Even diehard "Spy Kids" fans might have trouble recognizing Alexa Vega, who played one of the original spy kids, Carmen, in the franchise's first three installments. These days, Vega's a married 22-year-old, but unlike some former child stars who want nothing to do with the original projects that shot them to fame, she was thrilled to be cast in the new "Spy Kids: All the Time in the World," where her character serves as a mentor to the next generation of pint-size protagonists.
"It's a surreal experience," Vega says of being back on the set. "Doing the first film, we were just 11, and we had no idea what we were getting into. We just thought that we were playing really cool characters, but we had no idea that it would get the reaction that it has. We were basically kid heroes that other kids could look up to."
With all of the original films under their belts, she and co-star Daryl Sabara -- who plays her brother -- came armed with advice for the new "kids."
"I don't think kids ever ask somebody for advice, but you give it to them anyway, whether they want it or not," says Vega. "And my advice to them [was] you have to remember this moment because it's gonna go by so fast. Take everything in, and remember it because it's gonna be such an awesome experience that you have. You hope that they understand it. And I truly think that they did."
After "Spy Kids 3" was released in 2003 when Vega was 14, she went through a phase of wanting to play older, edgier characters. She later changed her mind.
"Not until four or five years ago did I realize, why am I trying to grow up? I'm going to be an adult soon, and I'm not even going to be able to play these young characters anymore. I need to enjoy them while I have them," she explains. "And I decided to embrace it and take it, and I ended up playing 15 again on a TV show [Ruby & The Rockits] when I was 19."
Now, in the latest "Spy Kids," Vega has a bona fide adult role, alongside Jessica Alba, Joel McHale, and Jeremy Piven. Though thanks to all of the actors' wildly different schedules, they didn't get to work together as a group much. McHale, for example, was shooting "Community" and "Talk Soup" during the week and would fly back to the "Spy Kids" set in Austin, Texas, on the weekends to film his scenes.
"Normally you'd think, if somebody's working that much and not getting sleep, that they would be super hard and difficult to work with, and he was just the opposite. He was so wonderful and so sweet for the little bit that we did work together," Vega says of McHale. "And then you had the amazing Jeremy Piven who is playing all of these different characters in one movie. And then Jess, who had a baby [who plays her child in the film] strapped to her the whole time. I think everybody worked super hard to make this thing happen."
As for Vega, she had her own side project to accommodate -- her wedding to producer Sean Covel in the groom's home state of South Dakota. "Spy Kids" director, producer, and writer Robert Rodriguez not only shut production down for a couple of days so Vega could get married, he even walked her down the aisle.
"It was funny to start a movie as an engaged woman, and finish it as a married woman," she laughs. "That was interesting."
While Vega describes married life "amazing"-- including date nights at home playing Scrabble and watching "Game of Thrones" -- the honeymoon they haven't yet taken is still up in the air and the final decision has one ferocious obstacle in the way.
"We definitely want to go someplace sunny where there's a beach, so we can just lounge, and not have to worry about anything, but Sean is very afraid of sharks," she says. "For some reason he strongly believes that if he goes into the ocean, a shark will get him I think it's because growing up in South Dakota, they're not near an ocean, but I think we'll be able to work something out."
Guess they probably won't be doing any snorkeling ...
Watch the trailer for "Spy Kids: All the Time in the World" here: