“Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D” could also be subtitled “Spy Kids: The Next Generation.” The movie is the fourth installment in the “Spy Kids” series from writer/director/producer Robert Rodriguez. This time around, there’s a new family at the center of the story. “Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D” goes one step further in the current 3-D craze by presenting the movie in Aromascope so that viewers can also experience the movie through the sense of smell.
In “Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D,” retired spy Marissa Cortez Wilson (played by Jessica Alba) is trying to settle into domestic life with her husband, TV host Wilbur Wilson (played by Joel McHale); her twin stepkids, Rebecca (Rowan Blanchard) and Cecil (Mason Cook); and a baby daughter. Marissa is unexpectedly called back into spy action when a maniacal villain called the Time Keeper (played by Jeremy Piven), who has several identities, threatens to take over the world — and Rebecca and Cecil end up putting their differences aside with Marissa to help her. Here is what Alba, McHale, Piven, Rodriguez and Ricky Gervais (who voices the animated dog character Argonaut) had to say about making the movie.
Interview with Jessica Alba
How would you describe your Marissa Wilson character?
Alba: My character Marissa is a new mom. She was the top spy at the OSS, which is this spy agency, for a long time. She basically gave up her career to be a mom and to raise her daughter and her stepkids and to be a full-time stay-at-home mom.
She’s out there trying to do her job, trying to save the world, but she has a baby who’s hungry, cranky, needs a nap, poops, pees. She has to change diapers. She has to make bottles, but she still has to save the world, and she still has to ground her kids and kept them in line. I just think it’s nice and kind of a relief to see a real human aspect, when it comes to the slick spy movie.
What sets “Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D” apart from other spy movies?
Alba: There are tons of spy movies and tons of slick action movies, but rarely do you get to see a mom who’s trying to work and trying to be a good mom, who’s kind of struggling with both of those things. And you have to go in and do the action and try to be quiet and slick and do your job, but I have a baby attached to me. I just love that human aspect.
How would you compare Marissa as spy to Marissa as a mom?
Alba: She’s not so good at being a mom. She tries hard, but she gets overwhelmed. And she kind of loses it a little bit in being overwhelmed and frazzled. And being a spy and saving the world seems to be the easy part of what she does. And being a mom is what she struggles with.
What can you say about Joel McHale?
Alba: Even when we have one serious scene, it’s very difficult to keep a straight face, for sure. He improvises and he’s very funny.
How would you describe what Jeremy Piven plays in “Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D”?
Alba: His character is three different people. Actually, I think more than that. I think it shows him at six different stages in his life. And he’s incredibly eccentric. He’s like a mad scientist in some of the bits. And in others, he’s this straight man who’s the head of this organization. It just shows off what a great actor Jeremy is because you can see all these different colors to him as an actor.
You’ve done several movies with filmmaker Robert Rodriguez. How would you describe him?
Alba: Robert is a genius. He’s not only a visionary but he executes his vision. He has this amazing imagination. It’s one thing to have that imagination and keep it in your head as a dream or something like that. But he writes the movie, he shoots the movie, he directs actors.
A lot of people — well, not a lot of people — who are more visual don’t always concentrate on performance, or even understand the humanity of the performance — and it’s just about how cool it looks. He can combine that visual sense of making something look super-cool and very stylized but also gets the meat in every nuance of your performance.
Can you talk about why the “Spy Kids” movies appeal to such a broad spectrum of people?
Alba: First of all, the action and the special effects are all top-notch. The jokes are layered. I think all the jokes work for kids or adults.
There’s a real family dynamic that everyone can relate to: the brother/sister rivalry. Having parents who are trying to work and do their thing and protect their children is something anyone can relate to, whether you’re the child or the parent.
Interview with Joel McHale
How would you describe your Wilbur Wilson character?
McHale: Wilbur Wilson: spy hunter. Wilbur is this guy who’s kind of like Bear Grylls from “Man vs. Wild.” He’s the host of this reality show that tells you about spies and how to spot a spy and what spies do. And it’s kind of fantastical, and he’s kind of over-the-top about it.
His show is fledgling. It’s not a good show. There’s even a part f the movie where he goes, “Well, that was the worst segment I’ve ever done in my life. Agreed?” And the guy [he’s talking to] goes, “Hmmn, no. You’ve done worse.”
And so the show is not going well. And he’s so obsessed with his own show, he is missing out on his children growing up. He’s got two kids from one marriage. And he’s got this new wife, played by Jessica Alba, and she’s got a brand-new baby: our baby. He’s so obsessed with his job that he’s missing out on his own kids’ lives.
What was it like working with Jeremy Piven?
McHale: Jeremy Piven. What can you say about the guy? He’s amazing. I think the Emmy committee, for “Entourage,” has basically said, “Look, we’ll just give it to you every year.” It’s become like Oprah, where she stopped submitting herself [to be nominated for Emmy Awards], because she would always win. It’s the same thing for him.
He’s so good. He’s so funny, but he can be really dramatic. So in [“Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D”], he’s got this serious thing where he wants to go back in time and see his father, but he’s really funny. So that allows you to cut the whole thing without it becoming too heavy at all, and allows him to be really funny, and you can laugh about it but still think about it. It’s great to work with him, and I get to tell people that I worked with Jeremy Piven.
How was it working with Rowan Blanchard and Mason Cook?
McHale: Rowan and Mason, who play Rebecca and Cecil: so cool and sweet kids. I actually know Rowan. Her mom and dad run a yoga studio that my wife goes to. So I’ve known Rowan since before she was born. Before she was in existence, I knew her parents. So that was cool.
They’re really good little actors. They’re great. I think people take it for granted when kids are really good. It’s always glaring when they’re bad. No offense to kids who are bad out there. They’re just really good, and they nail their takes, and they’re really focused. They’re just grounded little kids.
What kind of filmmaker is Robert Rodriguez?
McHale: He knows exactly what he is doing. He knows exactly what he wants. There’s no stress. There’s no yelling. It’s just really cool and mellow, because we’re not like commanding people in battle. We get to make movies and get to do something we love to do.
So you can tell he really enjoys it, and he has that kind of boyish curiosity about the whole thing. He does it with such ease that you’re kind of like, “Oh, this moviemaking seems easy.” But it’s really not.
Interview with Jeremy Piven
How would you describe working with Robert Rodriguez?
Piven: It’s so completely freeing. Although he probably knows what he wants more than anyone I’ve worked with, he’s also available for any collaboration of any kind. It’s kind of an amazing combination. And you just surrender yourself to his world. He’s insanely prolific, obviously. There’s something very child-like about him, and that’s kind of the state you need to be in when you’re creating. I know that sounds very pretentious, but I don’t care.
What’s it like working with Jessica Alba?
Piven: It’s fun to work with Jessica because she’s kind of incapable of lying on camera. You just look at her and lock in. She’s a very striking woman, obviously. But she’s a mom now, and I think she has a great reference for a love of family and all that, which I think plays into all of this very nicely.
How was it playing different characters in “Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D”?
Piven: For me, it was so fun. The gadgets are really great. I have this amazing watch that can do so many different things. The world I get to inhabit, because I get to see myself 30, 40 years [from now], if I’m looking to be around that long. So at a certain point, it’s like looking at myself in the future, which is really crazy. And then these different incarnations of myself, had I gone back or forward in time. And so to play all of those with these different characters was so incredibly fun.
Can you describe what it was like working with any of your kid co-stars from “Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D”?
Piven: Rowan [Blanchard] is glowing. Her father is a yogi, so I think she comes by it honestly. She has this incredible energy. When I was doing a scene, I end up looking at her, because she has this great energy. You learn so much from them because she’s off-camera and totally present and working right there with you.
Interview with Ricky Gervais
How would you describe your Argonaut character?
Gervais: I play the part of a little, scruffy robotic dog. It’s a dream role. It’s perfect for me. I’ve already got the fangs. And I often find things in bins that I eat. And I can lick myself all over. It’s not true. Not with my back! Not anymore!
I sort of played him as a wise-cracking putz. He thinks he’s cool, but he’s not. He’s one of these guys who’s so proud of being a robotic dog. He loves the shock, but then the kids aren’t so impressed with him, so he has to try a bit harder. He’s one of those people who wants a bit of credit, and he thinks he’s funny, but he’s not. But he’s a bit of a hero.
How did you prepare to play an animated robotic dog?
Gervais: First of all, I lived in a basket for three weeks. I ate a lot of slippers and homework and scraps from the table. And then I slept by the fire for 18 hours a day. Yeah, I think I’ll get the Oscar.
What’s it like working with Robert Rodriguez?
Gervais: I’m a huge a fan of Robert Rodriguez. He’s fantastic. And it’s a comedy part, and he said the magic words: “Make stuff up. Ad lib. Just make me go crazy.” It was really good fun working with him. Even though we were down the line to each other — it wasn’t in person — I think I’m better on the phone. Once you meet me, it’s a disappointment.
What do you think about “Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D” being released in 4D with Aromascope?
Gervais: The fourth dimension, as all scientists know, is smell. So you can actually go to the cinema and smell me. [He laughs.]
Interview with Robert Rodriguez
The third “Spy Kids” film was released back in 2003. What made you decide to do a fourth “Spy Kids” movie eight years later?
Rodriguez: In the back my mind a few years ago, I thought of thinking of doing another one. But it wasn’t until I was working with Jessica Alba on another movie, and I’d seen her with her daughter, who was about 2 years old at the time, and her carting the baby around but still working, being a working mom, I thought it would be a great way to introduce another segment of the Cortez family. Maybe she could be the younger sister to Antonio Banderas [who played Gregorio Cortez in the first three “Spy Kids” movies], and bring in a couple of stepkids. I actually developed the story idea with Jessica Alba.
What inspired the creation of the villain in “Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D”?
Rodriguez: To see my own children now, growing up so much, I’ve always felt the need to stop time, to freeze time in some way and enjoy this moment I have with them a little bit longer. That might be an interesting skew for the villain. The villains in my movies aren’t really bad guys. They have really good intentions; they just go about them the wrong way. And I thought the Time Keeper would be a great villain for this piece — helping teach a life lesson about wasting time or how you spend your time when you have a family.
Let’s talk about the main adult cast members in “Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D.” Can you describe each of them, starting with Jessica Alba?
Rodriguez: She so beautiful and so strong. I wanted to represent moms and show what they have to do on a daily basis — in a spy movie. And so she embodied that. You actually believe she is a mom because she is a mom. It’s really fantastic to see her know how to handle a baby and do these other things. And she was so into it.
Rodriguez: I had this idea that idea that of she was a spy, her husband would be a spy hunter on television only. He had never seen a spy or caught a spy. And he didn’t know his wife was a spy. So I needed somebody who could play that kind of humor, and Joel McHale was the person. He’s so funny and he’s just so quick and so affable and just good-natured that you could see that [his Wilbur Wilson character] would not know that his wife was a spy. And how he deals with that is also very fun.
Rodriguez: I called Jeremy, and he flew down over the weekend, and he was playing three different roles by Monday. That’s the kind of guy he is. He’s just amazing and so ready to do anything. He comes from such a great theatrical background. He has a lot of comedic chops, obviously. You’ve seen him a lot in “Entourage” and not getting to show fully what he could do, so I knew that he would accept the challenge and run with it. So he was the perfect choice. He’s so fun to work with, and I really enjoyed that.
Rodriguez: Ricky Gervais is the person I’d always had in mind for Argonaut. And when it’s themed as British James Bond, very sarcastic, Ricky was always in mind. And I was very lucky that he wanted to do it. I was a big fan — and my kids are too — of his “Flanimals.” So when I told them there was a possibility that I would be working with Mr. Flanimal, they were very excited about that. He was very inventive and saw the potential in the [Argonaut] character.
How do you think “Spy Kids” movies affect audiences?
Rodriguez: It’s very empowering for a children to see a live-action film (versus an animated film) — where they can see real kids being cool and being independent and being challenged and overcoming challenges, I think is what makes it enduring to audiences and gets the seal of approval from parents, because they see their kids become so confident, become excited about the idea of empowered children who are good kids that can overcome anything and do amazing things.
Can you talk about the development of the “spy kid” characters Rebecca Wilson and Cecil Wilson?
Rodriguez: I very much fed off of their personality to alter the script and their characters halfway, because I knew once I met who I knew was going to play the part, then I would be informed on how to finish the part. Cecil’s character, the one Mason [Cook] plays, became much smarter after I met him.
And I knew he was going to play the boy, so I was like, “All right, this boy has to be very intelligent, because that is something he is more adept at — not so much the physicality, but the intelligence. And then give him physicality through gadgets and see what happens.” So I thought that would be a gun character thing for him.
For Rowan [Blanchard], she’s just amazing. She’s very precocious. She was 8 at the time [the movie was filmed]. She’s now 9. So I played into her pranks and mischievousness. That became her asset. So the script gets catered to whoever you cast.
For more info: “Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D” website
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