New ‘American Sicario’ Film Shows Another Side of Las Vegas

Danny Trejo stars in a crime thriller shot in the outskirts of Vegas

The characters in crime thriller “American Sicario” never come near or even mention Las Vegas, but the movie itself wouldn’t exist without Las Vegas, which proves an able stand-in for the story’s Mexico setting. Filmmakers often come to Vegas to capture the unique glamour and spectacle of the Strip, to tell stories that couldn’t possibly be set anywhere else. But “American Sicario” demonstrates that Vegas has far more to offer, pointing toward a potential expanded future for Vegas and Nevada as a film destination.

“The largest part of the movie was shot in Nevada, specifically in Las Vegas and in the outskirts of Vegas,” explains producer and star Philippe A. Haddad, who plays American-born Mexican cartel boss Erik Vasquez. “We really wanted that desert feel to come through.” 

Erik and his associates spend a lot of time in the open desert, as they take care of deadly business with rival cartel members so that Erik can build his empire. “The geographical part is really important,” Haddad says. “You have to find similar conditions here than the ones that were written in the script. If it was set in the desert of Sinaloa, it has to look desert-y.”

The other major resource that Haddad and his team found in Las Vegas were the kind of lavish crash pads where cartel bosses make their homes. “We rented a lot of mansions as well, which were beautiful houses in Vegas,” he says. Between the expansive desert and the luxurious houses, “American Sicario” effectively immerses the audience in Mexico’s narco culture, all without the production ever having to leave Las Vegas.

Haddad and director RJ Collins relied on local crew in addition to their out-of-town collaborators, and Vegas was ideal for that as well. “In Vegas there are a lot of showbiz people, so it was easy to hire qualified people to be able to come on set and work with us,” Haddad says. “Whereas if we had gone to the middle of nowhere, we would have had to fly all those people in.”

‘American Sicario’ scene with Danny Trejo

Haddad stars alongside legendary character actor Danny Trejo, who plays Erik’s father-in-law, a formidable former cartel boss in his own right. “For me as an actor, I had to get over the fact that I’m in front of Danny Trejo,” Haddad says. “He’s such a sweet guy, contrary to popular belief, because he always plays bad guys and he’s got this kind of look.”

Haddad is already on to a variety of new projects, including a drama in which he plays a man who believes he’s Marlon Brando, but Collins has returned to Vegas to shoot “Don’t Suck,” a film set in the world of stand-up comedy, starring Jamie Kennedy. “We wrapped in October and shot the entire film in Las Vegas,” Collins reveals. Haddad, too, would be happy to film in Vegas again. “It’s a beautiful city, and it’s fun.”

“American Sicario” is available December 10 on VOD.

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