With 183 films under his belt, veteran tough guy Danny Trejo finally gets a shot at a starring role, in Robert Rodriguez’s “Machete” out this month.
The Hardest Working Hombre in Hollywood
You may not recognize Danny Trejo’s name, but you definitely know his carved- granite face from one of the nearly 200 films he’s appeared in since the mid-eighties. His prolific, 25-year career was launched almost by accident, when he was working as a drug counsellor on the set of the 1995 film Runaway Train and was asked to be Eric Robert’s boxing coach for the film.
That led to a role in the movie, and since then, Trejo has been Central Casting’s walking, talking, gun-toting, knife-wielding definition of a badass for everything from B-movie prison flicks to Michael Mann’s Heist classic Heat. He started out as a bit player with maybe one line of dialogue — usually “Kill’em all,” he jokes — but has gradually expanded his repertoire to include bigger roles, parts in family films (Bubble Boy, Spy Kids), TV (Desperate Housewives, Breaking Bad), and videogame voiceovers (Grand Theft Auto).
Now, in this month’s Machete, directed by Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis, the 66-year-old steps into his first starring role, playing an ex-federale contracted to assassinate a corrupt senator in Texas. The contract turns out to be a setup, and after his employers try to take him out, Machete embarks on a brutal quest for revenge.
The hotly anticipated film, which began as a faux trailer in the Robert Rodriguez-Quentin Tarantino double feature Grindhouse, is as certain to stir up controversy for its take on U.S.-Mexico border issues as it is to kick ass. Much ass. While taking names.
We spoke with Trejo before the film’s release, and he told us about the origins of Machete, his criminal past (he did time for armed robbery in several prisons, and was welterweight boxing champ at San Quentin), his work as a drug counsellor (he’s a recovering addict), and the strange effect kissing Jessica Alba can have on your friends.
Machete has everything: a kickass title, you, Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez, Steven Seagal, Cheech Marin, Don Johnson — and Lindsay Lohan in a nun’s outfit. How fun was it to make?
Well, all of Robert’s movies are fun, and this one was just unbelievable. He is such a great director. I think he is gonna stand alone, as a director, in history. This one is a culmination of Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico, and if you look back at those, I think Robert was training me for this role. He told me about Machete when we were doing Desperado 15 years ago. He said, “I wanna do this movie about a Federale that helps fight [for] immigration.”
What do you think of Arizona’s new immigration law? Rodriguez issued a special Machete trailer for the people of Arizona on Cinco de Mayo.
Yeah. Well, it’s really fucked because [after we finished that trailer], I rode home on the plane from Austin with Karl Rove. He had just come out and said that Obama was too soft on immigration. But as far as the law goes. it’s a double-edged sword, because we’ve gotta stop the crime, but you can’t step on the Constitution. You have to have probable cause. You can’t racial-profile. And right now, if somebody asked me to prove I was an American citizen, well, they better take my driver’s license, because that’s all I got.
Did Rove know who you were?
Oh, yeah. I happened to help a lady with her bags, and he said, “I won’t tell anybody you’re a nice guy.” But the funny part is that. uh, God, Anchorman — who did I do Anchorman with?
Will Ferrell. Will Ferrell did that unbelievable skit, You’re Welcome America, about George Bush? Okay, well, he was on the plane, too.
You, Ferrell, and Rove were all on the same flight?
Yeah. But when I got off the plane, the paparazzi hit me. It was TMZ, and they were like, “Hey, Danny, what do you think about that immigration law?” I said, “There’s Karl Rove. Why don’t you ask him?”
They attacked him.
How does the movie treat the border issue? Is it pretty controversial?
We get ’em all. It’s gonna piss off both sides.
It’s already pissed off some right-wing bloggers.
Robert De Niro plays a crooked senator, right? When we were shooting the movie and he was making a speech, real people started arguing on the street. You know, picketing and screaming. Finally, we went over and said, “Hey, this is just a movie.” And they’re like, “Oh — we’re sorry.”