When undergoing the task of writing this article, I had several ideas for the title. The discarded ideas were: The mayor, Mack Daddy mayor, Dan Trejo (the name that he was given when he was born) and Trailblazing Trejo. The selected title is a double entendre: it refers to his business but also the way that a meme (of a vintage photo) used a taco to describe the aesthetic attraction of a vagina.
Back in the late nineties, there was a short-lived magazine called Thunder. It was the U.S. equivalent to Impact (an action movie periodical). Ricky Miller conducted an interview with Danny for an article in the first issue (circa 1998). The first issue of any magazine is a collector’s item, so (with a hefty heart) I will bestow upon you an insight into Hollywood’s toughest character actor.
It’s said that, for all of his devilish looks, Trejo has a heart of gold. When asked why his career includes cable shows, TV movies and straight-to-video as well as mainstream theatrical outings, Trejo admitted: “I have three kids and I’ve got to support them. All I want to do is work. Period. It just doesn’t matter. If I can keep working, my kids can keep going on and doing what they want to do.”
On the pressures of fame possibly going to his head, he humbly states: “I have to bring this whole movie thing down to a job. It’s just my job. If I ever start thinking it’s any better than that guy painting a house, I’m in trouble.”
Any other convict would be tarnished by a chequered past, especially since Trejo has played an awful lot of prisoners and jail cell visitors. However, the nineties was when his career skyrocketed thanks in part to Michael Mann’s Heat near the end of 1995. The next month was the new year and a new release in the form of From Dusk till Dawn. His workload stockpiled and it’s never stopped stockpiling.
The reason for Ricky interviewing Trejo is because he was in The Replacement Killers, although the subject is touched on in passing reference. He discusses the visual dynamic between himself and Til Schweiger, who plays his sidekick: “We’re a great match. I look like Emiliano Zapata and he looks like the perfect poster boy for the Arian neighbourhood. He has a big square jaw. He just has a great look.”
However, they are not the stars of the movie. The stars are Chow Yun-Fat and Mira Sorvino. Trejo felt that the pairing made for a potent mixture on the silver screen because they are almost the same height. On the topic of the leading gentleman, Trejo said: “We have a stereotype of Asians being real polite, real quiet and very courteous, but that’s him. He’s very disarming. When he comes on the set, he shakes everybody’s hands including the crew members. He told me that he was looking forward to working with me.”
When speaking about the leading lady, Trejo says: “Mira is real athletic. She doesn’t look it, but I was watching her take these jumps and I said – Damn, she’s half tomboy. She’s got that femininity like Ashley Judd in Heat. She’s gorgeous, but she’s got that rough edge to her. Mira has got that same kind of quality.”
It was the role of Johnny-23 in Con Air that made him a household name, though. It made him a hit with the ladies, if the photos here were not enough to give you an idea of how much of a lady’s man that he is. He recalls: “What surprises me is all the women that yell out I want to be 24! Wow!”
He points out the most memorable example: “My fiancée and I were recently at an autograph session in Atlantic City because Con Air was coming out on video. Debbie kept saying She wants to be 24. All these women kept asking her Will you tell him that I want to be 24? She just laughs.”
Trejo got the acting bug while in prison, so that he and his friends could pass the time: “You can’t take your mind off where you’re at. That’s your life. If you’re not doing anything, you’re going nuts. The more busy that you are, the more bearable which things get.”
Trejo discusses his chest tattoo: “It’s a Mexican woman with a big sombrero. It’s what they call a charla, who is the woman that used to ride with Pancho Villa. I was tattooed by a guy named Harry ‘Super Jew’ Ross. We were in the pen together. He started it in San Quentin circa ’65.”
Trejo remembers the exact date that he left prison: August 23, 1969. He is called the mayor because he still returns to prison as a drug counselor as well as serving as a mediator for criminals outside of prison: “I still work for Western Pacific Rehab. We detox drug addicts. I do it every chance that I get.”
He modestly explains his psyche, further proving that you can have your cake (or taco) and eat it: “Anywhere I am, I want to help. It’s not because I’m such a good guy. It’s kind of like what I owe. I think that when you stop feeling like you owe, that’s when you start becoming a shoddy person.”
Trejo cites Heat as the turning point of his acting career: “That’s probably the heaviest movie that I’ve worked on, just by working with cool cats in the form of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. The part that I play was actually named after my late uncle, Gilbert, who Mike Mann worked with on one of Mann’s first films. It was called The Jericho Mile.”
Danny was cast in Anaconda because the director, Luis Llosa, thought that he didn’t look like a typical horror movie victim. Danny elaborates: “My job in that movie was to set up the audience. Luis was trying to say I don’t look like a man who would be scared and that’s why he wanted me in the role.”
Danny confesses: “I can get as scared as the next guy. That’s one of the hardest things which I’ve ever done acting. I watched Anaconda the other night, and my son said Boy, you look really scared.“
Danny talks about what he liked about acting in a French film called Le Jaguar (1996): “Jean Reno is the nicest guy in the world. I couldn’t say enough about him.”
At this juncture, I would like to point out that the prequel to From Dusk till Dawn (#3) was made before the sequel (Texas Blood Money) despite being released afterwards. The prequel was made in 1997 whereas the sequel was made in 1998. It was pretty much back-to-back lensing (finishing in December before beginning in January).
The prequel (The Hangman’s Daughter) was meant to be released in the summer of 1998 versus that of 1999. Danny summarizes the plot: “It’s set in the cowboy days. The hangman is chasing his daughter. They come into my bar, again. The hangman actually had a daughter with the main vampire played by Sonia Braga.”
He delivers a pitch for a movie whose release was switched round like Chow’s Rich and Famous (1987) being released after Tragic Hero (1987): “It’s going to be one bloody movie. It’s hard to envision blood and guts being funny, but it’s the same as in the last movie.”
6 days after filming ended, he began work on Six Days, Seven Nights (co-starring Anne Heche). Danny’s blithe humour is present: “My character was kind of tertiary more than secondary, but Ivan Reitman kept me in there. I was just the background tough guy. I’m a pirate. Harrison Ford and I share the screen on a couple of occasions. He throws me off a cliff. I’ll spoil the ending – he wins.”
Robert Rodriguez is the Scorsese to Danny’s De Niro as revealed by their time together on Desperado (1995): “I desperately wanted to utter lines of dialogue but Rob Rod told me no, time and time again. I was screaming at him – You’re giving everybody else lines! He kept saying Danny, this character would be so strong if you really trust me on this. I got this friend of mine a part in the movie. He’s the Indian guy when I walk into the bar. Even he got a line! I told Robert – You even gave him a line! I’m yelling furthermore, and he wouldn’t relent. When I saw my character in the finished movie, he was so strong that a line would have blown it. The slightest sound from his mouth would have ruined it. It made you wonder if he was mute, deaf or reserved.”
Machete (2010) was still on the drawing board as far back as 1998. It should have been made when Danny was in his fifties, he was more menacing as a heavy. Also, film stock is better than digital cameras. This is what Dan had to say about the project back in ’98: “He’s the guy who comes in when bullets no longer work, and all he does is use machetes. It’s like when the federales can no longer handle something, they call in this guy. In a sense, he’s a good guy, but also really bad. Rodriguez loves me playing and slaying with knives.”
Enter Soundman (1998): “My son, who is named after my late uncle, plays a little hood rat. You know how dads are proud of their kids scoring that winning touchdown and all that. You should have seen my kid – he was awesome! In fact, I even tried to give him some direction. He looked at me and said Dad, actors act and directors direct.“
Dan’s introspection: “What surprises me the most is not so much where I’m going, but where I’m coming from.”
I actually feel that Danny was underused in The Replacement Killers. He has so little dialogue in a way which is meant to be reminiscent of the T-1000 in The Terminator. This actually hurt the film because he’s more interesting when he has something to say. With more dialogue, he would’ve been like Arnold Vosloo’s evil hunter in Hard Target. Maybe they could have the best of both worlds by having Danny being initially the silent deadly type before moving into wordier territories. He clearly doesn’t want to be known as the taciturn toughie.