As promised at the end of “Machete,” Danny Trejo is back with a vengeance in as the machete-wielding, ex-federale in “Machete Kills.” The President of the United State (Charlie Sheen) hires Machete to go to Mexico to track down a schizophrenic arms dealer (Demian Bichir) who wants to launch a weapon into space. As he treks his way through Mexico, he soon realized that he being chased a variety of men and women including a face-changing hitman, a cannibalistic madam (Sofia Vargara) and her gorgeous henchwomen (which includes “Spy Kids” star Alexa Vega) and a cult leader (Mel Gibson) who loves “Star Wars.” I had the chance to talk to Trejo and Vega as they talked about working together with director Robert Rodriguez on five movies, favorite on-set moments and fighting Gibson.
In “Machete Kills,” you play a more adult role compared to your role in “Spy Kids” film series. What was it like making that transition?
Alexa Vega: I think it’s always hard for any young actor to transition to more grown-up roles because you don’t want to alienate your audience who has been supporters of yours for so many years. You kind of have to tiptoe through that process. I’ve done a few other films that slowly let people know that I was growing up without kind of doing anything like “Machete Kills.” I’m 25 now and I finally went up to Robert and said, “You know what? Let’s go for it! Let’s try something new. If you have anything roles in ‘Sin City’ or any type of movie like that, let me know. I ready to stretch my limits.” He just started laughing at me and said, “No way! I will never put you in one of those movies.” I was like, “Why not?” He said, “Because you are way too young.” I said, “Robert…I’m 25. I’m so ready to do this.” Believe me, I am going to milk playing young characters as much as I can because once that ship sails, you can’t go back. You do want to challenge yourself and take on different things and keep entertaining and exciting for you. You don’t want to play the same roles over and over again. That’s why playing KillJoy was super fun and we aren’t taking ourselves too seriously. Even though it’s wild, crazy and fun, it’s still tasteful and exciting. I really trust Robert throughout of all of that because I know he’s going to keep up looking good.
Danny, was it strange for you to see Alexa go from playing a Spy Kid to playing KillJoy?
Danny Trejo: First time seeing as KillJoy was like seeing my daughter for the first time in a bikini, but she was so comfortable with it that she made up comfortable with it. She owned it and the reality of it was that she’s 25 years old, but in our mind, she was still young and 11. It was a joy to watch her grow up.
You guys have worked with Robert on the same films for 12 years. When you are making films with Robert, is it a close-knit family environment despite that “Machete Kills” isn’t really family-friendly movie?
Trejo: I think all of Robert’s films are family-friendly movies. You just can’t take the young people in the family (laughs), but they watch them anyway. I have 5, 6 and 7 year olds recognize me from watching “Machete.” I was working with California Governor Jerry Brown and helping him with campaign. As I got off the bus, I was standing there and this little girl was waving at me and was like, “Hi. Spy Kids?” and she said, “No…Machete!” Robert kind of made me into a household name. As far as a family atmosphere, the whole thing is a family. A lot of the people who watched her grow up were on the crew. They turned their heads and were like, “My God!”
Vega: Yeah, but they were also crewmembers. Two hours later, they were like, “Wooooo” (laughs).
Trejo: “Hey girl, let’s make a calendar” (laughs).
You guys have worked together a lot over the years. Do you have any favorite on-set moments?
Vega: My whole entire family was in Austin while I was there shooting “Spy Kids” and they use to always collect bugs. Danny would be the only actor to react to them collecting bugs. They would be like, “Look at this bug we found” and people would be, “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” but Danny would be like, “Wow! That is so cool.” They would always come back to him and say, “Look at this other bug I found” (laughs).
Trejo: I think one of the things that really touched my heart because everyone has a bad image of kids growing up on movie sets. Alexa was the star of “Spy Kids.” She would do a scene and her family would there cheering her on, but she would go from being a star to holding her little baby brother it was her turn to babysit. Kids get in trouble in this business because they have no boundaries and they are left alone. I guess if you are making more money than your mom and dad, you can set your own boundaries. Not with her mom (laughs). Her mom told me what to do a couple of times. You need that strong, parental guidance. You got to know that at a real early age, she realized like me that this is our job, this is what we do. It’s no different than being a housepainter or a bricklayer. It’s our jobs. This is what we do.
Danny, do you have a role like this the same that would do like your roles in “Sherrybaby” and “A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas” or does it depends on the genre?
Trejo: When a casting agent sees me, he kind of knows what he is getting. I don’t get cast in a lot of movies to lay the day care teacher (laughs). I am usually the badass or the killer or the robber or the mean father-in-law like in “Harold and Kumar.” It’s funny because I learned real early that I have a certain look. When I got into this, it was by accident. I didn’t grow up in the film business. I walked on the movie set to help somebody with a drug problem because I was a drug counselor. I happened to run into a guy named Eddie Bunker, who I was in prison with, and he said, “Hey, are you still boxing?” I was like, “No, but I train” and then he said, “Ok. We know someone to train one of the actors how to box.” I asked, “What does it pay?” and he said, “$320 a day.” I said, “How bad do you want this guy beat up?”
Vega: (laughs) He thought you were going to beat somebody up?
Trejo: If they wanted to beat somebody up, I would have done it for $50 (laughs). I started training Eric Roberts how to box for the movie “Runaway Train.” It was the first time I’ve ever been on a movie set. The director say Eric respected me and would do whatever I told him to do. The director hired me to work with Eric and I worked for three weeks daily just teaching Eric how to do this one scene. They told I was going to get $320 a day, but I didn’t know there were turnarounds and forced calls and overtime. I didn’t know any of that existed so when I got my paycheck, I was like, “Whoa!” I though they made a mistake (laughs). I folded it, split to the bank and cashed it before they found out that they messed up. A stunt coordinator asked me if I wanted to do this other movie he was working. I worked for the first five years of my career as Inmate #1, Bad Guy #1 or Tattooed Vato. I didn’t know I was being typecast. I was just working. The first time I was ever interviewed, the journalist asked me, “Danny, don’t you feel like you are being typecast?” I was like, “As what?” and she said “As the mean Chicano dude with tattoos.” I thought about it and said, “I am the mean Chicano dude with tattoos” (laughs).
Vega: No…you’re the nicest person I ever met.
Trejo: I know, but this was my first interview and that’s what I did. I worked all the time and went from job to job to job. The first name I ever had in a movie was as Art Sanella and I played a gangster in “Death Wish 4.” I thought, “I got a name!” From then on, I just kept working. For “Sherrybaby,” I originally didn’t want to do it, but my agent made me do it. I don’t slap anybody and nobody shoots me because it was more of a dramatic film. When we did it, we got to go all over the world and everybody loved the “soft side” of Danny Trejo because I played a nice guy in the movie. Afterwards, I really liked that movie and it proved that I can do stuff like that. I don’t like dramas, but I would do them.
Vega: You’ll do them, but you just won’t watch them.
Trejo: That’s true (laughs).
What was it like fighting Mel Gibson?
Trejo: (laughs) I would sword fight with him and when Robert yelled “Action,” I would throw my sword down. Robert was like, “What’s wrong?” I said, “I’m not fighting William Wallace. Are you crazy? He saved Scotland!” Mel laughed because he got a kick out of it.
You worked in many movies in the last 20 years, is there anything that would prevent you from working aside from the Grim Reaper?
Trejo: I could play an old abuelito too. I can still do that. I can do it all. I love working. I forget what I was doing, but I was somewhere in Romania riding a horse. Somebody asked me if I ever thought about retiring and I said, “From what? Look at what I’m doing. I’m playing cowboys.” I was doing this movie called “Dead in Tombstone,” which comes out October 22 on DVD. I did this movie with Mickey Rourke and Dina Meyer from “Starship Troopers.” We were having a blast.
Vega: We play dress up for a living and we get do interviews in front of the most gorgeous views.
“Machete Kills” is now playing in Hialeah theaters. Click here for showtimes.