‘The Legend Of Cocaine Island’ Director And Star Discuss Creating ‘The World’s Wildest Campfire Tale’


Do you like true crime but worry the stakes are too high? Wouldn’t you like to hear a crazy story where no one dies, the subjects aren’t grieving families, and you can throw around theories about what really happened without ruining anyone’s life?

Well then The Legend Of Cocaine Island, coming to Netflix this weekend, just might be the documentary for you. It tells the story of Rodney Hyden, just your average dip-spittin’ Florida good ol’ boy, who has a big plan to fly to an island off Puerto Rico where a friend had supposedly buried a bag filled with a couple million dollars worth of cocaine.

It only gets wilder from there, involving Andy, a friend of Rodney’s son, who’s supposed to help Rodney with the digging but is too busy going through opiate withdrawals; Andy’s drug dealer friend Dee (the fence); and a mysterious drug lord named Carlos (the transporter). It all adds up to another wonderfully strange, Elmore Leonard-esque yarn that could only happen in Florida (see also: Screwball).

The Legend of Cocaine Island hits Netflix March 29. I spoke to star Rodney Hyden and director Theo Love (yes, that’s his real name) by phone this week.

Sorry, three-way interviews are always interesting. Are you guys in the same place?

Theo: Nope.

Rodney: Nope, never will be.

Rodney, so are you excited for the documentary to be out and seen on a large scale?

Rodney: Yeah, I am actually. Based on the fact that I’ve got to see it at the premiere.

Theo: We had a packed house in Tribeca–

Rodney: –And in Birmingham. That was the loud crowd.

Theo: Yeah, that was about 2,000 people in that audience, and you were right in the middle of them.

So, Rodney, do you have a dip in right now?

Rodney: Oh no, I spit it out so you could understand me.

Sure, but doesn’t it make you want to talk more, doesn’t it make you more conversational?

Rodney: Only when the saliva’s dripping down the side of my face. No, man it doesn’t, actually. It’s just a bad habit.

What’s your brand?

Rodney: Grizzly fine cut. You can send me a tube if you want.

So Rodney, are you still living in the same trailer that you guys were in, when the beginning of this whole search for the bag started.

Rodney: Well, Vince I am from the South, and down here we call them “mobile homes.” And actually, I sold that property last year. We’re on the northern end of the county, in Alachua. Where we moved so my daughter could go to school right here at the school of her choice when she was in high school.

So what was your final take gonna be? ‘Cause they said the bag was worth one to two million, something like that? Do you know what your final take was going to be, at the end, once you’d given the whatever it was, eight keys off the top, for the transporter?

Rodney: Well, at that time I thought, you know I’d probably never hear from him again, but if I should hear from him again, I was supposed to get half of whatever was there and he knows what was there.

Theo: So, that would be what, Rodney, half a million?

Rodney: It could be anywhere from that to a million. Somewhere in there, probably.

So you didn’t have an upfront fee with Dee, you were going to trust his accounting to give you 50% at the end?

Rodney: You know, I don’t know. I was gonna cross that bridge when we got there.

So Theo, are you from the area as well?

Theo: No, I’m not. I live in Los Angeles.

How did you first hear about this story?

Theo: I was looking for a crime story in the South, but I wanted something that, honestly, wasn’t dark. I wanted to tell a fun story. Something that, you know, there wasn’t really a victim, there wasn’t murder or anything like that. It was just a story, kind of about storytelling and kind of like a big fish tale, that the details of it, you can’t confirm but this story actually happened. So I came across this story just searching online. You know, pretty much all the funny crime stories lead you to Florida and “Florida Man.” Most of those are just ridiculous headlines, but with Rodney there was an actual story there that felt like a screenplay to a movie. I mean, it really did. You just hear his story and it’s almost like it’s broken up in to three acts ready to shoot. I think from the time we first started talking to the time we were filming was only about two months.

Rodney, were you skeptical of him at all, did it take anything to get you to participate [in the documentary], and had you been approached by anyone else?

Rodney: I had talked to someone and I can’t remember who it was. Just the dude’s arrogance alone, I blew him off, but when Theo came along we hit it off pretty good.

So you just had a rapport and your thought, okay, why not?

Rodney: That’s it. It was a great experience.

Did you have to help talk any of the other people, any of the other players into the story into participating?

Rodney: I left all that up to Theo.

Theo: Honestly, it might seem hard to believe, but everybody said yes, almost immediately. It was crazy ’cause we would just talk to people and they would be excited to tell their story and they would start laughing. The first time I talked to Rodney he was laughing about it, within a minute of the call. Saying it was the stupidest thing he’s ever done but it’s a good story. So a lot of people just started coming to us. They would connect with us on Facebook. We would just get calls. Dee, the Cuban, just told us through Andy that he wanted to be interviewed. So we met him at IHOP that night. The access we got was kind of ridiculous to us and it came so easily.

What’d he order?

Theo: Grits.

I didn’t know they had grits at IHOP.

Rodney: They do in the South. They have that. That’s all you get.

Theo: It was right outside of Disney World.

So, Rodney, was there a plan to give Julian [the friend who supposedly found and buried the bag in the first place] a cut of whatever you made off it?

Rodney: Yeah, I told Julian regardless, nobody knew what was there or what was found, you know, and whatever I got I was gonna split it with him.

I mean, this is a story you guys would all sorta would tell over beers. How did you get deputized as the lead, point man on going to get it?

Rodney: Well, I never thought about actually going to get it until I was approached by Dee. I mean it never entered my mind. I knew about it for eight to ten years and it had never entered my mind.

So, Theo, you know about this crazy story, what was your way of depicting this visually, what footage and what was your process of putting it together as a visual story?

Theo: Honestly, I wanted to make a documentary that felt like a Blockbuster movie. It felt cinematic and so we shot this with cinema cameras and Panavision lenses and our DP, Foster [Britton] he’s this guy he’s straight out of AFI, he’s been a friend of mine for a long time, but he’s narrative minded and we approached this as if we were filming a narrative. Rodney, he’s interviewed in the film and his interview anchored the film but he also plays himself in the movie. So we were able to blend these documentary and kind of scripted narrative film scenes in this weird goofy way.

So what’s Andy up to now?

Theo: I don’t know. I think that he’s in Florida but I haven’t heard from him in a long time.

Rodney, do you still see Andy?

Rodney: I haven’t talked to him since I was arrested.

So, I’m interviewing Billy Corben from Cocaine Cowboys next week. So I’ll probably have to ask him this question too. But what is it about–

Theo: Oh my gosh!

Sorry, go ahead.

Theo: I have a little bit about him. So, I’m a big fan of his movies, obviously. So the Cuban, the one that ordered Grits at IHOP, one of the first things that he wanted to talk about when we sat down was Cocaine Cowboys. It was amazing.

So he was a documentary fan?

Theo: Oh yeah, big time.

So he was kind of hoping this might be something like that, you think?

Theo: Yeah, definitely.

Okay, so the question was, that I was going to ask, what is it about Florida that every crazy story seems to come out of there.

Rodney: I think it’s ’cause were surrounded by water.

So how come there are not as many crazy stories about Hawaii?

Rodney: About what?

Well, I mean, if the water is the explanation, why does Florida seem to have more crazy stories than Hawaii?

Rodney: Oh, I don’t know. That’s a good question, I have no idea, man. Maybe it’s the gravitational pull at this latitude and longitude.

Theo: I don’t know about all of Florida, but I will tell you that where we went to film this, you know we filmed this at his actual house. Back in the woods in Archer, and it has this magical quality to it. One of the things that didn’t make it, there ridiculous characters everywhere and there is an acceptance of everybody’s work, in a weird way. I mean, Rodney is completely different in every way than Julian, but they’re neighbors and they got along great and they were good friends. So I mean there was something really odd working here, but really friendly at the same time.

Rodney: People swear they hear banjos when they come down that four-mile dirt road back in there to where we all live.

So Rodney, how vain were you about appearing in this documentary? Were you worried about putting on your nice shirt before you’d get filmed or anything like that or did you just let it roll?

Rodney: Ah, I let it roll, I just wanted to be me.

Theo, what were the other characters like, did they want to be portrayed in any particular way?

Theo: No, they didn’t have many opinions about the recreations. They were down for the interview. They were a little bit nervous at first so some of them wore disguises. Some of those disguises are better than others, but Rodney and his family, you know we hung out with them and they appear in these things and kind of act out their own life and it’s bizarre and entertaining, hopefully.

And then with this coming out on Netflix, if it becomes a phenomenon, are you excited about that possibility of you being discussed in households across the country?

Rodney: I haven’t given it much though, Vince, I really haven’t. I’d have to think about it.

Theo: Do you think it’s going to be discussed in houses all over the country?

You know it could be, I mean, you never know with these Netflix documentaries. The Fyre Fest documentaries were definitely a huge topic of conversation.

Theo: That brings up a really good point. Netflix has done so much for the documentary community. The platform that documentaries have now versus what it was 10 years ago, it’s just ridiculous. It’s a mainstream thing because of Netflix and it’s really cool. We’re really excited to release with them and the way they have kind of changed the game is really inspiring and it makes me want to make better documentaries.

You talked about this movie as kind of like a story that you tell around a campfire. [With streaming] are we just expanding that campfire in a way?

Theo: Hopefully, I mean that’s the thing. Stories are meant to be shared and stories are meant to make your own and I like that. We’re not claiming to be journalists on this. We’re telling you a story — it’s a real, true story as best as we could tell and we called it a legend. The Legend of Cocaine Island. C’mon, give us some credit for that title.

Right, no, absolutely it’s a great title.

Theo: Give Netflix some credit for that title.

Was that their idea?

Theo: Yeah, it was great.

What were some of the titles that you threw around before that one, before you settled on that one?

Theo: You don’t even want to hear.

‘The Legend of Cocaine Island’ is currently streaming on Netflix. Vince Mancini is on Twitter. You can access his archive of reviews here.