Few actors have had a career as prolific as Danny Trejo. In 28 years as an actor, Trejo has had roles in more than 200 films and television shows, including “Heat,” “Breaking Bad,” “King of the Hill,” “Anchorman” and the “Spy Kids” series. His rugged face, gruff voice, long hair and copious tattoos have gotten him cast in numerous villainous roles, which have made him one of the most prominent character actors working in films today.
He’s transitioned away from supporting roles to star in “Machete Kills” — the sequel to 2010’s “Machete” — which opens Oct. 11 in the East Valley.
Q: Where did the idea for the Machete character originate from?
A: We first started talking about it while we were doing 'Desperado,' and then we did 'Spy Kids.' I was going to be the uncle, but (director Robert Rodriguez) said 'Why don’t we make that guy Machete?' because we wanted to do Machete anyway. So we called him Uncle Machete and he had this mysterious spy gear.
After that, when we were doing 'Grindhouse,' they needed a fake trailer, so it was a given. When we came out of 'Grindhouse,' when we came out of theater, everyone’s just screaming 'You have to do Machete.' So, basically, 'Machete' came out of the audience wanting it.
Q: The first film I saw you in was 'From Dusk Till Dawn' alongside Cheech Marin, Selma Hayek and George Clooney.
A: That was his (Clooney’s) first movie, because he was on 'ER.' In fact, the studio didn’t want to go with Selma: They said 'no, no, no' because her accent was too heavy. And they really didn’t want Clooney because he hadn’t done any movies. But Robert said 'Nope, that’s my cast.' So they gave in, and he delivered a movie that was a box-office smash.
Q: You’re IMDB.com page is quite daunting, and you said at a recent event that you’ll star in student films if asked as well.
A: I’d rather do a student film than do nothing. Not that student films are bad, but you don’t get paid. I’d rather do something; for me, non-productivity is a form of insanity — you just go nuts. Everyone’s mad at me because I’ll just go buy a car; I’ll go buy a ’48 Ford and start building it, or a ’49 Chevy, so it’s better to keep me working. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.
Q: It’s not just that you’ve kept busy, but you’ve been in so many films as something of a 'that guy.'
A: I was flying Southwest [once], which doesn’t have first class, and I was sitting there and reading the magazine they have. They had an article called 'That Guy,' and I opened it up and saw my picture. There were about 10 of us, and it was like 'that guy in the movie, you know that guy' and you don’t know his name, like the guy with the tattoo.
A kid comes up and asks me to sign one, then I signed another one. Then a stewardess comes up and asks, 'Mr. Trejo, would you like me to stop them?' I said no, then she said, 'Will you sign this?' I literally signed every one of those books on the plane. I was 'that guy' for a long time.
Q: It seems like you’ve moved up in the world.
A: Now I’m Machete; I’m that guy Machete.