A roundtable chat with actor Danny Trejo, aka “Machete”

Danny Trejo is More than a few tough guy actors have been, to one degree or another, actual tough guys — soldiers, cops, even petty, and not so petty, criminals. Still, Danny Trejo earned those intimidating facial lines with perhaps the toughest real-life background of anyone to ever transition from a life of crime to a successful life in the fantasy factory of Hollywood.

Of course, it’s that authenticity that’s attracted casting directors since the start of Trejo’s career in the mid-80s. His early small roles eventually led to Trejo’s association with Robert Rodriquez, who coincidentally turned out to be his second cousin as well as the filmmaker who would finally give him his first starring role. Starting with “From Dusk ‘Till Dawn” through the “Spy Kids” trilogy, it was a long path that first led to the funniest fake trailer in “Grindhouse” and then the ultra-violent yet entirely tongue-in-cheek Mexploitation action-fest, “Machete,” now available on Blu-ray and DVD. In his mid-60s, Danny Trejo is now a movie star.

A Los Angeles native with an astonishing 201 roles to his credit, the actor grew up within a half-hour’s drive of the film studios in Burbank, but his tough neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley might as well have been in Tierra del Fuego. He was a heroin addict by age 12 and, way-too-shortly thereafter, an armed robber on a supersonic path to jail or the grave. Fortunately, as depicted in the biographical documentary “Champion” (available via streaming video on Netflix), jail got Trejo first. He eventually found his way to a 12 step program that allowed him to turn his life around to the poing where he could stop being a hard case and, with the benefit of a fortuitous encounter with the late ex-con author and “Reservoir Dogs” actor, Eddie Bunker, start playing them instead.

A voluble gentlemen, Trejo enjoys talking to the press and is not a difficult interview by any means. The roundtable nevertheless started with a slightly awkward moment of silence when a writer who had been patched in via telephone for some reason didn’t come up with the first question and was never heard from again.

Eventually I chimed in with a query, perhaps a bit serious for an opener. I mentioned “Champion” and how, in the film, Trejo discusses how criminals, both inside and outside of prison, are forced to present their natural fear as anger in order to survive in a brutal environment. I wondered if Trejo considered that world of false but convincing bravado to be his first acting class.

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Movie news for a no longer new week

A fair amount of stuff happening…

* Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts may star, and Stephen Daldry might direct, an adaptation of a 9/11 themed novel by Jonathan Safran Foer called Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Lou Loumenick is, I’m sure, not the only one to hope the project never happens. The backlash against author Foer seems to be going full-steam. Since I”ve never read anything by him and missed the movie version of his “Everything is Illuminated,” I’m completely in the dark on this one.

* I mentioned in a tongue-in-cheek way on Sunday that, despite a fairly disappointing $10 million showing for “Piranha 3D” over the weekend, given the modest $24 million, I thought a sequel a possibility. I certainly didn’t expect this quick a turn-around, but there you go. Seems the foreign returns, combined with an okay take domestically on the famished fish tale were sufficient to justify another go-round at this price level.

* One person who I know for a fact to be delighted by the “Piranha” news is film blogger and devoted horror dad Dennis Cozzalio who reviewed — and kind of loved — the movie for the Bullz-Eye team this week, doing us all a solid as everyone in the staff was indisposed in one way or another. (My infamous gorephobia wasn’t helping any, either.) Coincidentally, Dennis’s excellent and already world-famous cinephile blog — Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule — got a little more world famous today through the attention from the lofty likes of Richard Brody of The New Yorker today. The topic, strangely enough, was the work of the late action director Sergio Leone. The infield fly rule will have to take care of itself for now.

* Oh, and if you reaction to the idea of a sequel to the aforementioned silly horror flick was “when pigs fly!” the great Japanese animator Hiyao Miyazaki has a planned sequel for you.

* It’s too sad to mention in this silly context, but it also seems wrong to ignore it and I don’t know how else to handle this. Sincere condolences to comic actor Martin Short and his family. Extremely tragic news regarding his wife.

* Apparently, unlike most /Film commenters, I actually do care that there’s may be a “Fantastic Four” reboot as they’ve always been my favorite Marvel characters, but I couldn’t even make it past the oh-so-thin first half-hour of the first movie. Why not reclaim a lost opportunity? Casting rumors, however, I never care about. Actual casting news gets really old sometimes.

* If movies are making you sick, it might not be just the content. Nah, it’s probably the content.

* The Playlist is correct. Pedro Almodovar’s new film is definitely high up on my list of highly anticipated movies for next year. It’s nice to see the Spanish director reteam with Antonio Banderas, who appeared in four of the director’s early successes starting with “Matador” in 1986 and wrapping with the controversial “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” in 1991.

However, they’ll forgive us for anticipating even more the next film from Winnipeg’s own resident eccentric cine-genius Guy Madden, which will feature Isabella Rosellini, Jason Patric, and Sir Simon Milligan himself, Kevin McDonald of The Kids in the Hall comedy troupe. No insult to Mr. Patric, but his costars appear to be two of the coolest humans extant as far as we’re concerned here at PH. Ms. Rosellini gave a great interview to Will Harris some time back, and Mr. MacDonald has a terrific career-spanning chat over at the Onion which brings up the fact that, in drag, MacDonald has a small visual similarity to the luminous Ms. R.

* The end of one of modern journalism’s greatest hates? Sharon Waxman extends an olive branch to Nikki Finke. This could be interesting.

* Capone at AICN has a great interview with thinking geeks’ favorite Guillermo del Toro. A couple of items that were new to me, anyway: it’s far from a sure thing he’ll be directing “The Haunted Mansion” though he’s definitely producing and cowriting. Also, del Toro is now openly hoping that Peter Jackson will wind up as helming “The Hobbit” after all.

  

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Post Comic-Con movie news

I’m still recuperating a bit from last weekend’s insanity at Comic-Con and a busy week looms ahead, but the recent film news is just a little too interesting to ignore/gloss over.

* Mike Fleming broke the news this afternoon that Daniel Craig has signed on the line which is dotted to play the male lead in the upcoming American film version of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” In case you never set foot in your local Barnes and Noble outlet, that’s the first novel in so-called Millennium Trilogy of mystery thrillers by the late Swedish author/political activist Steig Larsson. The series is becoming a sort of adult/non-geek HarryPotter for the Trader Joe’s set and the first U.S. film of it has attracted the powerhouse twosome of writer Steve Zallian and director David Fincher.

Judging from having seen the solid, but not excessively over-awesome, Swedish film version of the novel (which I’m really going to have to try and read at some point), Craig is probably a much better choice than the earlier floated Brad Pitt for the part. 007 or not, it’s just easier to see Craig as a down on his luck journo. Also, as Fleming points out, this puts Craig in the unique position of having at least two and, if you count a potentially huge “Cowboys and Aliens,” possibly three franchises to keep busy and well-compensated. Craig is not only an extremely good actor, he’s apparently got some very good agents.

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A somewhat creepy, very late night end of week movie news dump

It’s late, so I’ll keep it brief tonight/this morning.

* Given the wave of movie science fiction we’ve had since the release of “Star Wars” back in 1977, it’s always been a disappointment to me how few of the most respected SF novels (“sci-fi” isn’t a term literary science fiction geeks approved of back in my day) have been made into movies. So, even though the book kind of baffled me when I read it not too long after it’s original release in 1984, it’s nice to see that a film version of William Gibson’s Neuromancer, the novel which is the original source of the word “cyberspace” — whatever that means. Vincenzo Natali (“Cube”) appears to be the helmer.

* It’s looking like “Iron Man 2” will not be a huge record breaker after all and may make (horrors!) significantly less than the $140 million “floor” we were originally given.

* The RZA (pronounced “The Ri-zuh”) is joining the select club of successful pop musicians turned movie directors that includes Prince, David Byrne, Rob Zombie, Paul McCartney (on the ill-fated telefilm, “Magical Mystery Tour”) and I’m sure some others I’m forgetting. Not surprisingly for the Kung-fu loving Wu-Tang Clan founder who worked on part of the “Kill Bill, Volume 1” score, it’s a stylized martial arts epic co-written with fellow Tarantino associate Eli Roth.

* Speaking of Paul McCartney, the one time Beatle, an outspoken vegetarian in real life, may be going in a very different entirely unauthorized and fictional direction as a brain-eating mop-topped zombie in a possible film version of yet another comic zombies-in-history novel, “Paul is Undead” which envisions a zombified fab four.  Sure, why not.

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