D.J. Cotrona takes aim on El Rey's ''From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series''

By James Hibberd
Updated March 07, 2014 at 05:00 AM EST

Just don’t call them vampires. The TV series version of Robert Rodriguez’s 1996 big-screen genre smashup From Dusk Till Dawn (which debuts March 11 on the El Rey network) still has undead demons, yet these beasties will prove more complicated than your standard neck-biters. “The first thing you see gives the idea these might be vampire-type creatures, but then as the season and mythology unfold, other ‘things’ keep getting introduced,” teases writer-director Rodriguez. “We’re not tied to any rules.”

That’s just how the Texas-based filmmaker likes it. Rodriguez has been playing by his own rules since he self-financed his $7,000 breakout film El Mariachi in 1992, then released a string of pulpy hits from his Austin company such as Sin City and the Spy Kids franchise that pioneered digital filmmaking while letting him maintain nearly total control. (He famously rejected an opportunity to shoot his Barbarella remake with a $70 million budget because the studio insisted he leave Texas.) So it’s perhaps no surprise that Rodriguez refused TV gigs for decades until he had his own network — El Rey, a Latino-themed, English-language cable channel backed by Univision that launched in about 20 million homes last December. Other shows in El Rey’s pipeline include Matador, about a “Latino James Bond,” and a U.S. version of Lucha Libre Mexican wrestling produced by Survivor‘s Mark Burnett.

But Dusk is the highest-profile debut, with a premise familiar to the film’s fans: The bank-robbing Gecko brothers (D.J. Cotrona and Zane Holtz, in the roles originated by George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino) take a preacher (Robert Patrick) and his family hostage, flee to Mexico, and fight a snake-dancing vixen named Santánico Pandemonium (Eiza González) and her demon minions. Wilmer Valderrama, who plays a mysterious crime lord, was such a big fan of Rodriguez’s that he signed on without even knowing which role he’d get. “When I was in school, having an accent meant you were inferior or uneducated — then [Rodriguez’s film] Desperado happened,” Valderrama says. Meanwhile, telenovela star González jumped at the chance to step into the seductive role made famous by Salma Hayek — though she wasn’t entirely prepared for a scene that had her character being thrown into a pit of live snakes. “It was terrifying. They were going up my butt,” she says. “I was screaming, and the crew was like, ‘She’s screaming so good!’ I’m like, ‘They’re going up my butt!’ “

By the eighth episode, expect the film’s story line to be left in the dust, with Santánico possibly becoming the heroine — in season 2. That’s right, another round is already planned. And why not? Running a network is like being a king. (What do you think El Rey means?) “If it’s honest,” Rodriguez says, “we can do anything we want.”