Danny Trejo’s career was born under the direction of filmmaker Robert Rodriguez almost twenty years ago. Their first film together Desperado had Danny playing a lo-fi version of what would become their most popular collaboration together, the Mexican vigilante Machete.
A blood-soaked fan favorite, Rodriguez and Trejo bring all the grindhouse fun to the Machete franchise and that touch continues in the latest sequel, Machete Kills. The film knows what it is and what its fans want. So much so that the film even opens with a tease for the next Machete installment.
Danny Trejo recently came to San Francisco to talk about this and many other things in the Machete universe. He has a fun sense of humor and nothing is out of bounds for him. One minute we’re talking about his turn as an enforcer on “Breaking Bad” and the next he’s telling a story about how John Cusack is the wrong guy to pick a fight with. The following is a transcription of our conversation.
Q: This film bookends with a teaser for the next chapter of Machete’s adventures. How conscious were you and Robert Rodriguez when you shot those scenes? Were they built into the actual shooting of “Machete Kills” or were they done after principal photography as an afterthought?
Danny Trejo: This whole movie was an afterthought. (laughs) When we were shooting “Desperado,” Robert saw how I interacted with people. He saw me walking around Acuna, Mexico and just hanging out with people, eating at their houses and getting to know them. One day Robert says to me, ‘Danny, these people think you’re the star of the movie.’ Nobody there knew who Antonio Banderas was. I looked at Robert and said, ‘You mean I’m not the star?’ (laughs)
That’s when Robert told me about this character Machete that he had always dreamed of. Then when we were making “Spy Kids” we said, why don’t we call my character Uncle Machete. Even if we never make a proper Machete movie, at least we’ll have Uncle Machete.
Q: In a kids movie, no less.
Trejo: In a kids movie, yeah! (laughs) Everybody has that mysterious uncle that nobody knows what he does so he fit right in. Especially Mexicanos, they know (laughs).
Q: So “Machete” was a response to “Desperado?”
Trejo: Making Westerns is very expensive and very tough so in this movie we get as close to a Western as we can without horses. “Desperado” was also as much of a Western as you can get without horses. We had pick-up trucks and machine guys. One of these days I’m going to tell Robert to do a proper Western. He’ll probably go crazy.
Q: This movie is so over the top with action, sex and mayhem that it’s comical. Do you think this movie is strictly for adults?
Trejo: This movie has no political message, it’s just fun and says let’s kick some ass. It’s funny, when the first “Machete” came out my mom wanted to go to the premiere. At first she didn’t think I had a job even though I was making movies with Robert DeNiro. But when I did three episodes of “The Young and the Restless” she thought I won an Oscar.
Q: Did she see you on TV in “Breaking Bad?”
Trejo: No, my mom passed away before that aired. But when I took her to the “Machete” premiere she starts watching the movie and my sex scene with the two girls in the lake is coming up. I tried to get my mom to turn around but she kept shushing me. Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino were sitting right behind me, they were laughing their asses off.
Q: Jumping back to your work on “Breaking Bad” for a quick second, how was that character of Tortuga originally pitched to you? Because he’s only in a few episodes but you make so much with limited screen time.
Trejo: My agent asked me if I wanted to a Hollywood first. Have my head on a turtle walking across the desert. We did that episode and it was received so well that we had to do the backstory.
Q: You’re always making smaller, independent projects in between the big Hollywood movies…
Trejo: Yeah, I keep working…
Q: How do you decide what kinds of films you want to make?
Trejo: I let them come to me. Low budget movies are for better than are struggling and I’ll do those to help on in a minute. Even student films, you know those projects don’t have any money. On those they’ll take you to lunch and give you a hundred dollars, that’s good enough for me. Especially if it helps someone get started in the business.
Q: I saw “Bad Ass.” It was awesome.
Trejo: I’ve got “Bad Ass 2” coming out soon with Mel Gibson. Oh wait, Mel Gibson is in “Machete Kills.” (laughs)
Q: It’s been a long day.
Trejo: It HAS been a long day! (laughs) No, “Bad Ass 2” has Danny Glover.
Q: The other lethal weapon!
Trejo: Yeah! (laughs) It’s funny, Mel Gibson is so good in this movie. I was shooting a swordfight with him and when Robert yelled “Action!” I threw my sword down. Robert asked what’s wrong and I said I didn’t want to fight William Wallace! He freed Scotland! Mel has a great sense of humor so he laughed.
Q: You’ve been blessed with this great face…
Trejo: That’s what Robert says… (laughs)
Q: Yeah, this really badass face. Is there someone you’d be afraid to face off with?
Trejo: Chuck Norris. All these karate experts are afraid of Chuck Norris (laughs). Chuck’s the real deal, everyone else is Hollywood. Actually, when we were doing “Con Air,” that movie was the biggest test of testosterone ever. Like if you spit, someone had to spit a little further. Everything was a contest, if you do one pushup someone had to do two.
So while I’m doing this movie “Con Air” I’m talking to my friend Benny the Jet and it turns out he was John Cusack’s sensei. Nobody believes it but John Cusack is a BMF! Boy, he’s a bad motherfucker! People don’t believe it because he looks like the kind of guy you’d pick on but you’d get your ass kicked! (laughs)
Q: You’re obviously getting a lot of questions on this press tour. Is there one question you wish people would stop asking?
Trejo: No, everybody’s been nice to me and if not I just give them a stare (laughs).
Machete Kills is now playing in theatres nationwide.
Lead photo credit: Sean McCarthy