOZEN and KISS ME DEADLY. Altman and Polanski. Hitchcock and Hawks. Wyler and Wilder. Again, my father is the one who first introduced me to the classics, so by the time I went to film school I was pretty well saturated and ready to look at European cinema and cool experimental work (like Maya Deren!).
Nate: If you could have the rights to any novel/graphic novel series to undertake as your dream project, what would it be?
Jack: I don’t know if it could be done, or even should be done (probably not), but Dan Clowe’s LIKE A VELVET GLOVE CAST IN IRON. Overwhelmingly striking.
Nate: La Cucaracha: How did the idea come about, and did the end result look anything like what you first started out with on paper?
Jack: My writing partner, Jim McManus, and I were very much into Peckinpah at the time, and the whole idea of gringos getting into trouble south of border was very much on our minds. BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA was a huge influence, but we were also enamored with THE WAGES OF FEAR and TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE and RIDE THE PINK HORSE. The south-of-the-border noir is kind of a mini-genre unto itself and we wanted to use that as a backdrop for a new kind of story. Something more character-driven and personal. Actually, Jim’s original concept – the one that set the whole thing in motion – was that the Walter Poole character would literally roll into town in his wheelchair at the climax, guns blazing ala Rooster Cogburn, and go down in a hail of bullets. An nifty idea. Of course, by the time we actually got to the end of the screenplay that ultimately resulted, that kind of hyperbolic nihilistic ending didn’t fit anymore. Also I had intended to shoot it on location in Mexico and use the actual landscape and real people as part of the film’s fabric. But budgetary considerations brought us to the backlot of Universal, and the result was a Mexico much more mythical than intended (which I have to say, I kind of preferred in the end because it allowed for a more expressionistic look overall).
Nate: Working with Eric Roberts: you can honestly claim that you have directed him in what is, for me at least, in the top three greatest performances he’s ever given. How was the working relationship? What is he like? Do you guys keep in contact?
Jack: It was great working with Eric, and we’ve remained close over the years – him and his wife, Eliza. Eric works a lot, but I think he came to see LA CUCARACHA as an opportunity to really create a character, and show dimensions and vulnerabilities that he sometimes doesn’t get a chance to play. He knew I was deadly serious about making this picture the best it could be and, to his credit, attacked the role accordingly. He was a joy and a lot of fun to hang out with. Great sense of humor and loves animals (as I do).
Nate: Working with Joaquim De Almeida: a criminally underrated actor who rarely gets to show his true range and versatility. How was it working with him, especially in his intense and emotional scene near the end of the film? You can also claim to have seen probably the best and most truthful work he has ever done.
Jack: I totally agree. A great actor – like Eric – sometimes limited to roles that don’t show what he’s truly capable of. Here, he went for it as well. In fact on the day we shot the Sunday Schoolroom scene, where he tests Walter’s character and actually steps on his head – he had a huge, complex 2-page monologue that, when he finished – the crew literally jumped to its feet and broke out in applause. Ive never seen that happen on any set. He was also a real gentleman, bright, warm and thoughtful. And unafraid. The scene at the end that you mentioned required him to be emotionally naked, and he went there.
Nate: How did the remastered version of La Cucaracha come about? To be honest it’s nice to see it now widely available, I searched for it for nearly five years before finally finding a second hand DVD, being blown away and wondering why it wasn’t on every shelf of every store out there.. Did Amazon approach you for this?
Jack: I pushed for it. I too was bummed it was sorta out of circulation. Certainly not in HD or in the proper aspect ratio (the DVD release cropped the the original 1.85 image). So I approached Renascent Films, who had acquired the streaming rights, and asked if they would pursue it. Thankfully they agreed and I set about tracking down the 35mm negative, which was no longer in the original lab and wound up – through a corporate buyout – in the vaults of Technicolor. We did the telecine there and I’m happy with the results and genuinely excited it’s out there on Amazon Prime.
Nate: What’s life like for you these days? Any upcoming projects, film or otherwise, that you are excited for and would like to speak about?
Jack: I’m always going after the next project. The more personal the better. Though to make ends meet or just for the quick junkie filmmaking fix, I’ll do a TV project or a genre pic for hire. But the real joy is doing work that is personally necessary, ideally in an environment where not too many people fuck with you. That limits you to the world of independent financing. Anyway, we’re close to raising the bucks for a female-driven action-thriller I wrote called SHOTGUN WEDDING. I’ve wanted to do it for years and am I’m psyched for that!
Nate: Thank you so much for you r time, Jack, it’s been an honour and I’m very much looking forward to seeing La Cucaracha once again remastered!