Danny Trejo on the Politics of Machete and His Own Texting Policy
Who says Hollywood isn't a meritocracy? Danny Trejo may be a 65-year-old ex-con and recovering addict -- and People magazine will probably never have the creativity to put him on the annual Sexiest Men Alive list -- but he's a full-fledged movie star. Working his way up from bit parts that mainly called upon him to glower threateningly, Trejo gives an engaging and exhilarating lead performance in the wonderfully trashy Machete, out on DVD today from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. What started out as one of Robert Rodriguez's joke trailers from Grindhouse became a fast and funny B-movie homage, mixing outrageous stunts, gratuitous nudity -- and at least one catch phrase ("Machete don't text") -- with some salient points about right-wing politicians who are only too happy to sell Mexican immigrants down the river at election time.
Over the course of a brief phone interview, Trejo shared his insights on where he's coming from and the many film and TV projects currently keeping him busy:
When you were originally doing the trailer for Grindhouse, did you know then that this was eventually going to be a feature?
This was an idea that Robert had when we were doing Desperado; he wrote the script in 1995 or something. When we did the trailer to Machete, we knew the minute we walked out of the premiere that we were going to do the movie, just because of the fan response. The audience response was amazing; the trades said it was the best thing in Grindhouse, and all over the world, we were getting the call: "Let's see Machete!"
What I love about the movie is, in the same way that B-movies in the 1960s and '70s dealt with the Vietnam War way before Hollywood was ready to, you guys really take on a lot of controversial topics around the immigration battle. With all the stuff that's been happening in Arizona, were you having to rewrite on the set just to keep up with the news?
You know, we had finished the movie before the problems in Arizona began to surface. The only reason immigration ever comes up is when politicians want to convince their constituents that they're doing something. Then when they get voted in, nothing's ever done. So I think one of the things that Machete brought to the forefront was, "Hey, we have a problem; let's take care of it."
Your life story is so inspirational -- do you speak in prisons or do outreach work with that community?
All the time. It's one of the things that I do. My passion is talking to kids in trouble and inmates in institutions -- and what the film industry has done for me is give me their undivided attention the minute I walk onto their campus.
You've said that, for a long time, casting directors would ask for you by saying, "Get me the Mexican guy with the tattoos." But you're a household name now -- you're the above-the-title guy on Machete and a very well-established character actor. How has that changed the kinds of roles you're getting? Are more people writing things for you, or are they making the role for the Mexican guy with the tattoos a bigger one?
I think a lot of people are making parts for me, and they're making those parts bigger, but basically, I'm the same guy. I'm gonna bring my A-game, no matter what I'm doing, and to me, it's all work. It's really hard for me to consider myself a leading man, when Robert De Niro is in the cast! (laughs) I mean, come on, Taxi Driver's right there!
I thought your recent appearance on Modern Family was brilliant -- are they going to have you back on?
Thank you. I think they've got me as a reoccurring, just because I'm a janitor in the kids' high school. That was a lot of fun. I did a sitcom with Sofia [Vergara] before, it was called Knights of Prosperity, so it was like a homecoming when I met her. And Julie [Bowen], I've known for years.
So what's next for you?
I've got a list. (laughs) Well, we've got Machete 2, The Muppets, House of the Rising Sun, Spy Kids 4, [A Very] Harold and Kumar Christmas, Violet & Daisy, and Death Race 2.
Whoa! All stuff to look forward to. And finally -- I'm sure you get asked this a lot, but does Danny Trejo text?
(laughs) No, but I can text "Call Me" real fast!