SATURDAY APRIL 29, 2017
 
Blog TALKING TO
DANNY TREJO
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Armed with one of the most intimidating faces in Hollywood, Danny Trejo has stomped his way through over 250 film and television appearances to become possibly the industry’s biggest badass. Following a troubled youth spent in and out of prison, Trejo stumbled into the film industry as an extra in 1985’s Runaway Train and has been working ever since.

After countless turns as background tough guys (Heat, Con Air, Desperado, The Devil’s Rejects, Breaking Bad), it was Trejo’s cousin, director Robert Rodriguez, who helped turn him into a full on action star. Rodriguez dedicated a fake trailer in 2007’s Grindhouse to Trejo’s unique talents, which then spun off into the 2010 feature Machete. It was Trejo’s first lead role and turned the lifelong character actor into a full-out B-movie action star at age 66.

Now the team has returned for Machete Kills, another ludicrously violent action/comedy in which Trejo beats up the likes of Mel Gibson and Antonio Banderas and seduces Amber Heard and Sofia Vergara. It’s all in a ridiculous days work for Trejo and TORO recently got the chance to chat with the lovable tough guy about the film, the franchise, The Muppets, having Ray Liotta’s back and, of course, what it was like to work on Baywatch.

I gather the Machete character started as a joke between you and Robert Rodriguez on the set of Desperado. Why did that character stick with you guys for so many years?

You know, we brought it up back then and always liked the idea. But we never worked on it until the Grindhouse trailer. When we did the Spy Kids movies, we wanted my character to be Uncle Machete, so that was fun. Then when we did Grindhouse Robert had to make a fake trailer and decided to do Machete. That’s when it all fell into place. After the trailer everybody was saying, “Oh you have to do this movie.” So it finally happened.

Do you get to be involved in the writing of a Machete movie at all since it’s kind of your baby?

No. Robert always writes them, but we collaborate on ideas. I’ll mention things and he’ll work them in. I mentioned that I wanted to jump on a helicopter, so he’s made sure that I’ve killed three people on a helicopter so far [Laughs]. 

When did you start working on the sequel?

Everyone asks us, “Why are you doing another one?” Well, because the first one made money [Laughs]. It did so well that we had to do another one. Everyone demanded it and because we made reference to a third one, they’re already demanding that too.  It might never end.  I honestly believe that acting is overrated as my job. I’ve been a house painter and a plumber and a carpenter. I’m a guy you pay to do a job. Always have been. I just show up. If there are more, I’ll do ’em.

Do you guys talk about the movies as comedies? Because I always think of them that way first and as action flicks second.

Well, I think they’re action/comedies. I mean, I chopped three people’s heads off in one swing in Machete and my mother laughed. My mother was 85 years old and she was laughing like nothing else. Robert always seems to make the violence kind of comically unbelievable. I know it sounds strange to say that somebody’s head getting chopped off is funny, but it is!

Do you and Robert even need to talk on the set at this point? He’s so good at creating roles for you and you obviously do what you do very well, so it almost feels like you’re the same two-headed monster sometimes.

Robert can look at me sometimes and I’ll know exactly what he wants or I can look at him and he’ll say, “OK that’s enough.” It’s funny, but sometimes Robert will actually come up to me and say, “Hey, Danny you’re acting. Stop acting. It’s Machete” When we first started talking about Machete, he said, “Dude, it’s you. I’ve watched you. You give people a dirty look when you’re disapproving. I can read you. You can say more with a look than most people can with a page of dialogue.” So I don’t do much acting in these, I guess. [Laughs]

Was it more satisfying: to beat the crap out of Steven Segal in Machete or Mel Gibson in Machete Kills?

Well, Steven Segal … that was actually the first time that anyone had killed him on screen, so that was special. Now, Mel Gibson has done it a couple of times. But I had a sword fight with him in this and when Robert Rodriguez yelled, “Action!” I threw my sword down. Robert asked, “What’s wrong?” And I said, “I’m not fighting William Wallace. He’s the king of Scotland!” Mel is awesome. He is the epitome of professionalism. And he’s one of those guys who knows a little bit about everything. I had my shoulder broken back in 1962 by the cops. When I walked up to introduce myself to Mel, he said, “Hey, you’ve got a bad shoulder.” Then he started playing with my shoulder, I heard this little pop and my shoulder hasn’t bothered me since. I asked, “Where the hell do you know that from?” He said he studied this ancient medicine. OK … I couldn’t follow what he said. It was strange shit.

Are you really in the new Muppets movie?

Oh yeah! Me and Ray Liotta, absolutely! Ray Liotta, man. I got his back. Anyone has a problem with Ray Liotta, cue up and tell me. They’ll get theirs.

Well, I would never have messed with Ray Liotta before, but I’ll certainly never consider it now. 

He’s awesome, just awesome. My mom passed away while I was doing The Muppets with him. I was being a macho as I could, just trying to hang on. My family all told me, “Don’t worry. Stay there. We’ve got everything taken care of.” Ray came up to me and gave me the most sincere hug I’ve ever had. He said, “Hey homes, I got your back.” His mom passed away while he was making Goodfellas. So he knew what it was like and we bonded right there and then. He’s my pal now. 

I read that you were an armed robbery consultant on Michael Mann’s Heat? What does that even mean?

Yeah, me and Eddie Bunker were armed robbery consultants. You know, I have a little experience with those [Laughs]. I first ran into Michael Mann while making Drug Wars: The Camarena Story. Then when he did The Jericho Mile he met my uncle who was doing time in Folsom. So he knew me a bit and then one day he called me up and said, “Come on, I want you to meet a couple of guys you’re going to work with.” He took me into The Ivy and I met Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino and Val Kilmer. So he gave me that role in Heat as well. If you look at the credits, my name in Heat is Gilbert Trejo and that’s my uncle’s name. That’s how much Michael thought of my uncle.

I’ve got to ask you about Con Air. That’s one of my favourite ’90s action movies. What was it like on that set? Because it’s one of the most amusing collection of character actors I’ve ever scene.

Well, you know what? The Con Air set was the biggest test of testosterone ever. They had 50 of Hollywood’s biggest wannabe bad-guys and me. Some guy would spit and then it would turn into a spitting contest between the whole cast. It was funny. And people don’t know this but John Cusack is a great, great karate fighter. He knows his shit. His sensei was a five-time world champion and I grew up with his sensei’s older brother. So I knew him. He would come to the set to train with John and he would come up to me and not let me get involved with any of that stuff on the Con Air set. He’d say, “Danny, you’re a bad sport. You’ve never played well with others and these guys don’t know your kind of anger.” So me and him would go work out and stuff together. We wouldn’t get involved while the other actors were in the dog cage having push up contests [Laughs].

How did Dave Chappelle fit into that group?

Oh he’s awesome. Me and Dave are friends. He’s a funny guy. Just great. All those guys were great. John Malkovich. Steve Buscemi. It’s funny, on that set I gave Steve Buscemi a script that I wanted him to do called Animal Factory. I gave it to him and just joking, I said, “Hey Steve, read this or I’ll kill you.” [Laughs] Then later after he made it, he was doing interviews people asked him, “What did you do?” He said, “I read it!” He told me he read it and he didn’t think there was a part for him. I said, “No, no I want you to direct it.” And he did. It’s a great movie. It stars Willem Dafoe, Edward Furlong, Mickey Rourke, Tom Arnold, me, the list just goes on.

How was it on the Baywatch set? Was that everything I imagine?

Ohhhhhh myyyyyyy goooodddd! It’s everything. Just everything. But you know, if you like Baywatch. You should have watched Sofia Vergera walk across the Machete Kills set. Everybody’s jaw drops. 

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