As the man who played a knife-hurling Mexican assassin in "Desperado," a tattooed ex-con in "Con Air" and a tattooed, bigger-knife-hurling federale assassin in "Machete," actor Danny Trejo is quite comfortable being Hollywood's resident badass.
He has even played a badass Marcia Brady. For a Snickers commercial that aired during the Super Bowl, Trejo was digitally inserted into the wood-paneled suburban home of "The Brady Bunch" clan, where he channeled Marcia, complaining that Peter's football ruined his nose before a big dance. "An eye for an eye!" Trejo growled, swinging an ax into the family coffee table.
"I got interviewed once by this young lady, and she says, 'Aren't you afraid of being typecast, of always being the mean Chicano dude with tattoos?' So I thought about it, and I realized, 'I am the mean Chicano dude with tattoos. I am a badass!'" Trejo says with a laugh. "The first five years of my career, my acting credit always said, 'Inmate No. 1' or 'Angry tattooed dude.' I'm my own car, and my car is a lowrider, baby, with the fenders."
Speaking from a hotel room in Lockhart, Texas, where he is filming his latest movie (he portrays an MMA-style fighter), Trejo is easygoing and talkative, and keen about reflecting on a career built on cult- and B movies that began, he likes to point out, "by total accident." Trejo will no doubt do more reflecting at the inaugural Shock Pop Comiccon, the cult-, horror- and comic book-themed convention happening Friday, Feb. 13, through Sunday, Feb. 15, at the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention Center.
Trejo will join a nostalgic bill of celebrities, comic-book legends and horror icons, including Ralph Macchio ("The Karate Kid,") Robert Englund ("A Nightmare on Elm Street"), Cassandra "Elvira" Peterson and cult-film director John Waters, who will present his standup monologue "This Filthy World: Filthier and Dirtier.
Trejo admits that he doesn't watch the kinds of cult movies that Shock Pop will celebrate this weekend, even if his credits include a vampire in "From Dusk Till Dawn" and a mercenary in the sci-fi thriller "Predators." Trejo, instead, studies his own life, turning every character into "more or less a version of myself."
"The first half of my life was basically a character study, and the second half of my life I'm playing all these roles," says Trejo, who served most of his teenage years and 20s behind bars.
Trejo spent the 1960s and early 1970s in and out of California prisons, including Soledad, Folsom and San Quentin. He has a daunting criminal record, which includes armed robberies, stabbing a sailor with a broken bottle and selling 4 ounces of pure sugar to a heroin dealer, who turned out to be a federal agent. He also built a reputation as a lightweight and welterweight champion boxer at these penitentiaries.
Even now, at age 70 and after 350 acting roles, Trejo is surprised that he is more prolific than ever (the Internet Movie Database website shows 25 movies in production or releasing this year). He recalls the first time he learned what a "movie extra" was ("I'm like, 'An extra what?'" Trejo says), and lingers on a memory of his first role, opposite Eric Roberts in the 1985 prison movie "Runaway Train."
"I used to be a drug counselor, working for a place called Western Pacific Rehab, and one kid calls me up at 11 p.m., goes, 'Hey, there's a lot of blow down here at my job. Come hang out with me.' So I get down there, and I'm on the set of a movie starring Jon Voight and Eric Roberts," Trejo says. "I thought it was the cutest thing I'd ever seen in my life, all these guys trying to run around like convicts. This guy came up to me, says, 'Do I look tough?' And he'd be playing somebody's wife in prison. I said, 'Sure!'
"Then, [the director] asks me to train Eric how to box," Trejo says. "I ask him what it pays, and he says, '$320.' And I said, 'How badly do you want me to beat this guy up?' He says, 'No, you have to be real careful with these actors. They're high-strung. They might sock you.' I said, 'For $320, I'll give him a stick.' "
Trejo likes telling this story because it reflects a humility that plays well during visits to jails and high schools in low-income neighborhoods, where he volunteers as a motivational speaker for at-risk youth.
"The blessing that I've got is, when I walk onto a campus, I have their attention immediately," Trejo says. "I'm under no illusion that Danny Trejo has their attention. The guy from 'Blood in, Blood Out,' the guy from 'Heat,' from 'Desperado,' the guy from 'Con Air,' the guy from 'Machete.' That guy has their attention. Teachers come up and say, 'I can't believe you got 15,000 students to be quiet.'"
Trejo should also command attention at Shock Pop Comiccon, where his schedule is crammed with appearances, including a visit Friday to a presentation of "From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series," a "Sons of Anarchy" cast reunion on Saturday and autograph signings on Saturday and Sunday. He may also crash a reunion of three "Brady Bunch" actors.
"I was in love with the mom, Florence Henderson. God, she was gorgeous, just a real presence. Everyone was like, 'Yeah, but Marcia's hot.' I was like, 'Naw, man, check out moms,' " Trejo says. "I love these events because it gets you up close and personal with your fans. Every morning, I say a prayer: 'Dear heavenly father, let me sign every autograph for every fan.' "
Danny Trejo will appear 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 14, and 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 15, at Shock Pop Comiccon at the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention Center, 1950 Eisenhower Blvd. Convention hours are 2-10 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $30 Friday and Saturday, $25 Sunday and $60 for a festival pass. Go to ShockPopComiccon.com.