“Within ten minutes of coming up with the title, I came up with the basis of the story,” says filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, “a villain who could take anything they wanted from you, walk away, and you wouldn’t even know you met them.” He began working on the story for Hypnotic in 2002, a passion project which would ultimately take just over twenty years to reach the screen.
Inspired by a restored widescreen re-release of Hitchcock’s 1958 classic Vertigo, Rodriguez immediately set out to make a Hitchcockian thriller of his own – “a thrill ride in the Hitchcock sense, but on steroids
because I wanted it to have relentless twists and turns,” he says of the project which would remain close to his heart in the years which followed.
Working intermittently on the project in the ensuing years before partnering with writer Max Borenstein (Godzilla; Kong: Skull Island), Hypnotic went through many revisions according to Rodriguez, though the finished film still retains many of the original hooks and set pieces from his initial draft.
“Some [movies] have a longer shelf life than others and there are things that have to happen in your life before you can complete them,” he says of the film’s genesis. “Some of the major twists that happen in the movie, I needed to live a little longer to realize what those were. Some of those bigger twists came with time.”
Springing to international prominence in 1992 with his micro-budgeted breakout, El Mariachi, Texas native Robert Rodriguez remains one of the most influential directors working today with films including From Dusk Till Dawn (and its subsequent TV spinoff), Sin City, the Spy Kids franchise, and more recently, We Can Be Heroes and Alita: Battle Angel. Along the way, Rodriguez, sticking with his signature D.I.Y. approach to filmmaking, built his own production facility, Austin’s Troublemaker Studios (where much of Hypnotic was shot) and has forged creative partnerships with moviemakers from James Cameron to Quentin Tarantino.
His first film, El Mariachi, was made for $7,000 with Rodriguez as the entire crew. El Mariachi, went on to win the coveted Audience Award at the 1993 Sundance Film Festival, and became the lowest budget movie ever released by a major studio
It only takes an instant. A moment’s inattention and she is gone. All-consumed by his daughter’s disappearance without a trace following her abduction in a local park, Austin detective Danny Rourke (Ben Affleck), now a shell of his former self, returns to the only job he knows. Policework.
Determined to find his missing daughter, detective Danny Rourke instead finds himself spiraling down a rabbit hole while investigating a series of reality-bending bank robberies where he will ultimately call into question his most basic assumptions about everything and everyone in his world. Aided by Diana Cruz, a gifted psychic, Rourke simultaneously pursues and is pursued by a lethal specter – the one man he believes holds the key to finding the missing girl – only to discover more than he ever bargained for.
Who is the mystery man? What is his connection to Rourke’s missing daughter? What strange power does he possess and why has he initiated this game of cat and mouse? Rourke will attempt to answer these questions and find his daughter as he navigates a dangerous shadow-world in which no one and nothing is quite what it seems.
Collaboration between Robert Rodriguez and Ben Affleck
Notably, it was Rodriguez’s considerable filmography – and his distinctive approach – that also attracted the interest of two-time Oscar winner, Ben Affleck, who seized upon the opportunity to collaborate with one of the industry’s most influential directors on his latest film, thus helping to shepherd Hypnotic into production.
“One thing that always elevated Hitchcock’s movies was his casting – Cary Grant, James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman – and we really wanted to cast this with superstars,” says Rodriguez of his ultimate pick for Hypnotic’s central role. “Ben Affleck, playing Rourke, brings that sort of Hitchcock mystique to this… He’s got such star quality and presence about him that I almost felt like I was shooting a Hitchcock film, like I was working with one of those classic movie stars. He just came in lean, mean and ready to rock; He was awesome.”
“What made me want to do the movie was the complexity of the character and the script,” says Affleck of his own initial attraction to the film. “And even more than that because of Robert Rodriguez and my admiration for him as a director.”
“I’ve always wanted to work with him. I’ve always been inspired by him, what he’s done from the beginning of his career on,” says Affleck. “I make it a kind of mission to work with directors that I can learn from. And on this one I learned a lot.”
While Hypnotic itself is a rollercoaster of plot twists and unsettling character-revelations, the
collaboration between industry peers Rodriguez and Affleck should come as no surprise.
Since captivating audiences with his winning turn alongside Matt Damon in 1997’s Good Will Hunting
(for which they both received Oscars for penning the film’s screenplay), Ben Affleck has not only
remained one of the most in-demand movie stars, but an equally celebrated creative force behind
the camera. Marking his directorial debut with Gone Baby Gone in 2007, he would eventually go
on to direct Argo (2012) which would take the Academy Award for Best Picture.
For Robert Rodriguez, it meant his leading man in Hypnotic was also one of the industry’s leading filmmakers, a combination which would prove invaluable as filming progressed.
“The benefit of having directed movies is that when you work with somebody who’s really sharp
technically, you know what they’re doing, you know what they want, and hopefully you know how to give it to them,” says Affleck, who also found in Rourke a character unlike any he’d ever played. “That’s because it’s a multilayered [story] where you have one level of reality and then we reveal another level, and another, and another,” explains Affleck. “There’s so much of it that might [initially] seem a little off, strange or disconcerting, and then later on you understand exactly why it is that way. I really liked that complicated multilayered aspect of it as well and I liked the acting challenge.”
“Basically, Ben’s character is chasing a man with this strange hypnotic power and so he brings in a hypnosis expert, Diana Cruz, played by Alice Braga, who introduces him and the audience to this underground world of Hypnotics,” explains Rodriguez. “She becomes our conduit into this unsettling world where we will ultimately discover what they’re truly capable of.”
For the central role of Diana Cruz, Rodriguez turned to Brazilian actress, Alice Braga, who first attracted Hollywood’s attention in 2002 with Fernando Meirelles’ City of God. Nominated for four Academy awards that year, the film is widely considered a contemporary classic and one which remains a favorite amongst audiences and critics alike.
Rodriguez, of course, was more than familiar with Braga’s work. In 2010, she had starred in the Rodriguez-produced, Predators, which was partly filmed on the Troublemaker lot in Austin. Hypnotic, however, marks Braga’s first time working as an actress under the filmmaker’s direction.
“The moment I opened the script, I loved it because it was different than anything I was reading,” says the actress. “Robert is a visionary. He’s been doing films for 30 years. He knows so much about moviemaking and so it’s a true joy to be around him because you can really let go and just be open for him to play and to follow his guidance… He’s the type of director that always brings something to the table. You see it in Sin City, you see it in Alita, and you see it in We Can Be Heroes. Three completely different projects, each with his DNA in it. That’s why he’s so special.”
With Braga’s Diana Cruz as his guide, Danny Rourke descends into a shadow world populated by ‘hypnotics,’ especially gifted psychics capable of altering the perspectives of those around them. One such figure is Dayo Okeniyi’s character, River, a tech-wiz cum conspiracy-theorist, living in a compound on the fringes of society. In Cruz’s eyes, River could provide the key to finding the man who’s been baiting them since the Austin bank robbery, William Fichtner’s ‘Dellrayne,’ and in turn lead them to Rourke’s missing daughter.
“I got the chance to read the script a long time ago, two or three years ago, and absolutely fell in love with it,” says Okeniyi, the Nigerian-American actor who recently starred in Rise for Disney+. “It was honestly one of the most entertaining, mind-bending stories I’ve ever read and – without saying too much – one of the most fascinating characters I’ve ever played because there’s a double nature to him,” says Okeniyi of River. “When that penny finally drops, it’s an incredible revelation for the audience.”
William Fichtner takes on the role of the powerful hypnotic, Dellrayne, at the center of Robert Rodriguez’s psychological thriller.
“Not only are Rourke and Cruz pursuing this guy, but Dellrayne is after them as well,” explains Rodriguez of the character. “And it’s a mutual chase through the end of the film.’
“My agent sends me this script and says: ‘Read this – it’s called Hypnotic. Robert Rodriguez is making it and if you like it he’d like to have a Zoom with you,” says Fichtner of his unexpected casting. “Well, I read the script and I called him right back immediately: ‘Set that Zoom up. ’“I talked to Robert and it was really interesting to listen to him go in-depth about the story,”
Fichtner continues. “After fifteen, twenty-minutes on this Zoom he says to me: ‘This sounds great, I look forward to seeing you in Texas.’ And I’m sitting there thinking: ‘I think he just asked me to come and do this…’”
Currently featured in ABC’s The Company You Keep, Fichtner, whose films include The Dark Knight, Crash, and Black Hawk Down, has remained a fan-favorite over the years, playing by rough estimate over 90-roles in a career spanning 30-plus years. For the veteran-actor, the uncanny allure of Hypnotic was, nevertheless, threefold: playing character of Dellrayne, the chance to reteam with Ben Affleck, and the opportunity to work for the very first time with Robert Rodriguez.
“I haven’t said this many times in my life, if ever, but there are some people I’ve worked with, Ridley Scott being one of them, where I was just happy to have that experience,” says Fichtner of Rodriguez. “To work with Robert – his vision, his style, his sense of how he shoots things, how he perceives things, the stories that he tells – it’s a little bit of a bucket list thing for me.”
Equally, Fichtner was keen to reteam with Ben Affleck, his costar from the blockbuster 1998 hit, Armageddon, from producer/director, Michael Bay. “Ben and I first met shooting [that] while we were trying to save the planet; we were kind of on the same team,” laughs Fichtner. “It’s a little different this time… This go around, I’m the asteroid, he’s the planet.”
The final draw for Fichtner was the chance to play the multifaceted character of Dellrayne.
“He caught my interest from the moment he shows up on the page and I never lost that excitement about this character,” explains the actor. “You never really get in front of the story, which is part of the reason [it’s] so amazing… I think that’s exciting for an audience, and it’s certainly always exciting for me when I watch things like that.” Says Rodriguez: “I cannot imagine someone better for this character; I mean, he’s actually got this hypnotic quality to him. You put the camera front and center and it’s there.”
Filming on Hypnotic wrapped on November 16, 2021.
For Ben Affleck the experience was not only a chance to stretch as an actor, but to work closely with a filmmaker he’s long admired. “I came to appreciate and respect the speed with which he moves as well as the precision and desire for excellence,” says Affleck of Rodriguez. “I didn’t know what it was going to be like coming into this and I kind of feel like I found a kindred spirit in Robert. It was really fun to work with
somebody you both look up to, who is also kind and genuinely inclusive in his process.”
“I guess the main thing I want audiences to come away with is to feel like they had fun and to appreciate and enjoy Robert’s unique style,” Affleck continues. “A lot of directors will tell you: ‘This is what I want to do with this movie,’ and it just looks like every other movie. Because Robert is so good, he really does make it feel both modern and like a movie from the 40s or 50s made by a master filmmaker. He’s really bold with using the entire toolkit to emulate, update and play on it in a really fun way that I think is unique.”
“It felt amazing, twenty years later, to see this come to life for the first time, to see it come together like some distant dream,” says Rodriguez.
“Hypnotic has always been my favorite original story since I started writing,” says the director. “It just captured my imagination and fueled tons of ideas, because it does what we’re trying to do as filmmakers. You bring an audience into a dark room and you try to make them believe that what they are seeing is absolutely real, at least real enough for them to be emotionally invested. You’re creating a hypnotic construct with images, sound and music, to make them believe and feel a certain way. And that’s what this film is about. That’s what happens to the characters, where they can’t tell what’s real and what’s not. That constant playing with the characters is what we do as filmmakers with the audience… This takes that, slams on the gas, and goes all the way with it.”
Robert Rodriguez is a film director, screenwriter, producer, cinematographer, editor and musician. His first film, El Mariachi, was made for $7,000 with Rodriguez as the entire crew. El Mariachi, went on to win the coveted Audience Award at the 1993 Sundance Film Festival, and became the lowest budget movie ever released by a major studio. Rodriguez wrote about these experiences in “Rebel Without a Crew,” a perennial guide for the independent filmmaker.
Rodriguez went on to write, produce, direct and edit a series of successful films including Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn, The Faculty, the Spy Kids franchise, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Frank Miller’s Sin City, The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3D, Grindhouse, and Machete.
He collaborated with director James Cameron on the film adaptation of Alita: Battle Angel based on Yukito Kishiro’s manga. In 2017, Rodriguez, alongside his sons Racer and Rebel, formed Double R Productions, where they created a new $7,000 feature Red 11, a state of the art VR live-action short called The Limit and a feature film, We Can Be Heroes, in partnership with Netflix.
We Can Be Heroes has become one of Netflix’s most popular films of all time. He recently directed an episode of The Mandalorian and the Star Wars series The Book of Boba Fett.