Agreeing to an itty-bitty 10-minute interview with Robert Rodríguez, Danny Trejo and Alexa Vega shows you how much we care about anything Machete. I hustled my way into 15 minutes, and when I showed up at the Austin hotel I was told 12. Whatever. I had to work fast.
There they were: an exhausted, bored Robert Rodríguez sitting on one side of the couch; a sweet, super-friendly Danny Trejo on the other; and a shining, smiling Alexa Vega in the middle.
Looking at Trejo in person confirmed how I always imagined him: as the ultimate Chicano, not Mexican, superhero. Did Rodríguez ever think of keeping it, er, real? After all, many of the Machete actors’ Spanish, including Trejo’s, can sound far from native.
“Really? All the characters are supposed to speak Spanish?” Rodríguez asked.
Well, yeah. At least the supposedly Mexican ones.
“It depends,” said Rodríguez. “Sometimes the movies are so fantastical that ... Look: I did a movie with Willem Defoe playing a Mexican cartel leader [Once Upon a Time in Mexico]… Sometimes I want to work with an actor who gives me something I need that takes precedence besides the language.”
Nevertheless, Machete originated south of the border, according to his creator.
“It was always a Mexican character,” said Rodríguez, mentioning how he envisioned the character in the ’90s. He had read a story on how the U.S. government would use a Mexican federal (a cop, and not “Federale,” as it is being used in the movie and press materials) hired for $25,000 to do dirty work so they didn’t have to expend their own guys. “I thought, ‘Wow, that’s a cool expendable-type idea. Who would that guy be? When I met Danny, I thought he should be it—a highly trained Mexican [federal], working as a day laborer. It was essential that he not be from the U.S. I never had any doubts, that was the story—he’s a fish out of water in the U.S. and the people see him as a day worker. They don’t know he can kick everyone’s asses.”
When he told Trejo about his idea, the actor was thrilled but it took some bugging on his part to make it happen.
“When we did Desperado , Robert told me, ‘I have this great character for you, you’ll be perfect for it,’ blah blah blah. I said, ‘Great!’ and for the next 15 years I called him everyday,” Trejo said. They did Spy Kids (2001, with Trejo as “Isador Cortez/Machete”), which included the fake Machete trailer and the teasers for Machete Kills and Machete Kills Again, and the buzz started to grow. “When we walked out of [the Spy Kids premiere], everybody was saying, ‘You got to do that movie, you got to do that movie!’ So Robert finally said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
Unlike the first one, heavy with political commentary, Machete Kills is all action.
“People loved the character so much that I said, ‘When I bring him back, I want to put him on a big adventure and really take it to the next level,’” said Rodríguez. That he did, following what James Cameron did with his Aliens and Rambo: First Blood Part 2 movies: take an original idea and shoot it to the stratosphere, to the point of making Machete look like Seven Samurai. “That’s what I wanted to do, take this character and make a big adventure. That’s all,” Rodríguez confirms.
Trejo has exploded thanks to Machete, but he has kept busy through the years. On the other hand, due to well-publicized scandals, Mel Gibson has fallen out of grace in the industry. It took a Rodríguez gamble to take him out of ‘retirement’ and back into the spotlight, which somehow reminds me of what Quentin Tarantino did with John Travolta in Pulp Fiction: Travolta was virtually finished, and Tarantino brought him back from the dead. “As far as I’m concerned, he never ceased being a superstar,” said Tarantino at the time. Does Rodríguez see something similar with Gibson, who effectively plays the villain Voz?
“Same thing,” Rodríguez said. “People would come up to me and say, ‘Are you working with Mel Gibson? Oh, I’ve always loved him.’ Even Alexa [Vega] was going nuts. I’ve known her since she was 11, and she called me and said, ‘Can I visit the set when Mel Gibson is there?’” Vega laughed and covers her face with her hands. “She never called to visit any set. I had everyone from Johnny Depp to [Robert] De Niro… but it took Mel Gibson for her to ask me that. Bottom line: besides what the tabloids say, an artist is an artist, and that’s why people love them.”
Vega has a small but unforgettably sexy role as Killjoy, one of the many badass women in the film, but the former spy kid had to prove herself first.
“This is my family,” Vega said about the Rodríguez team. “I’ve known him since I was 11, so I feel very comfortable on the set. Anything goes. But I had to convince them that I was able to play a more grown-up role. Nobody wants to see, like Danny says, their daughter running around in these kind of outfits. I had to prove to them that I was capable of playing [Killjoy], which is much edgier than my normal characters.”
For Trejo, Machete was a dream character that transformed his cult status into bonafide stardom.
“Machete wiped out everything I ever did and it’s the one I’ll be remembered for,” Trejo said. “Nobody remembers me for any other movie. That’s what Robert did: he pushed me to go to a new level. When I go anywhere now, even people in the movie business want to take a picture with me. And look at Don Johnson [who played a border vigilante in Machete]. He was in Miami Vice for 15 years and all everyone can remember is that he was in the first Machete movie. That’s what Robert does: he pushes people back in, or up, or whatever.”
Machete is a tough one to follow, but are there any other characters he would like to play for Rodríguez?
“Anything he comes up with,” Trejo said.
“[Trejo] can do anything,” said Rodríguez. “I can put him in anything, but Machete was designed to be his most iconic role.”
“OK, guys, the truth and nothing but the truth,” I asked as I was exiting the room. “Is Machete really going to be in outer space in Chapter 3?” [Machete Kills starts with a (fake?) trailer announcing “Machete Kills Again … in space”]
“That’s a question left to be answered,” said Rodríguez. “We don’t know yet. We’ll have to see how the audience responds to this one.”
C’mon, Danny, don’t let me go like that, I begged.
“I can only tell you one thing,” Trejo said. “When we do it, it’s going to be out of this world.”