His face is instantly recognizable. His deft portrayals of characters both noble and ignoble have elevated him from “that guy with the tattoos” status to a bankable commodity.
The parts he’s played are just as memorable as he is: the knife-wielding Navajas from Desperado, the toothy vampire bartender Razor Charlie from From Dusk Till Dawn, Johnny “Johnny-23” Baca from Con Air, Machete from the Spy Kids series, the lovable biker Slim from Bubble Boy, the “Mexican/Mexican’t” Cucuy from Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Rondo from The Devil’s Rejects, Cuchillo from Predators, and now … the illustrious Machete. His name is Danny Trejo, and while you may not know his name, you definitely know his face.
Director Robert Rodriguez – a longtime supporter of Danny’s – turned what might have been a gag trailer for a lost biker revenge film into a media and cultural juggernaut. Machete, made for roughly $10 million, went on to make an approximated $26.6 million. It has, despite Trejo’s innumerable roles, become synonymous with Trejo and has given Latinos a badass cultural icon of their own.
On January 4th, 20th Century Fox brings Machete to DVD and Blu-ray complete with deleted scenes (that reportedly develop the Machete story through never-before-seen characters, new plot lines, etc.), an “Audience Reaction” track, downloadable digital copies of the film, and more. Dread Central spoke with Danny recently and talked a bit about Machete, being a real-life badass, and a host of upcoming projects.
Dread Central: I wanted to start by asking you about the documentary you made called Champion. The film is amazing, and it’s something I always recommend to people when your name comes up.
Danny Trejo: I did do that. That was fun. I’m glad because they use it in the pre-release programs in prisons so inmates get to watch it before they get out.
DC: I think that the film really made me reassess you both as an actor and as a man. I just thought it was amazing and an incredibly brave thing to do.
DT: Thank you.
DC: You’re quite welcome. But… we’re here to talk about Machete.
DC: I gotta ask… You’re a leading man in this, and that in and of itself is pretty amazing. Was the transition from character actor to male lead a difficult one to make? I mean, you pretty much carry the entire film.
DT: It was really hard for me to call myself the leading man with Robert De Niro in the cast. You know what I mean? [chuckles] So I was really glad he was there because it didn’t let my head swell. You know, everybody that was there… Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Lindsay Lohan, Michelle Rodriguez, Cheech Marin, Steven Seagal, Jeff Fahey, Don Johnson… We brought MIAMI VICE… Don Johnson! I just loved being a part of that cast.
DC: And you got all of the girls… which is awesome!
DC: I read something online that I wanted to get your take on. It’s an interesting statement and again I want to get your opinion. They said, “Machete is the most racist anti-racist film of all time.”
DT: “Racist anti-racist” [laughs] We didn’t spare anybody in it. [laughs]
DC: I guess he could’ve meant things like, at the assault on the compound at the end, there was a paleteros pushing an ice cream wagon amidst the fighters… or Machete fighting a guy while eating a taco…
DT: And the weed eater guy… [laughs] Well, you know… you can get whatever you want to get out of a movie. You’re gonna take whatever you want to take. I mean, what was Snow White really doing with those seven dwarves? I mean, really? What was she really doing? Why were they off to work saying, “Hi Ho Hi Ho?” So whatever you want to get, you’re going to get out of a movie. We did it as entertainment. What I loved was the sense of humor in it, in everything. So we kind of laughed at everybody, and that was what I loved about the movie.
DC: Now, as someone who has seen “real violence” in your life and is now working in a field where there is a lot of “pretend violence”, you sometimes work with “tough guys” who’ve never thrown a real punch. How do you deal with that?
DT: I think it’s cute. [laughs] I’m a technical advisor on a lot of films. Hollywood wants guys who can act tough. They don’t want tough guys.
DC: Well, I think you bring a certain credibility because I know you’ve thrown a punch or two… [laughs] and received just as many. Bringing that sort of sense memory to it, you make it seem a little more earnest and truthful.
DT: When I first met Robert Rodriguez, I walked into his office to be cast for Desperado, and he said, “You remind me of the tough guys in my high school.” I said, “I AM the tough guys in your high school.”
DC: Now, give me your lunch money… [laughs]
DT: [laughs] We just hit it off, you know what I mean? There has to be a sense of humor in everything otherwise… let’s do a documentary on prison.
DC: So, Machete is being released on January 4th…
DT: On Blu-ray and DVD.
DC: Will there be a lot of extras?
DT: Absolutely! You get to watch all the outtakes of me kissing Jessica Alba. [laughs]
DC: That has to be one of those moments in your life where you just say, “Lookit me!” [laughs]
DT: [laughs] My friends, Max, Mario, and Craig, were trying to kiss me after I kissed her.
DC: [laughs] Kissing Jessica Alba by proxy! [laughs]
DT: Residuals! [laughs]
DC: At the end of the film, there’s some talk about a Machete 2 and 3…
DT: I asked Robert Rodriguez when he was going to write Machete Kills, and he said (in his words), “It’s wrote.”
DC: So, that’s a done deal…
DC: Before I let you go, I was reading up on your IMDB listing, and according to that you have sixteen projects in some state of production right now.
DT: Yeah, a bunch of them.
DC: That’s amazing! And you’re producing some of them…
DT: Yes. My son is also producing. My son, Gilbert, is twenty-two. He was the artist in Machete, and Robert Rodriguez kind of showed people that you can make a movie if you want to and my son’s doing just that. I’m really proud of him. When I was twenty-two years old, I was in prison.
DC: But with him having such a strong male role model, that’s a good way to avoid those pitfalls. I am curious about a couple of things I saw in your upcoming films… Spy Kids 4?
DT: That’s coming out. We’re ready. We just finished that. It’s awesome. I did A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas.
DC: Are you in The Muppets movie?
DT: I am going to be in the Muppet movie. I was hoping they were going to make me one of the old men in the balcony. Remember them guys? I wanted to be one of those guys, but I don’t know. [laughs]
DC: You just have this cavalcade of stuff coming up. You’re working with Terrence Howard in something called Ambition, Sasha Grey in Skinny Dip…
DC: Sasha Grey… Just sayin’, dude. [laughs]
DT: [laughs] I know, right? It was filmed in New York. She’s become quite the little professional actress. She’s crossing over, so that’s kind of cool.
DC: That is cool and it goes to show that anyone can get a second chance.
DT: Yeah, right on!
DC: But I’m looking over this list and it’s just amazing. Briefly though, can you tell me about Alcatraz Prison Escape: Deathbed Confession? You narrate that?
DT: I’m doing that with a producer named Daniel Zirilli and it’s kind of a documentary on bad guys in the world, you know.
DC: And finally, Sin City 2… do you know anything about that?
DT: Sin City 2 might have been pushed back behind Machete Kills. [laughs] Nobody cares about Mickey Rourke… [laughs]
DC: So, once again… The DVD and Blu-ray come out on January 4th with tons of extras… anything else we should watch out for with you in it?
DT: I did a movie called Death Race 2. It’s got an actress named Tanit Phoenix (Lost Boys: The Thirst), and when you see her, you’ll see why I took the job.
DC: Luke Goss (Blade 2) is in that as well.
DT: Yes, and Sean Bean (Lord of the Rings), Ving Rhames (Dawn of the Dead), and Fred Keohler (Death Race). I love the director, Roel Reiné (The Lost Tribe and the upcoming Scorpion King: Rise of the Dead). He’s a great director, and I think he read Robert Rodriguez’s book, Rebel without a Crew: Or How a 23-Year-Old Filmmaker With $7,000 Became a Hollywood Player, because he shoots just like him.
Our thanks to Danny for taking the time to speak with us. Look for Machete from 20th Century Fox on January 4th, 2011, on DVD and Blu-Ray!
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