Q&A: THE Danny Trejo
Riding in the elevator up from the lobby of Manhattan’s Ace Hotel, it occurred to me I’d gotten so used to seeing Danny Trejo play grim, hardened characters in more movies than I can count, that I had never pictured his face smiling before. The warm, friendly grin he wore from the time he shook my hand to say “Hi” to the moment I left was probably part of what made it so surreal to be sharing cramped quarters with him. The other part was, you know, this was THE Danny Trejo, one of the world’s biggest action stars and most recognizable faces, a man whose name I would write in all caps, italics, bolded, and double underlined if I thought it’d get past my editor. Even now, he was laughing and joking with a member of his entourage. This was the Brisk 25 Summit, and apparently his staff had taken to responding to people trying to get in touch with Trejo via text message with a reference to his biggest film: “Don’t you know Machete doesn’t text?” Trejo laughed and said, “You know what I can text the fastest? ‘Call me.’”
I was lucky enough to get a chance to sit down with Danny Trejo, a man who was a whopping 16 (!!) films in production just on his IMDb page. We talked about his cool new Brisk commercial (below), his new projects, his tattoos, a few places he likes to hang out in LA, and what Machete does in his downtime.
What does it mean to you to be Brisk, baby?
It’s awesome, I mean, I love the attention. I’ve got 7-year-old kids running after me yelling, “And then I wash my hands!” I’ve always had a young audience with Spy Kids, but now, you know, I’m teaching kids to wash their hands. We should make one that says, “And then I did my homework!”
I’m glad you mentioned Spy Kids because I wanted you to clear something up for me: is Machete Cortez in Machete the Machete Cortez from Spy Kids?
Machete Cortez in Machete is what Machete Cortez in Spy Kids does when he’s not taking care of the kids.
Have you ever filled in that backstory? Like, how Machete went from being an inventor fighting alongside the Organization of Super Spies to a rogue federale?
Well I think if you look, it’s like Machete was…wait, hold on…[he takes a sip of Brisk] Machete the character was actually the first Machete. After he was done being Machete Machete, he became Uncle Machete in Spy Kids. That’s Brisk, baby!
Do you think there’s any chance that the Antonio Banderas character in Spy Kids is also the same character as in Desperado?
Uh. No [he laughs]. It was hard enough making him tough in Desperado.
We’ve discussed a number of films you’ve done with Robert Rodriguez. Is it true that you guys are actually related?
Yeah, he’s my second cousin, but we didn’t find that out until we were actually doing Desperado. When I was down in AcuĂ±a, Mexico, and my relatives came down from San Antonio to visit me, my uncle said, “Hey, that’s your cousin!” So we’re lifelong friends now.
So what’s it like working with someone who’s not only a lifelong friend but a family member?
Well, I’ve done 10 movies with Robert. I think Robert’s done a total of 12, and the two that he did without me didn’t make as much money as the ones he did with me, so…I make him remember that.
In your career you’ve played a number of characters named after knives. Is that your thing? Is that a coincidence?
I think that’s Robert’s thing, ’cause in my parole plans, when I got out of prison a long time ago, it was “no sharp objects, no knives, not to be in vicinity of anybody possessing a knife or firearm of any kind.” So, just to kinda say, uh, you know, “Screw you parole board,” he calls me Machete, Navajas, Razor Charlie, Cuchillo, you know…
Do you have any nicknames that people call you in real life?
Many of the characters you play are gruff, tough villains or anti-heroes. Have you ever wanted to maybe show off your softer side in a movie and do, say, a romantic comedy?
I know a lot of women at Remezcla that would definitely see a movie like that.
I’ll do whatever they ask me, you know. If your check was big enough I’ll play a tree. If you want fruit on it, pay me more money.
How many tattoos do you have, and do you have a favorite one?
Ten. I think the one on my chest is one of the most famous tattoos in the world, by Tattoo Magazine. The one on my back is my three children playing on Venice Beach with God up in the sky, you know, so that’s one of my favorites.
What’s it like for your kids seeing their dad become a big action star?
They love it. In fact I’m doing a film right now with one of the twins from Machete, you know, one of the two twins with the machine guns, Electra Avellan? And she’s starring in it, also starring myself and my daughter, Danielle Trejo, so that’s, like, a joy, that’s, like awesome, you know? The name of the movie is Elena’s Twenty-Fifth. And then my son, he’s directing me in a Kid Frost video, and also a movie with Kid Frost.
Do you consider yourself a Latino actor or an actor that happens to be Latino?
I consider myself an actor that happens to be Latino. I love working, and I don’t think being a…you know, I wonder if Robert DeNiro considers himself, or George Clooney considers himself, you know, whatever he is. He’s an actor. Like me. Just…an actor.
So you’re from LA. Do you have any places in LA that you like to hang out?
Big G’s Automotive is where I hang out, and Chubby’s Automotive where I work on my cars. And I love to hang out at The Pantry, downtown on 9th and Figueroa, and I love to eat at the Pacific Dining Car, which is on 6th Street, and then the one on my hat is in Huntington Beach and that’s where I’m opening up a restaurant that’s called Trejo’s Tacos.
Do you have favorite places you like to go to or things you like to do when you come to New York?
Hang out with my partner Peter McCall, or Gato, who’s doing a film right now in New York. We’re doing a film called 179th. Gato’s been a friend of mine for a long time and we’re going to do the film right here in New York. Well, it’s about 179th street, so…
Can you describe Danny Trejo in three words?
Sharing, caring, and kind [he laughs]. I should’ve said “bad mother bleep!”
Check out THE Danny Trejo give a shout out to lil’ ol Remezcla! What a sweetie…