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We challenge you to find a Hollywood mug with more character than Danny Trejo's. Moviedom's go-to tough guy got off to a rocky start after a string of petty crimes and heroin trouble landed him in San Quentin, where he became a boxing champion.
Upon his release and after getting clean, a chance meeting on the set of 1985's "Runaway Train" launched his prolific acting career (201 credits and counting on IMDb), usually playing a tough criminal. For his first leading role as the titular antihero in Robert Rodriguez's outrageously fun "Machete," Trejo is definitely one Mexican with whom you don't want to f**k.
Just as "Machete" is set to arrive on DVD and Blu-ray, we sat down with the Man and Legend to discuss pretty leading men, how he kicks back when he is not busy kicking ass on-screen, and why "Machete don't text."
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How does it feel to be the leading man after all these years?
I think the [term] leading man is highly overrated. It's hard for me to consider myself the leading man in "Machete" when you've got Robert De Niro, Don Johnson and Cheech Marin. I think Hollywood has had a certain way of selling us movies. The prettiest guy in the movie is going to be the leading man, from George Clooney, Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio down the line. Robert Rodriguez said, "Wait a minute, man. Real life is a mechanic or the guy who paints your house." He incorporated me into those guys and made me the leading man.
Machete doesn't text. In real life, how tech-savvy are you? Do you text or use the Internet?
No. My phone still has a dial. That line came from a real conversation because I was trying to get a hold of Robert Rodriguez because I had some ideas for "Machete" and he wouldn't answer my call. He said, "Danny, every time you call me, I'm in a meeting. Just text me." I said, "Machete don't text," and he laughed and put it in the movie.
Is it true that you and Robert Rodriguez are second cousins?
I didn't realize it until we were on the set of "Desperado." My family came down in Texas to visit me on the set, and we found out we were second cousins. I was like, "All right, cuz."
At the end of "Machete," the credits tell us to stay tuned for "Machete Kills" and "Machete Kills Again." Do you think you and Robert will make those sequels happen?
I asked Robert, "Hey, when are you going to write Machete Kills?" He said, "It's written." He wrote "Machete" in 1995, and he had all these unbelievable ideas like jumping out a window and swinging while holding on to some guy's guts.
Because of the roles you play, people have this image of you as a total badass on a daily basis. What's your favorite way to relax?
I like working on cars, like my '52 Chevy pickup or '76 Cadillac Seville. I love making old things look better. These cars are all cherried out—they're kind of like the lowriders you saw in "Machete."
What do you think you would have been doing all these years if not acting?
I would probably just be a drug counselor—a very honorable profession. Everything good that has happened to me has come as a direct result of helping someone else. I got into movies because I was counseling one of the kids that was a P.A. on "Runaway Train," and he invited me down on the set to hang out with him. I ran into a friend of mine named Eddie Bunker, who was a writer. We were in prison together and he knew I was lightweight and welterweight champion in every prison I was in, so he said they needed someone to train the actors to box. I said, "How bad do you want these people beat up?" I couldn't believe it, and I started training Eric Roberts how to box for that movie, so the director hired me.
Do you still work as an intervention counselor and, if so, why is it important to you that you continue this work?
Absolutely. I still work at Western Pacific Rehab in Glendale. We detox heroin addicts and I do a lot of work with the government trying to get them to change laws. That's one of the things that keeps me going.
You have a bunch of movies coming out in 2011. Which one are you most excited about?
"Tarantula" has been pushed back. I did "A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas," and "The Muppets Movie." I am most excited about "Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World," in which I also play a character named Machete. Kids watch those movies over and over again and come up to me and say, 'Hey, Machete!' I can always tell which parents are allowing their kids to watch which "Machete."