‘Machete’ Star Don Johnson Talks Robert De Niro, Reinvention

'I don't have to be a slave to the former Don Johnson image,' he tells MTV News.

Any day is a good day to chat with Don Johnson — especially when it involves discussing his role in Robert Rodriguez’s upcoming star-studded blood-fest “Machete.” MTV recently caught up with Johnson to discuss his upcoming projects, watching “Miami Vice” and “Nash Bridges” in syndication and a possible “new era” of Don Johnson acting.

MTV: So first off, let’s start with the trailer that everyone was talking about this weekend. It’s a great trailer and the greatest moment in the trailer is clearly the “Introducing Don Johnson” moment.

Don Johnson: [Laughs.] Yeah, that was a fun one. [I was] sort of a late addition to the cast and by the time I got there, all the specialized credits like “with” and “and” and “featuring” and all that other stuff were taken. I think [Robert] De Niro got “and” and Lindsay [Lohan] got “with” or who knows. So we were kicking it around and [someone] said, “How about ‘introducing’?” and we laughed. So they ran it by Robert and Robert cracked up. He said, “Absolutely, let’s go with that.”

MTV: It’s an awesome moment. What did you think when you saw the trailer?

Johnson: Well, you know, to me it looks just like great fun, in the vein of the old exploitation pictures like Roger Korman and all of those guys. Robert and I were texting each other a couple of days ago when it came out and I was telling him how fun the trailer looked and I said, “And timely” and he said, “Yeah, like exploitation of your ripped-from-the-headlines stuff.”

MTV: Absolutely.

Johnson: It’s fun and working with De Niro was, we’ve been friends for 25 or 30 years and it was a thrill to get to work with him.

MTV: And it looks like he’s having some fun with the part too, as is with most of the cast. This is the kind of film where you can just sort of let it hang out.

Johnson: That’s exactly right — we’re all eating the scenery right and left.

MTV: So most of your scenes are with De Niro?

Johnson: All of my scenes were with De Niro, I think, except for one — and then I think I’m on the phone with him. [Laughs.]

MTV: Did you know [director Robert] Rodriguez before this?

Johnson: Oh yeah, I knew him from Cheech, so he was in San Francisco one time and I cast up to visit Cheech and I said, “Well, while you’re here I’m going to put you to work.” So I put him in “Nash Bridges” as the commercial filmmaker. And he literally shot some footage of a salsa party in my apartment, in Nash’s apartment with Cheech. He shot it on digital-8 and we used his footage in the show and we just had a great time. He’s a wonderful, wonderful filmmaker and a great friend.

MTV: What can you say about the character you’re playing in “Machete”?

Johnson: Well, he’s a gun-toting vigilante; it was just a great hoot for me to get to play someone who is so diametrically opposed to my being. And, you know, all of the characters are drawn very broadly and, you know, it’s fun. Like you said, Robert’s kind of, “Let’s roar with it.”

MTV: So we were talking about the introduction in the credits — does it feel like a reintroduction for you? Do you feel like this is marking another stage of your career?

Johnson: I think that we all end up reinventing ourselves all the time. And with me, I’ve got a comedy coming up this summer with Adam Sandler’s company called “Born to Be a Star” which I play a porn director named Miles Deep. And I’ve just finished a pilot for ABC that is a half-hour sitcom. So, at any rate, in answer to your question, I don’t know. The focus on comedy is a little different. And it’s kind of a fun time for me because I don’t have to be a slave to the former Don Johnson image or any of that. I can kind of wing it and do what I was trained to do.

MTV: How was working with Sandler and company?

Johnson: Oh my God, those guys are the greatest. … When we were making the picture I would text Sandler and Nick Swardson back and forth and I would sign off as “Your deepness.” What a blast. It was so much fun and I got to create this character who was a complete wild man and it should be fun.

MTV: It sounds like with “Machete” and “Born to Be a Star” you have to have a sense of humor about yourself. Do you feel you’ve always had a sense of humor about yourself?

Johnson: No, I think it was quite the opposite. I think I’ve developed a sense of humor after I got rid of that fame disease. And the joy of doing the work and working these days is so much greater. I’m having a lot of fun with it.

MTV: “Miami Vice” seems to be on the air more and more and “Nash Bridges” is probably also in syndication. What runs through your mind on either of the shows at this point?

Johnson: You know they’re on, they’re both on simultaneously in syndication in 130 countries around the world and it’s a real sense of accomplishment. I love it, but by the same token, I don’t watch them.

MTV: What did you make of Michael Mann’s big-screen “Miami Vice” interpretation? Was that an odd feeling to sort of see his new take on it?

Johnson: I didn’t see it all the way through; I saw bits and pieces and what I saw you accurately put it, it was Michael’s interpretation of it. And Michael, you know, look this a longer conversation than a sound bite on that. I think that Michael is an enormously talented director and he went out to make a new version of an iconic television show. I think that’s a challenge in any way you look at it, because you’re never going to please everybody and those images are so heavily engraved in everybody’s consciousness. I didn’t run into a lot of people that were … it was apples and oranges you know — it was kind of sort of the same thing but not.

Check out everything we’ve got on “Machete.”

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