For dudes of a certain age, Danny Trejo will always be Machete, the title character of the 2010 gonzo-action film of the same name. But, if it weren’t for kids movies, Trejo’s Machete would have never come into existence. In 2001, Trejo played Uncle Machete, a side character in the Spy Kids franchise, created by Desperado director Robert Rodriguez. So, without kids in the picture, Machete does not become the badass we all know and still love, and according to Danny Trejo, you don’t become a man without being a father.
“All my kids are grown now. But I would go back to those days in a second,” Trejo tells me. “I have a tattoo on my back of my daughter and my sons when they were babies. And they’re all running on the beach. I remember that day. I picked them up and I was supposed to take them to school and it was one of these beautiful California days. It just screamed this is the beach. So, we ended up going to the beach, and not to school. And my daughter kept saying ‘Dad are we on the lamb?’ So, I had this picture of them on the beach, and I got that tattooed on my back. I wanted to keep that forever. I never wanted to forget it.”
Talking to Trejo is like talking to, well, like an uncle you feel like you’ve known for years. In the same way that Uncle Machete was around for those Spy Kids, many real-life young fathers have looked-up to Trejo for awhile, too. Trejo’s first big film, Desperado, came out in 1995, a time when many fathers of young children were still young children themselves. And if you have a warm feeling about Trejo, it makes sense. After spending time in prison as a young man in the ‘70s, Trejo became a youth counselor for teens battling drug addiction. This was his path to film roles, which comes through in nearly all of his movies. With Danny Trejo, there’s obviously an edge — he’s a guy you don’t mess with — but there’s also warmth and comedy. Like Spy Kids, his latest project, the just-released Grand-daddy Daycare, embraces the comedy.
This movie isn’t an action piece an episode of a crime drama, it’s a heartwarming comedy. Out this week, Grand-daddy Daycare is all about a low-key assisted living facility for grandfathers. In it, Trejo plays one of the granddaddies: a funny tough guy named Eduardo. But don’t call him Ed! So how did Trejo go from hardass to funny man?
“When Robert Rodriguez put me in Desperado he said to me: ‘You say more with your face than most actors do with a whole line of dialogue. All the expressions actors train to get, you get them with a quick look.’ And after that, I just embraced more comedy,” Trejo explains. “When I saw the script for Grand-daddy Daycare, I got into. It was just hilarious. Sometimes you find someone you play off of really well and me and [co-star] Reno Wilson just hit it, bang bang bang. A lot of the stuff we did we made up on the spot, and the director said ‘Just leave it. That was great.'”
Because Trejo is so famous for his association with Rodriguez and Machete, not asking him about the character feels insane, particularly considering that the entire plot of the 2010 film revolved around Machete taking revenge on people deporting Mexicans from the United States. Now, in 2019, in the era of Trump, the over-the-top action of the movie doesn’t feel as distant as it did nine years ago. Clearly, in real life, Trejo is not the murderous Machete of the film, but when I ask him how he feels about the era of Trump he laughs for a long, long time. Probably a 45 seconds laugh. A menacing laugh. A Danny Trejo laugh. And then just says, flatly:
“Yeah, we need a Machete right now.”
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After that Trejo, gleefully pivots back to talking about fatherhood, hesitant to linger on politics any longer. When I press him for more connections between Machete and the state of the world, he hilariously replies: “Well, Robert [Rodriguez] and I are going to do Machete in Space. So get ready for that.”
If you want the secrets of the universe or a quick clear way to deal with the ills of the world, Danny Trejo isn’t your sage. He isn’t going to tell you. He’s more likely to laugh again, shorter this time, and change the subject a tell you another story about his kids. Like the time his daughter wanted curly hair and he invented a way to make it happen.
“She had straight hair, you see, and all her friends had curly hair and she wanted curly hair. So I gave her a bath and when she had wet hair I put like 40 braids in her hair. And by the morning it was curly as hell. And she’d say ‘My daddy’s magic!’”
When my time is almost up, I ask Trejo to give me some serious dad advice, and he gets deadly serious. He tells me there “only two things” dads need to remember.
“First, never let your kids see you fight with their mom. Never,” he says. “And second, just love them. When you leave the house, your kids need to know daddy is coming back. And that daddy loves them.”
Grand-daddy Daycare is out now on Video-On-Demand streaming and direct download.