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Danny Trejo Reflects on His Path From Inmate to Machete to ‘Puss in Boots’

by  in Comic News, Movie News, TV News Comment
Danny Trejo Reflects on His Path From Inmate to Machete to ‘Puss in Boots’

His distinctive, hard-as-nails look elevated Danny Trejo from a series of minor roles playing what he laughingly lumps together as “Inmate Number One” to the full-fledged star of his own films, including the popular “Machete” franchise.

But lately, it’s his unmistakable voice that’s been landing him parts, most recently as the rampaging, somewhat gross bandito El Moco (yeah, Google the Spanish translation) in DreamWorks and Netflix’s animated series “The Adventures of Puss in Boots,” starring the fabled feline swashbuckler and F.O.S. (Friend of Shrek). As the latest block of episodes launches this week, Trejo spoke with Spinoff Online about the mercenary mucus he plays, and looked back at his one-of-a-kind ascent from ex-con to superstar.

Spinoff: Tell me what you liked about this opportunity with this particular character, El Moco, and show.

Danny Trejo: Well, at first it was, “OK You’re going to play a booger” – a Moco movie of boogers! I was like, “Well, that sounds like fun.” So I read the script, I loved it, and once you have kids for fans, you have fans for life. So I loved Sp”y Kids”: Kids that once grew up with “Spy Kids” are now watching all my R-rated movies. So you end up with a fan for life once you have kids.

With this character El Moco, did you put any extra spin on him or just play him as Danny Trejo, only a little wilder?

[Laughs] I am playing him pretty wildly. They really love what I’m doing. [in character] “I’m El Moco! And I will kill everybody in this village!” So it’s a lot of fun.

Did you ever think you would be making kid-friendly type of projects when you started out?

I don’t remember! I got into this thing by accident. I never thought I was getting out of prison, you know? And so right now, my life is a dream. I get to do whatever I want to do. I just got back from Canada, was doing an autograph signing up there. And I just wrapped “The Ridiculous Six” with Adam Sandler; I’m doing “From Dusk Till Dawn,” the TV series with Robert Rodriguez; I finished that “Bad Ass” trilogy that just came out, and that’s doing really well. So I mean, it’s like a dream.

Because you didn’t really have a big master plan in your career, what do you think was the big turning point for you? That thing that shifted you from recognizable character actor to name player …

I did [the original film] “From Dusk Till Dawn” and the Rodriguez series – “Desperado” and “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” — I really started to be identified, and “Heat,” the Robert De Niro/Al Pacino movie! Man, just everybody just kind of started recognizing me … I think the difference between playing a good guy and a bad guy is the good guy gets the girl and stays until the end, you know. And the bad guy kind of gets lost somewhere, dies somewhere along the middle of the movie. So I started getting to stay for the whole movie, and it’s like, all of a sudden you’re like part of this whole thing. You’re not just a – I can’t say not just a day player, because day players make movies [and] I think they’re all just as important. You just start realizing, “Wow! I’m here for the whole thing!”

Everybody always loves when you play Machete. How serious are the plans for the next movie at this point?

Absolutely. Me and Robert have been talking about it, writing “Machete Kills – In Space”!

 

Has he given you a sense of the story at all?

No. He just says “Come up with ideas.” So I get an idea, I just call him and tell him. And he, like, figured out the movie. So Robert, he’s a genius when it comes to that stuff. Who else would think of jumping out of a window holding onto somebody’s guts? He’s like, “You’re going to be jumping out of this window. You’re going to be holding onto somebody’s guts and use it as a rope.” “Uh, OK.” But when you see it on screen, it’s amazing.

What do you love about that collaboration, and that character?

Well, that character was a dream. Robert Rodriguez told me about that character when we were doing “Desperado” 20 years ago, and just by the mere name, “Machete,” you know he’s a badass. And we just built on him and built on him and built on him. And then when we did the fake trailer for “Grindhouse,” everybody just fell in love with that character. So we had to do it as a movie. And I would have loved that character, even if it wasn’t me. I don’t care who would have played it. I would have loved that character.

You know better than anybody what can happen if you go down the wrong path. A lot of kids look up to you and young men and women. When you get a chance to talk to them, what do you want to make sure they come away with?

Well, I still go to high schools and juvenile halls and youth authorities in prisons and do a lot of talking, about three times a month. And wherever I’m at, my agent, Gloria, always finds a high school for me to go talk. And usually, in the worst high schools – if there’s such a thing as a “bad” high school – high schools have a lot of trouble. And I just go in and just kind of tell them, “You know, if you take drugs and alcohol out of your life, it will get better. And education is the key to anything you want to do.”

But anybody can deliver that message. The only thing is kids don’t listen. They don’t want to hear what you got to say because if you’re 10 years older than them, then you’re just not cool. But the blessing that I’ve got is when I walk onto a campus, I have their complete attention. Not Danny Trejo, but the guy from “Spy Kids,” the guy from “Heat,” the guy from “Desperado,” the guy from “Blood In, Blood Out.” Those guys have their attention. So I’m under no pretense that it’s me. They want to hear what those characters have to say. So it gives me an open communication with them.

 

What do you take out of those experiences, personally?

Well, I walk out with the blessing of life. There’s no bigger thrill than making some kind of an impact on somebody’s life. Even if it’s just for a little while. You just give somebody hope. Especially if you came from where I came from, and these kids are getting in trouble or these kids are having problems. And somebody that knows and that had these problems says, “You know, any problem you have is going to get worse with drugs and alcohol. And any problem you have is going to get better without them.”

You’ve gotten to play so many cool roles. Is there a certain kind of role you’re hoping to get or movie that you want to make?

Well, I kind of think of acting as my job. I do whatever you’ve got. It’s like a house painter. I’ll do whatever house you got. And I bring what I can to the character, but basically the director and the producers, they’re the owners of the house. And they say, “I would like this house painted Swiss coffee.” And I say, “OK, but do you think that maybe the trim would look better with some off white?” And they go, “Yeah. That’s good. But I’m not going to switch because I think aquamarine would look a lot better.” So I kind of follow direction but still bring what I can for the character.

 

What was that thing about acting that lured you in? How did it first get its hooks into you?

Well, the reality was I got called on to a movie set about one of the kids out of a counseling center I was working with, and he said, “Hey, I’m having a lot of problems staying clean, Danny. There’s a lot of drugs here at my job. Can you come and hang out?” I said, “Yeah.” I went down at 11 o’clock at night to hang out with him. He gave me the address to a warehouse, so I thought he was working at a warehouse. So I walked on to the movie set of a movie called ‘Runaway Train’ with Jon Voight and Eric Roberts.

And wow, it was like this whole other world! Everybody was dressed like convicts and I was looking around like, “This is so weird.” And then I ran into a friend of mine. First of all, this guy looked at me and said, “Hey, do you want to be in this movie?” And I said, “Uh, what do I got to do?” And he said, “Do you want to play an extra?” And I said, “Extra what?” And he said, “Can you act like a convict?” And when he said that, I thought, “Let me see, I’ve been in every prison in the state of California. I’ll give it a shot.” And I threw off my shirt. I had big tattoos that everybody knows. And he goes, “Leave your shirt off.”

And then this other guy comes over and says, “Hey, you’re Danny Trejo! I saw you win the lightweight and the welterweight title up in San Quentin.” And I said, “Yeah, you’re Eddie Bunker.” I knew this guy. He was a writer. And he wrote writs in prison. He was real famous because writs have to be written grammatically correct – spelling, everything has to be right, or you can’t get out – and he was real good at that, so he helped a lot of people get out of prison. And I started talking to him, and he asked me, “Danny, are you still boxing?” And I said, “I train.” And he said, “We need somebody to train one of the actors how to box.” And I said, “What’s a day?” Because they were going to give me $50 to play a convict. And he said, “$320 a day.” And I said, “Wow. How bad do you want this guy beat up?” That’s a hit. I thought it was normally, you have to be real careful with these actors. I said, “Eddie, for $320, you can give him a stick.” And I started training Eric Roberts how to box on the movie “Runaway Train.”

And the director saw me, saw I could handle whatever, and he came over and hired me – Andrey Konchalovskiy was a Russian writer and director, and he comes over and he goes, “You be in my movie. You fight Eric in movie.” And I said, “OK.” And then he kissed me on each cheek and walked away. And I said, “Eddie, I’m going to train Eric for $320, but if I kiss another man, I want more money.” And Andrey Konchalovskiy and I became very good friends – beautiful, beautiful man – and that’s how I started my career. And from there, I played “Inmate Number One” the first five years of my career.

Well, it worked out! At this point, how hard do you work out to keep in fighting shape?

Well, you know what? I still train. I hit the bag. I don’t fight anymore. To stay in shape, I do my cardio. I don’t lift heavy any more. It’s just a basic, keep-it-in-shape [routine].

When you’re not working, what are your passions? The fruits of your success?

Well, I love my dogs. I’ve got five dogs, and we just hang out. And then I always work on cars. I have a big garage, and I got like six vintage cars that I love to work on. They’re all low riders that you see in the car shows and stuff. And I have a 1936 Dodge Touring Sedan that is absolutely gorgeous and low and has a tight sound system and is gorgeous. And I can take it anywhere. And when I take it to Beverly Hills, they’ll move Lamborghinis out of the way just to park it in front.

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