By Adam D'Ambrosi | October 11, 2013
Machete Kills is the sequel to the movie Machete, which started as a fake trailer in the 2007 Rodriguez/ Tarantino film Grindhouse. The humor of this curious road to the silver screen is not lost on Machete’s lead actor, Danny Trejo, who seems to take everything with a smile and a laugh. Outside of his role as a badass Mexican wetworker, Trejo is animated and expressive, and very clearly loves making films. He smiled and laughed so much during the interview, that I can’t help but wonder if those coarse lines that make his face an icon of the hardcore, were actually formed after a lifetime of laughter.
Machete Kills is itself not the greatest film ever made, a fact that Trejo addresses (and embraces) early on in this interview, but it is fun to watch. Trejo does what he’s best at –dealing death with a hard stare– while Rodriguez’s purposefully outdated style makes the film seem grittier than it’s humorous gore would seem to allow.
Outside of the action, a plethora of cameos keeps the laughs somewhat fresh. Mel Gibson, Cuba Gooding Jr., Carlos Estévez aka: Charlie Sheen (as the President of the U.S.), and Lady Gaga’s participation hinge on the fact that they are in on the joke that is Machete Kills. This self awareness ultimately brings the movie and the viewer to the same level, making Machete Kills a casual, fun film to watch.
Reporter 1: So the film bookends with like a teaser trailer for the next chapter-
How conscious were you guys in doing that before you started shooting, or was it more of an afterthought?
Trejo: The whole movie was an afterthought.
Robert Rodriguez –when we were doing Desperado– he kinda saw the way I deal with people, and mingle. Walking around Acuña, Mexico with no shirt… eating at people’s houses and stuff, and he said, “You know, Trejo, everybody thinks you’re the star of this movie.” Nobody knew Antonio Banderas, so I told him, “You mean I’m not!?”
So we just hit it off, and then he told me about this character ,“you know, I’ve been dreaming about- Machete-” He told me about,
“And it’s you, you don’t even have to act….”
So we talked about it… got ideas… so when we got to doing Spy Kids, [Rodriguez] said, “you know what, let’s name him ‘Uncle Machete’.” So we did it…. We put ‘Uncle Machete’ in a movie.
Reporter 1: In a kids movie, no less.
Trejo: In a kids movie. But the gave him a mysterious past. Everybody has that uncle that nobody knows what he does, especially Mexicanos.
So we did that, and then we did Grindhouse… and they needed a fake trailer, and Robert says “Boy, do I got a fake trailer”
So we did the fake trailer, and when they came out of the theater, seeing Grindhouse and that fake trailer, nobody even mentioned Grindhouse! They loved it!
So me and Robert talked about it and he says, “yeah we got to make this movie, the audience demands it!”
So we did Machete…but something was missing in the end, when he drove off… with Jessica. Rodriguez said, “Something’s missing… oh I know ‘Machete Kills Again…In Space’”
Reporter 1: That character started out as Cuchillo, and then it transformed into Machete.
Trejo: Nevajas, Cuchillo… Razor Charlie. Everything with a sharp object.
Adam D’Ambrosi: So do you think that the character, Machete, is a response to Desperado?
Trejo: I think it’s that genre. You know, Robert… Making westerns is really expensive and hard. You gotta get horses… So we get as close to a western as you can without horses. I mean, Desperado was as much western as you can get without horses, you know what I mean? So we had pickup trucks and machine guns. One of these days I’m going to talk Robert into doing a western, he’ll probably go crazy. I just did a western with Mickey Rourke. It’s called Dead in Tombstone.
Reporter 2: So the film [Machete] is over the top- blood, gore, violence. When I was watching the movie my inner 9 year old was going crazy…like it was his Citizen Kane. It’s an adult film, but it’s totally made for kids, would you agree?
Trejo: Absolutely… It’s just a fun movie. Not a big social comment, no big- it’s just: “Let’s kick some ass!”
When I did Machete… my mom wanted to go see it, I said, “You know, mom, it’s not…”
But, you know, your mom gives you that look, and it’s: “OK…”
My mom didn’t even think I had a job, she was all, “Mi hijo, get a job… I’ll make you lunch.”
I was like, “Mom I’m an actor, I worked with Robert De Niro, I have a job,” and then I did three episodes of The Young and the Restless, and my mom was like, “(gasp) Mi hijo, I saw you on TV…” Like I won an Oscar.
Reporter 1: Did she see you on TV on Breaking Bad?
Trejo: No, my mom passed away, but when she wanted to see Machete, I was like, “ok”. So I took her to see it, and she was watching it and watching it, and [in the film] I’m getting ready to come out with the two girls in the lake, I said, “Mom, you might not-” and she says, “Shut up! I’m watching! (Trejo raises his hand to illustrate being threatened with a backhand)”
It’s funny, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin were behind me, and to see my mom do that- they couldn’t stop laughing.
“She can tell him to shut up!”
Reporter 1: Let’s switch gears really fast and talk about your great work in Breaking Bad, How was that character proposed to you, because it was only in a couple of scenes, but it makes such a huge impact on the entire show.
Trejo: My agent said, “Do you want to do a Hollywood first? Your head will go across the desert on a turtle…”
Yeah I can do that, you know. So we did that whole prosthetic build, it was a lot of fun. It was a first, no one had ever done it… It was received so well, that they had to do the back story…
AD: Simple question, which of Machete’s kills in the film is your favorite?
AD: I know there’s a lot to choose from.
Trejo: I think the helicopter…
(All make sounds of agreement)
That was a cool one. I just mentioned that to Robert, I said, “Let’s do something with the helicopter,” There’s like three helicopter deaths in that. There’s the one with the guts, one with the harpoon, and one where I hook onto it and come around, and all the heads are popping off… It’s so funny, when my mom was –my mom was 85– we were watching it [Machete] and this is a gory film. I take three heads with one shot of a Machete, but everybody laughs. Robert makes the violence funny… You know that’s funny, not real. You don’t take it seriously, and that’s what I like about the movie.
Reporter 2: Do you help Robert come up with those ideas, those deaths?
Trejo: (flatly) No. You might mention something.. One time I was trying to get a hold of him and he wasn’t getting back to me. Finally I ran into him at Comic Con, and I said “Robert, man I been calling you, why don’t you answer the phone?”
“Trejo, I’m in a meeting or I’m talking to someone… Text me!”
“Machete don’t text.”
And that ended up in the movie.
Machete don’t tweet, you know. Machete don’t smoke. Machete don’t lose.
Reporter 1: We were talking about this earlier, where you make a lot of big blockbuster films, but you do smaller, independent projects.How do you choose a smaller project to fill in the gaps?
Trejo: I kinda let them come to me…. If it’s for real. A lot of people have money and try to make a low budget movie. Low budget movies are for people who are struggling, so we’ll do them in a minute. The same thing with student films. You know student films ain’t got no money. They’ll take you to lunch and give you 100 bucks or whatever. That’s good enough. Helping get something started.
(Through some banter we get turned onto the subject of Mel Gibson’s role in Machete)
Trejo: I gotta say, Mel Gibson was awesome. I had a sword fight with him, so when Robert Rodriguez yelled “action!”, I threw my sword down. Robert said “huh?” and I said, “ I’m not going to fight William Wallace!”…
Mel has a great sense of humor.
AD: Yeah, that kind of leads into the next question I have. What’s the tone on the set? The movie –like you said– is funny, it’s violent. How does that come together behind the camera? What’s it like, you know?
Trejo: It’s funny you ask because one day we were in an abandoned Home Depot –it was completely empty– this huge warehouse. No AC. In Texas it’s like 112 outside. Unbelievable. I was looking around, and what I was seeing…how could the morale of this movie be up? It was so up! No one cared! We were having so much…because Robert is like me, he won’t do something if it’s not fun. It starts from the top. If the director is having a good time, everyone is having a good time.
Reporter 2: I think you’ve been blessed with this great face.
Trejo: (Gives a sheepish laugh) That’s what Robert said.
Reporter 2: It’s probably the most bad-ass face I’ve ever seen. Is there anyone that you would be afraid to face off with? Face to face?
Trejo: Chuck Norris.
Let me tell you something, if you see all those guys in the movie that are supposed to be karate experts or something, if you want to make them shut up, say “well how would you do against Chuck Norris?”
(Trejo mimics the response by pretending to shy away at the thought of facing Chuck Norris down. The interviewers all laugh at Trejo’s impossibly hard face pretending to be scared)
Chuck is the real deal.
AD: Who would win in a fight, Machete or Rambo?
(This is the question that Trejo thinks about the most throughout the whole interview.)
Trejo: Machete would be a little too slick, and I think Rambo knows it.