The Divine Danny Trejo
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because being a badass by proxy is a lot easier than being a badass for real.
If you’re a cultured cool kid, you probably feel your eyes start to glaze over whenever anyone breaks into a “remarkable transformation” story. Hardscrabble upbringing, inspirational metamorphosis, eventual success, yeah yeah yeah.
Except when it is remarkable, and 69-year-old Danny Trejo’s story is precisely that. Not just because he spent time on ice at Folsom and San Quentin prisons for drug and robbery convictions. Much less for that, and much more because he was in place to grab the brass ring of good fortune as it swept by him for the very first time.
“Drugs got me into prison,” said Trejo, cruising the streets of his native Los Angeles while we chat about his new movie Machete Kills on the phone. “And they sort of got me out too.” He says some film-industry folk at a 12-step meeting invited him to be an extra in a movie back in 1985. He became the film’s boxing coach and then was offered a prominent part in the movie: the first step to making him the ubiquitous character actor he is today.
Since that first film, Trejo has had a bevy of bad guy roles (almost 200 at last count) and worked with everyone from Robert De Niro and Al Pacino to … well, you can stop there. Now he’s the star of the Machete series, from grade-B-movie-with-class edgemeister Robert Rodriguez.
As Machete, Trejo burns up the screen with wonderfully trashy, almost guilt-free mayhem.
Machete started off as a goof. The film was one of the fake trailers shown in Grindhouse, the double feature that Rodriguez made with Quentin Tarantino. Three years later it was expanded into a full-length feature with a low budget — only about $10 mil — but the movie went on to make more than four times that, and a franchise was built on Trejo’s tattooed shoulders.
Which brings us to the sequel, Machete Kills, a tale about the exploits of a Mexican federale forced into spying and contract killing. As Machete, Trejo burns up the screen with wonderfully trashy, almost guilt-free mayhem. Along for the ride are a rogue’s gallery of the unlikely: Lady Gaga, Mel Gibson, Jessica Alba and Carlos Estevez, (a.k.a. Charlie Sheen) who plays the president of the United States.
Scheduled to debut during the distinctly non-summery month of October, Machete Kills will likely be sly, slick and trashy in the best of all possible ways. “Trejo could have just had a series built around him just being Trejo,” says Bob Calhoun, a trash film buff and the author of Shattering Conventions. “And that would have probably kicked as much ass.”
Which brings you to the startlingly refreshing conclusion that it’s an order of magnitude cooler seeing a real ass kicker kick ass on screen than to see a pretender pretending to do so.
“I just feel pretty blessed,” Trejo says.
And for fans of stuff that gets bloody and blows up? We do too.