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Danny Trejo: The illustrated man

Danny Trejo talks about the upcoming Machete film.

Danny Trejo: The illustrated man

If you’re a movie character, you don’t want to run into Danny Trejo. It’s usually bad news. Even in kids’ movies, he’s a little scary. You recognize his hardened face and chest full of tattoos, but you couldn’t meet a much nicer guy in real life. Every time Trejo walks a red carpet, he’s smiling and happy to be there. With Machete as the standout trailer in Grindhouse, now everyone is clamoring to see him play a good guy. He’s still got a slew of roles, including the Halloween remake, possibly Sin City 2 and the recent Snoop Dogg’s Hood of Horrors.

CraveOnline: We’re seeing a lot of you this year.

Danny Trejo: Yeah, yeah, I did 12 movies last year, coming out this year. We had Grindhouse last month and Delta Farce this week. Then Hood of Horror the week before.

CraveOnline: What about Machete the movie?

Danny Trejo: That’s going to be a blast. They’re going to make that. In fact, call Bob Weinstein and Harvey and tell them that I said so.

CraveOnline: How does it feel that that’s the one from Grindhouse everyone wants to see?

Danny Trejo: It’s kind of amazing. I think Robert Rodriguez kind of planned it that way because he told me about Machete five years ago.

CraveOnline: Who else can you make out with in a hot tub?

Danny Trejo: That was funny. "Where’s my wife and daughter?" And you cut to me in the hot tub with two girls.

CraveOnline: What about Sin City 2?

Danny Trejo: Well, they were going to try to make Sin City before Machete but now they want to do Machete first. That’s what Robert Rodriguez told me. Oh yeah, oh yeah, they’re going to make that. That’s a definite.

CraveOnline: Have you talked about the story?

Danny Trejo: Yeah, Robert’s got the script. You’ve got to remember that he’s kind of got a standing yes at a lot of agencies, so he can call up and say, "Hey, do you have…" and people make themselves available for him because they love his movies.

CraveOnline: You already shot ½ hour for Machete, right? How much more work has to be done?

Danny Trejo: Not a lot. I think Robert wants to make that into a feature and I said, "Okay, let’s do it. I got the time." So it’s going to be a lot of fun.

CraveOnline: How long did you work on Machete?

Danny Trejo: Three days.

CraveOnline: Was he inspired by your character in Spy Kids?

Danny Trejo: I think so because Robert was teasing me about this is what Machete does when he’s not taking care of the kids. You talk about over the top. I don’t think there’s been a movie yet to match Machete. It is unbelievable. In Desperado I had the knives and this time I had this huge coat that you open, all these machetes.

CraveOnline: How much of that was real or green screen?

Danny Trejo: Oh, all of it’s real and yes, I do my own stunts. [Laughs] You know, there’s green screen. It’s real that somebody did it but insurance purposes and stuff, they’ve got to be real careful.

CraveOnline: What character would you play in Sin City?

Danny Trejo: I have no idea. Maybe I’ll beat up Marv.

CraveOnline: Aren’t you in the Halloween remake too?

Danny Trejo: Yeah, with Rob Zombie. He would have been here but he’s editing Halloween right now. A lot of the cast is here. Michael Myers is here. There are a couple people that are here.

CraveOnline: What do you play?

Danny Trejo: Actually, I am Michael Myers’s mentor. I’m kind of like the hospital attendant that takes care of him when he’s a child and I talk to him. Some of the things I say, later on he goes crazy.

CraveOnline: We didn’t see that in the original.

Danny Trejo: No, but it’s really, really good. People have been telling me, people that are editing and stuff, it turned out really nice.

CraveOnline: You’re doing a voice for Rob’s animated movie too?

Danny Trejo: Yeah, I don’t know what. It’s like, Rob Zombie and Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, they have like a standing yes at my agency. So they call up and say, "Hey," I go "Yes" because I love their work. That’s like Rodriguez is to filmmaking what the automatic transmission was to car building. It’s like bang, let’s get it done. If the technology is not there, him, Quentin or Rob Zombie will invent it. It’s fun to watch them.

CraveOnline: Can you believe you’ve become a mainstream hero that everyone likes?

Danny Trejo: It’s really kind of funny. To me, it’s amazing. I’m so blessed. I’m still scared that somebody’s going to wake me up and say, "Hey, we’re still in prison. Let’s go to chow." [big laugh]

CraveOnline: What’s your idea what happened to Grindhouse?

Danny Trejo: Well, first of all, I think it was released right on Easter and Catholics can’t go to shows. Easter’s not a real big movie weekend. Easter’s kind of a stay home and you’ve got to sit with grandma for a long time. So I think that kind of hurt it but it didn’t do that bad. Rodriguez and Quentin are geniuses. It’s like marketing and in six months, I would love to see what that thing’s done. If you stand between Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino when they’re having a conversation, you would get electrocuted. There’s so much energy. I sit down to dinner with them too, and one of them will say an idea and ten minutes later you will have a movie. They’ve just written a movie. Whether they all get made or not, I don’t know. Some of them are written on napkins. Those guys are amazing and I love being with people that are just in love with what they do.

CraveOnline: You have some nasty teeth and dreadlocks in Hood of Horrors. How long did that take?

Danny Trejo: Horror films are a blast because you get to work with people who love what they’re doing. You can’t slip and slide on a horror movie because first of all, you start out sitting for two and a half hours in makeup. So everybody has to come early, so the makeup people love what they’re doing. It’s not like you’re going to do this kind of makeup and not like it. So it’s like everything’s a real up place. I think they really got the right person to direct this because it was a woman and there’s a lot of testosterone in this industry.

CraveOnline: How was it different being directed by a woman?

Danny Trejo: I’ve been directed by women before. Most of them, they steer, they don’t direct. I mean, you’ve got some directors, "Hey, that’s not [what I want!]" Yeah, yeah, yeah. But then when somebody just kind of steers you or tells you, "How do you want me to play this?" And they say, "Just go ahead, go for it, do whatever you want." Then wow, they just kind of steer you. It makes it a lot of fun.

CraveOnline: Did you get to know Snoop?

Danny Trejo: I’ve known Snoop for a long time. Me and Snoop go way back so working with him is just fun. It was just like old times. We were just cutting it up and talking about the streets and hoods. It’s fun to work with him. Snoop’s a real kind of guy. I have problems with a lot of the "actors." They become rappers and famous and then they try to get street cred. It’s like come on, you didn’t have it back then, then don’t worry about it. You’re a rapper. But snoop had his cred a long time ago so he doesn’t have to prove anything.

CraveOnline: How much did you talk to him about this character?

Danny Trejo: I think the only one that I talked to about this character was the director. Me and Snoop talked about west side and what we’re going to do and stuff. I think the directors kind of had everything kind of down. She knew what she wanted. I think she’s a master at getting what she wanted but passively. Not aggressively. So she would say stuff like, "Danny, just go for it. Do whatever you want to do. Yeah, yeah, yeah, try it this way." So you were kind of having fun while you were doing it. It wasn’t like, "Oh wait, what is she telling me to do?"

CraveOnline: What else are you working on?

Danny Trejo: I’m going to Phoenix, Arizona to do a film, then I think I’m going to Colombia to do a film with Antonio Banderas. I’m not really sure, and then I’m doing a couple public speaking engagements for a penitentiary and a juvenile hall and some youth group.

CraveOnline: It’s great you still do that.

Danny Trejo: I have to.

CraveOnline: Is acting the last thing you thought you’d end up doing when you were serving time?

Danny Trejo: When I was doing time, all I thought I’d be doing was time. I didn’t have any hopes of getting out. Really by the grace of God, I ended up getting out of prison. I realize that if I was going to stay out, drugs and alcohol were going to be out of my life and I was going to have to dedicate my life to helping other people. That’s what I’ve done, talk at schools, that’s how I got into this thing. I was a counselor. One of the kids that I was working with called me up and said, "Come hang out with me. There’s a lot of drugs at my job." I thought it was a regular job. I went down to this job and it was the movie set of a movie called Runaway Train with Jon Voight and Eric Roberts. I walked onto that set and the director, I ran into a guy that I knew in prison, a guy named Eddie Bunker who’s a writer. And he just said, "Hey, you want a job?" What do I gotta do? "We want you to train one of the actors how to box." I said, "What’s it pay?" He said, "$320 a day." I said, "How bad you want this guy beat up?" He said, "You got to be careful because this actor’s real high strung. He might sock you." Sh*t, for $320, give him a stick. I started training Eric Roberts how to box. That was the first film and the director liked me and I got along with Eric. From that day to right now, IMDB has me at 130-some movies.

CraveOnline: Your tattoos are so awesome, are you a tattoo artist?

Danny Trejo: Nah, just a natural walking tattoo. But I have the distinction of having the most recognizable tattoo in the world, voted by International Tattoo Magazine. That’s been in 139 movies, and an insane amount of magazines.

CraveOnline: How old were you when you got it?

Danny Trejo: Like 20. I got it in the early ’60s, like 1964. I was in prison and a guy named Harry "Super Jew" Ross [did the tattoo]. I was never getting out, if I would have thought I was getting out I would have put a little cute thing, an elf or something. So we started it in San Quentin and I got kicked out of San Quentin. I went to Folsom and when I was in Folsom, Harry showed up and did the rest of it. He was almost done, there was a big race riot in Folsom and I got shipped to solitary. He said, "Don’t let anybody touch it. I’ll finish it." Because it was the first one he ever did so he finished it in solitary over a two year period. I first started in movies in 1985 and then I was blessed because from 1985 to 1993, they made a whole bunch of low budget prison movies. So they’d say, "Hey, get that Mexican guy to be in it." So I was really blessed.

CraveOnline: How did Harry the Super Jew get his name?

Danny Trejo: He was Jewish and we used to tease him because Jews don’t come to prison, come on. Get a lawyer. And he was about 5’6" and he could press about 400 pounds. He was real huge, real strong guy, great tattoo artist. So that’s how he got that name, Super Jew.

CraveOnline: While they were growing up, did your kids ever ask, "What’s Johnny 23?"

Danny Trejo: No. My youngest is 16 but they grew up around this stuff. They grew up around From Dusk Til Dawn so they know it’s make believe. It’s funny, I remember in From Dusk Til Dawn, my daughter’s at the preview and she’s just quiet sitting there watching the whole thing. The only time she got excited was when I got stabbed and I got morphed and my eyes went into pool pockets. She jumped up and went, "Whoa, your eyes went into the pool pockets!" But they know make believe and they know real. They love movies. They’re like me.

CraveOnline: Do they want to be actors?

Danny Trejo: Yeah. They’ve already worked in stuff and my son just got out of school. He has his punk rock band called The Dead Reagan Tour. I love that name. Gloria represents him so we’re touring. Right now I’m a punk rock dad. You know soccer moms, I’m like a punk rock dad. Then my daughter, she’s 16, she’ll get out of school pretty soon. That’s when they can. Let’s finish school first then try acting.

CraveOnline: When your daughter brings boys home, I bet they don’t give you any sh*t.

Danny Trejo: She don’t bring boys home. They’re pretty good kids. Remember, she’s got two older brothers too. My 18 year old’s in a punk rock band and he looks like he just got out of prison. He’s the nicest kid in the world, gets good grades and all that but people [wouldn't mess with him.]

CraveOnline: Do they all have tattoos?

Danny Trejo: My 18 year old has tattoos. My 25 year old doesn’t have one. My daughter doesn’t have any, so.

CraveOnline: How did you like being in Desperate Housewives?

Danny Trejo: I gotta tell you, I almost didn’t do it. My agent Gloria, when she said, "Okay, there’s this job on Desperate Housewives. They’ll pay you well." I said, "Wait a minute. Desperate Housewives? Danny Trejo?" I hate to say I’d never seen the show. So we argued back and forth and finally, "Okay, let’s do it." I did not realize how many people watch that show. It’s funny, it’s amazing. I hang out at this place called Chubby’s automotive in Sylmar and there’s a lot of old friends of mine, ex-convicts and ex-drug addicts that started to show up there. They always tease me about, "Oh, here comes the movie star." I walk up, there’s about six of them standing there, they’ve all got tattoos on their neck and tank tops. They say, "Oh, here he comes. What are you working on?" I say, "Desperate Housew- -" "That’s my favorite show!" What? "Oh, I love that show. What episode are you going to be on?" Eva signed me a stack of pictures for them.

CraveOnline: Do you watch it now?

Danny Trejo: No, I don’t have time to watch it.

CraveOnline: Do you get recognized more now since you were on a hit TV show?

Danny Trejo: Absolutely. It’s so funny because usually, like all the thugs and the kitchen help and kids recognize me, but now I have housewives. It launched me a new career.