Men fear him. Ladies love him. That’s right, Danny Trejo’s unstoppable hero is back in “Machete Kills,” director Robert Rodriguez’s sequel to his 2010 hit movie “Machete.” And this time, things have been taken to the next level. Expect more stars (including the likes of Lady Gaga, Charlie Sheen and Mel Gibson), a higher body count, and a lot more scantily clad women -- one of those women being former “Spy Kid” star Alexa Vega.
“Machete Kills” is something of a reunion for Trejo, Vega, and the “Grindhouse” director. The character of Machete made his first appearance in Rodriguez’s family-friendly “Spy Kids,” where he played Uncle Machete to Vega’s kid agent Carmen Cortez. Only now the roles have changed a bit: Here, Vega – who confidently runs around in a metal bra while toting a gun -- plays KillJoy, one of the members of Sofia Vergara’s badass gang of prostitute assassins.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Trejo and Vega while they were at the Soho Beach House promoting the film, where we discussed some of their favorite on-set memories, growing up as a child actor, and fighting the legendary Mel Gibson.
Alexa, in this movie you play a more adult role compared to your role in the “Spy Kids” franchise. What was it like making that transition?
Alexa Vegaa: I always think it’s hard for any young actor to make that transition to more grown-up roles. Because you don’t want to alienate your audience who has been supportive of you for so many years, so 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 this. But I’m 25 now so I finally went up to Robert and I was like, “You know what? Let’s go for it! Let’s try something new. So if you have any roles in ‘Sin City’ or any type of movie like that, let me know because I’m ready to stretch my limits a little bit more.” And he just started laughing at me and was like, “No way! I would never put you in one of those movies.” I’m like, “Why not?” He said, “Because you are way too young.” I literally said, “Robert, I’m 25! I’m so ready to do this” [laughs]. But believe me, I’m going to try and milk playing those young characters for as long as I can because once that ship sails, you can’t go back. But you do want to be able to challenge yourself and take on different things to keep it entertaining and exciting for you. You don’t want to play the same roles over and over again. So that’s why KillJoy was super fun. And we’re not taking ourselves too seriously. Even though it’s wild and crazy and fun, it’s still tasteful and exciting.
Danny, was it strange for you to go from playing her Uncle Machete to seeing her playing a character like KillJoy?
Danny Trejo: First time seeing her as KillJoy was like seeing my daughter for the first time in a bikini. I wanted to be like “Cover yourself up, you’re not going out like that!” But she was so comfortable with it that she made us comfortable with it. She owned it. And the reality is that she’s 25 years old, but in our mind, she was still like 11. It was a joy to watch her grow up.
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 [the kids in my family] used to always collect bugs. And Danny was the only one who would react to them collecting bugs. They would be like, “Look at this bug we found!” and everybody else would be like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” but Danny would be like, “Oh wow! That is so cool!” They would always come back to him and say, “Look at this other bug I found” [laughs].
Trejo: I couldn’t wait to find a bug and be like, “Look, I found a better one!” [laughs] I think one of the things that really touched my heart was that she was the star of “Spy Kids,” but then she would go from being a star to holding her little baby brother when 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. But not with her mom [laughs].
Vega: Oh my gosh. I’m from the South; they crack the whip down there.
Trejo: Her mom even told me what to do a couple of times [laughs]. But 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 just that our job is out front, that’s all.
A lot of the characters you play are like the tough/badass guy. How do you go about approaching these roles?
Trejo: When a casting agent sees me, he kind of knows what he’s getting. I don’t get cast to play the day care teacher [laughs]. I usually am 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 -- I was a drug counselor. I happened to run into a guy named Eddie Bunker, who I was in prison with. He said, “Hey, are you still boxing?” I go, “No, but I train” and then he said, “We need someone to train one of the actors how to box…So I started training Eric Roberts how to box for the movie “Runaway Train.” It was the first time I had ever been on a movie set. The director saw that Eric respected me and would do whatever I told him to do. So the director hired me to work with Eric, so 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, so I kept adding up 320+320+320…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. I folded it, split to the bank and cashed it before they found out that they messed up [laughs]…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 “You’re always playing 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 know!
Speaking of fighting, what was it like fighting Mel Gibson?
Trejo: [laughs] I threw my sword down at first. I was about to film a sword fight with him and when Robert yelled “Action,” I throw my sword down. Robert was like, “What’s wrong?” I said, “I’m not gonna fight William Wallace! Are you crazy? He saved Scotland!” [laughs] And Mel laughed, he really got a kick out of that.
“Machete Kills” is now playing. For showtimes in Miami Beach, click here