Wow, I can’t believe it’s almost been 6 years since I did this one with actor Danny Trejo. It was special in more than just way than one, for you see, I was able to take my father along to the interview. Danny’s relatives lived next door to my grandparents house when he was growing up, so he and my father had been buddies since childhood. It had been a while since they’d seen each other, so they had a nice reunion and spent the afternoon reminiscing. Afterwards, Danny invited dad and I to the premiere of his movie Machete, and so I took dad to his first movie premiere. Great memories! Anyway, check out this cool little interview from 2010 where we discuss Danny’s Machete movie and more. This article was originally published by AllHipHop.com.
Interview by Tim Sanchez
TS: Thank you for having us here today Danny.
Danny Trejo: It’s an honor to be here and it’s an honor to be considered the first Latino superstar. Or I should say the first Latino action hero!
TS: You’ve played a lot of bit parts in movies but this is your first starring role. Why do you think it’s taken so long for you to get to this point?
Danny Trejo: If it wasn’t for Robert Rodriguez, I still wouldn’t be at this point! I think Hollywood is afraid to realize that the Latino audience is the largest that they’ve got. As long as they think that a Latino can’t carry a movie, it’s going to stay that way. Robert Rodriguez who is innovative and brilliant, he knows what we’ve got. The other great thing is that he put some strong Latina ladies in the movie like Michelle Rodriguez and Jessica Alba. Lindsay Lohan also stars in the movie and she might as well be Latina (laughs).
TS: What’s the premise of the movie aside from you killing everybody?
Danny Trejo: Machete’s family gets killed in Mexico. He escapes Mexico to get away from the drug cartels. Everybody thinks it’s about Immigration. It’s not! It’s about the corruption. It’s not about the guy coming across the border to get a job. It’s about the people on both sides making the money off of that guy coming over the border. Every time the politicians need votes, they start talking about Immigration. The drug cartels also need people to cross that border. It adds a whole different twist in which you will see in the movie.
TS: You guys leaked a fun trailer tying the movie in to the Arizona Immigration Law. That may be the reason why some think it’s solely about that issue. The saying on that trailer was, “They picked the wrong Mexican to fuck with.”
Danny Trejo: (says in a sly low voice) They picked the wrong Mexican to fuck with (laughs). The timing is incredible because we did this movie many months ago. The Arizona law blew up and people have related it to the movie but it has nothing to do with it. We just had a blast with the making of the movie and I even got to kiss Jessica Alba. Need I say anymore?
TS: What are your thoughts on the Arizona Immigration Law?
Danny Trejo: I know that smarter minds are going to prevail on that issue. Like I said, every time politicians need some votes and the sheriff wants to get re-elected, they immediately start talking about Immigration. Yes, I feel that something has to be done, but not just politicians giving lip-service and not passing laws that are against the Constitution of the United States. Brilliant minds have to sit down and figure out what to do and what is fair to everybody. If there is a guy that comes to America and he’s working and paying taxes, he should be here. If someone is sneaking across the border to bring in drugs, then deport them. They should go to prison and that’s how everybody feels. I’m for anybody here paying taxes – because I have to pay them too.
TS: I read that you got your start in acting due to a friend recognizing you on a movie set while you were a visitor. I bet when you were younger you never envisioned yourself as an actor.
Danny Trejo: I was a drug counselor and I walked on to a movie set to help somebody and I ran in to a guy named Eddie Bunker who was the film’s screenwriter. To me he was one of America’s greatest writers and unfortunately he passed away. If you ever want to read a great book on the criminal mind, read Education of a Felon. Eddie had offered me a job training Eric Roberts how to box for the movie Runaway Train. The director of the movie saw that I had a mean look and gave me a role as a boxer in the film. I was already training Eric how to box and he doesn’t look mean – so we made sure it was a good fight.
TS: Did you have a hard transition in to acting?
Danny Trejo: No, because the first five years of my career I was playing “Inmate Number One”. I had bad guy roles and I know how to be that – so it was pretty easy. At first I was just having fun and then I realized that I could really do this. My first speaking role was in Death Wish 4 with Charles Bronson. Basically we are all actors. A good liar can be a good actor. If you ever stood in front of your mom and explained to her why you got home at 2:30 a.m. instead of 11:00 p.m. using excuses like a fire happening or that you got a flat tire – that’s acting! Or when you are standing on the prison yard waiting for some shit to come down and you’re trying not to look scared, that’s acting too.
TS: What about roles that don’t require you to be a violent felon? Are you looking to do those too?
Danny Trejo: I honestly believe that acting is like painting a house or being a plumber – it’s my job. I’ll do whatever you hire me to do. I don’t go out looking for anything in particular. If something comes around that I like, I’ll do. But I did do a movie called Sherriebaby, that I didn’t really want to do. It starred Maggie Gyllenhaal and it was a good script, but for me there was no action in it. Yet because of that movie, I got to go all over the world and everybody loved it. When I go to speak at women’s prisons, they tell me that Maggie really nailed that role.
TS: We could have used you in The Expendables movie. What happened, man?
Danny Trejo: (Laughs) I make all of those guys look too soft. They said I was in it but they just forgot to tell me. Did you hear that, Sylvester Stallone?
TS: Let’s talk about music for a second. What do you like to listen to?
Danny Trejo: I’m sorry guys. I have love for Hip-Hop, but I’m an Oldies guy. (Danny starts singing) “Sugar, Sugar, how you get so fly?” I like that song by Baby Bash. I also like Tech N9ne, 50 Cent, Eminem and a lot of others. However, when it comes to “bumping” stuff, you are never going to beat Mary Wells.
TS: A lot of hip hop songs were built from oldies.
Danny Trejo: Absolutely, but when I’m driving in the car and I hear “Baby, I’m Yours” by Barbara Lewis – it’s like “damn!” I used to cruise all of these streets. I grew up in Pacoima, Sun Valley, Los Angeles, North Hollywood, Van Nuys – I cruised them all. I remember when you used to be able to cruise Whittier Blvd. and Van Nuys Blvd. I used to do it all.
TS: Are there any other genres of music that you enjoy?
Danny Trejo: (Sings the Texas Tornados Spanglish song) “Hey baby, que paso? Thought I was your only vato?”
TS: So you really like Baby Bash?
Danny Trejo: He’s one of my guys. I met him when he was like 17 years old and we’ve stayed friends. The same with Kid Frost. I actually met Bash through Kid Frost. I love their stuff and I love the new stuff that Bash comes out with.
TS: I know you go to their premier’s and events. Do you ever feel out of place? You know, like the old man at the club?
Danny Trejo: The reception that I get is really great so that makes it fun. Bash always calls me every time that he’s in town and I’ll come and show up at a show for him.
TS: Now that you’ve got Machete out of the way, what other movies do you have lined up?
Danny Trejo: I have another film called Vengeance that’s coming out October 15th I believe. That’s another action packed film and I’ll be a hero in that. I did another one called Ranchero that’s going to be coming out. Then I did the new Harold & Kumar movie – that’s a fun one coming out. There’s also a TV show called Good Guys that should be coming out.
TS: Any directing aspirations?
Danny Trejo: No, but my son Gilbert Trejo is producing and co-directing a movie called Skinny Dip with a guy named Frankie Latina – and they better give me a job! My daughter is acting in that film. As a matter of fact, my son and my daughter are in Machete. I’m giving them jobs because they are going to take care of me when I get old (laughs). As far as directing goes, I enjoy working as an actor too much. A director is like a captain of the ship. He’s the first one aboard and the last one to leave. I watch Robert Rodriguez work and it really takes a special kind of person to be a director. You have to put up with everybody’s attitudes and I mean us actors.
TS: Damn, you guys really are that hard to put up with.
Danny Trejo: “I’d like a tri-latte’ with soy” (laughs).
TS: I wonder what the riders in your contract state? You must have a long list of stuff like having only green M&M’s in your dressing room.
Danny Trejo: (Laughs) Mine just says to have everybody show up on time. But seriously, whenever I am on set all I do is have the production crew find a local high school or juvenile hall and to give me one day off so I can do that.
TS: That’s cool that you take the time to talk to the youth.
Danny Trejo: You have to! You’ve got to give back. This career that I’ve had and this business that I’m in is a blessing. Everybody who doesn’t take it as a blessing seems to have problems in their lives. I don’t mean everyday problems because we all have those. But I do go to high schools and juvenile halls and do as much as I can do.
TS: You being a former prison inmate, what is the main message that you give these kids?
Danny Trejo: If you take drugs and alcohol out of your life, it will get better. Society tells us that drugs and alcohol is cool and it’s not. It destroys lives. I also talk to the kids about problems with gangs. The worst three words in the American language is, “Where you from?” Those three words are killing our kids and keeping them in prison. I tell them that education is the key to anything that you want to do. Drugs and alcohol are the keys to ruining your life. It is that simple. If you are having problems with your parents, drugs and alcohol will make those problems worse. If you take it out of your life, your relationship with your parents will get better. The same goes for school. My passion is talking to kids and the movie industry has opened the doors for me to do that. When I arrive at a school, the kids are already eager to hear what I have to say.
TS: What was the moment of clarity for you? The moment that you turned your life around for the better?
Danny Trejo: I was in the penitentiary on my way to the gas chamber. There was a riot in Soledad and people got hurt. I was put in the hole from Cinco De Mayo until August. I remember saying, “God if you are there, then everything is going to be alright. If you’re not, then I’m fucked.” I got out of the hole in August and the charges were dropped, so obviously he was there. I pledged my life to helping other people.