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Danny Trejo on MACHETE: An Interview With The Star of MACHETE

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#1 of 7 OFFLINE   Timothy E

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Posted December 24 2010 - 12:04 PM

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On December 20, 2010, Twentieth Century Fox and Sony Studios presented an interview opportunity with Danny Trejo to promote the upcoming release of Machete on DVD and Blu-ray on January 4, 2011. The Home Theater Forum was present at this event and this is an edited transcript of the roundtable discussion between Trejo and the assembled journalists:

HTF: You didn’t come into the film industry the same way a lot of professionals do. Was Runaway Train your first film?

TREJO: Runaway Train was my first film and I got there completely by accident. I was a drug counselor. I was working for Western Pacific Midcorp and one of the kids I was working with called me up and said "Hey, there’s a lot of blow down here on my job. Can you come and hang out with me just for support?" I said "Sure" and went down there at 11 o’clock at night just to hang out with him. That’s what I do is support people that want to stay clean and want to stay sober so I went down there and it was funny because I walked onto a movie set and he was a P.A. I literally got overwhelmed because everybody was dressed like convicts and they are all trying to be hard and it was like funny, and this guy came up to me and said "Hey, do you want to be in this movie?" and I said "What do you got to do?" and he said "Do you want to be an extra?" and I said "Extra what?" (laughs) and he said "Can you act like a convict?" and it was funny because I had been in every penitentiary in the state of California. (laughs) I said "I will give it a shot." They gave me a blue shirt so I took off mine and I have a big tattoo on my chest, and the minute I took off my shirt, this guy came over and says "You are Danny Trejo." I says "Yeah," and he says "I am Eddie Bunker", I said "I know you." It was a guy named Eddie Bunker that I was in prison with and he said he was a writer. I said "What are you doing here?" and he says "I wrote the screenplay" and he says "Do you want a job?" and I says "I got one, they’re going to give me 50 bucks for acting like a convict" and he said "No, no, we need somebody to train one of the actors how to box." He knew that I boxed. I said "What’s it pay?" and he said "320 a day" and I said "How bad do you want this guy beat up?" (laughs) and he said "You know, you got to be careful because actors are high-strung and he might sock you." I said "Eddie, for 320 a day, give him a stick", you know, I couldn’t believe it, I wasn’t making 320 a week, so I started training Eric Roberts how to box for the movie Runaway Train. Andrey Konchalovskiy, the director, saw that Eric would do whatever I told him to do so he hired me and the rest is like history. I went from movie to movie to movie. The first five years of my career I was always "inmate number one" or "bad guy with tattoos number one", you know, but the first time I got a name was in Death Wish 4. I was "Art Sanella." You know, I played with Charles Bronson, I thought I had made it, you know, I was like "Whoa, look, my name’s on the trailer" and it was like I couldn’t believe it. It just kept on and kept on and I went to my agent Gloria and she keeps me working. They know, they know that the worst time for me is when I am not working. You know, when I am not working I got three vintage cars that I love working on, you know, so I will do that but I can only do that for so long and then I will start calling and they will be like "Hurry up, get Danny a job!" (laughs)

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(Trejo is asked whether his acting technique of turning fear into anger constituted his first flirtation with method acting.)

TREJO: I would say that you have to learn how to act if you are standing in the yard at San Quentin and something is going to be coming down, you are scared to death and you can’t show it so it’s like, inside, you are like dying but outside you are like "Bring it!" Yeah, I think that was the first way of trying to cover up a feeling that is inside. Fear is anger turned outward, that’s just automatic, some people don’t play with fear, they just go straight to rage and that’s the best weapon anybody can have if you are under attack.

(Trejo is asked whether his experience in prison makes it difficult for him to act in or watch media about criminal activity and prison and whether he gravitates towards light hearted material.)

TREJO: You know what, I will do whatever you’ve got, you know, I did a TV series for a while called Kingpin and it was just super violent, I just thought it was funny, you know, but because I take this as a job, that’s all, acting is a job, it’s the same as a house painter or a plumber, electrician, you know, the same thing, I show up for work, you know, "what have you got?" and I will do what you got. Some of it’s really easy because I’ve done it. That makes it real simple.

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(Trejo is asked whether he is so close with Robert Rodriguez that he will do anything that Rodriquez requests.)

TREJO: (laughs) Absolutely. Absolutely, he’s got a standing "yes" at the office. He calls and the first thing is "Yes, okay, we’ll do it now."

(Trejo is asked whether he has any time to enjoy his success given the fact that he is always working and appears in many films and television programs.)

TREJO: You know what, I love what I’m doing. You know, I love doing this. To me, being on a movie set is like fun, it’s not even work. When I have to act, then that’s the work but like I mean I remember somebody asking me "Um, when do you go on vacation?" and they were asking while I was in Cape Town, South Africa, you know what I mean? (Laughs) You know, people work all their lives getting here so it’s like, in the work there’s fun, in the work there’s fun. I was in Hawaii for like, what, three months, doing a movie called Six Days, Seven Nights with Harrison Ford and Anne Heche, and it was like, I was there three months, I probably worked fifteen days. It was like, I got tired of scuba diving, snorkeling, so to me my life is a vacation, you know, something that I love doing.

(Trejo is asked if there is any kind of movie role that he will not do.)

TREJO: Depending on what it is, you know? If the bad guy is going to get away with crime, nah, I won’t do it, it’s not real, you know what I mean? Bad guy has got to die. (laughs)

(Trejo is asked if he thinks the Spy Kids would be shocked if they knew what their Uncle Machete was doing in his own film.)

TREJO: (laughs) That’s what Uncle Machete does when he is not taking care of the kids.

(Trejo is asked if Uncle Machete is the same guy as the protagonist in Machete.)

TREJO: We named Uncle Machete in Spy Kids just as an homage or whatever you call it to Machete because we hadn’t done the trailer yet and we didn’t know if that movie was ever going to be made. Robert [Rodriquez], just because he loved this character so he named Machete, the Uncle Machete, the mystery uncle, you know, and then we did the trailer to Machete, the trades came out and said "This is the best thing in Grindhouse" and when we walked out of the premiere of Grindhouse, me and Robert just looked at each other and started laughing because we knew "We have got to make this movie."

(Trejo is asked about when the character of Machete was originally created.)

TREJO: We were doing Desperado and we were standing there and it was funny, Antonio Banderas, he would be standing next to me but nobody knew who he was. It was his first starring role and we were in Mexico and he is from Spain so everybody was kind of asking me for autographs and for pictures, and I remember Robert saying "They think you are the star of the movie" and I said "I am, aren’t I?" (laughs) We had a blast and that’s when he told me about Machete. That was 16, 17 years ago, about this character that he want to do, badass, you know, so he was kind of cool.

(Trejo is asked about the Governor of Texas and the state Film Commission’s threat to withdraw tax incentives offered to the production of Machete because of the film’s stance on immigration.)

TREJO: Yeah, he got kind of sad, you know. It’s funny because I think it was like the film commission and they were on the set so it’s really, I don’t believe, you know, Texans are known for keeping their word and it’s like they were on the set, they read the script so nothing that was in this movie was a surprise for them so I couldn’t understand why they did what they did, but you know, evidently only in Texas.

(Trejo is asked about his work on The Young and the Restless.)

TREJO: You know, let me tell you something. I have been in this business for 25 years. My mother never thought I had a job. I mean, I would come home and say "Mom, I worked with Robert De Niro!" I would go over to my mom’s house, "I worked with Robert De Niro!" [Mom would say] "I know, mijo, but when are you going to get a job? Let me make you lunch" (Laughs) Then I do two episodes of The Young and the Restless, I come home and [she says] "Mijo, you made it, we saw you on The Young and the Restless! A telenovela!" (Laughs)

(Trejo is asked about being a leading man in a film like Machete.)

TREJO: I don’t think I gave it much thought. I mean as long as I was working it was like, I’m working, you know? For a long time Hollywood had us fooled that a leading guy has to have a certain look, you know, he’s got to be pretty, (laughs) and not that that’s bad but it was like Robert Rodriguez says "Bullshit!" You know what I mean? Wait a minute, so I was completely content working all the time. I remember we did Once Upon A Time In Mexico and I would stand between Johnny Depp and Antonio Banderas and they would hang around me and (Trejo looking to the sky) say "Are you having a bad day or what?" It was like ridiculous because these guys are pretty and there’s nothing wrong with being pretty but you don’t have to be pretty to be a leading man. So Rodriguez says "No, we are going to make him be the plumber or the mechanic or the guy that shows up at your house to fix your sink," that’s me, you know, I’m that guy so I was really glad and you know of course I love being the leading man but it’s hard to call yourself the leading man when you have Robert De Niro right there. (Laughs)

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HTF: We saw you recently play a funny role on Modern Family and you had a recurring role on King of the Hill. You obviously have good comic chops, are you interested in playing more comic roles?

TREJO: Give me what you got. (Laughs) I will play a tree if you want me to. You want fruit on it, you pay me more money. Comedy is fun. I love working, I love what I do so if you got a good script that’s going to be a lot of fun, make a lot of people laugh, my passion is talking to kids. My passion is talking in juvenile halls, youth authorities, and high schools. That’s my passion so the more I do in film, the more I get their attention. The minute I walk onto a campus, I have everybody’s attention and they want to hear what I want to say simply because they have seen me in their living rooms, they have seen me on the big screen so my message is "Stay off of drugs and alcohol, education is the key to success, to anything you want to do, you know and people that help other people seem to have better lives" so they’re not only listening to me, they’re hearing what I’ve got to say simply because I did Desperate Housewives, I did Con Air, and I did the Muppets movie coming out, Harold and Kumar, I did that and so you know I just finished a film in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 7 degrees and it’s called House of the Rising Sun. All them youngsters, they watch these movies so when I walk onto campus I got their complete attention already. The kids that don’t usually go to assembly are like fighting to get in the door. 

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#2 of 7 OFFLINE   Parker Clack

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Posted December 25 2010 - 01:00 PM

Great interview Tim. Looks like he is a lot of fun and quite the character. Parker

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#3 of 7 OFFLINE   TravisR


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Posted December 25 2010 - 03:14 PM

Assuming you don't mind off the wall violence (in the vein of Planet Terror and not Saw), Machete is a real good time. And after years of seeing him play supporting roles, it was great to see Danny Trejo get a lead and kick some ass.

#4 of 7 OFFLINE   Sam Posten

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Posted December 25 2010 - 04:18 PM

Great job tim!!!! Nobody asked him about the trailer?  I saw an interview where he wanted rodriguez to reshoot that =)

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#5 of 7 OFFLINE   Adam Gregorich

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Posted December 27 2010 - 09:48 AM

Great interview Tim!  Thanks!

#6 of 7 OFFLINE   Adam Gregorich

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Posted January 03 2011 - 02:52 PM

Matt just posted the Blu-ray review here: http://www.hometheat...-review-machete

#7 of 7 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted January 04 2011 - 03:12 AM

Excellent interview!
Rich Gallagher