In the supernatural Western, Trejo stars alongside Mickey Rourke, Anthony Michael Hall and Dina Meyer (yes, of "Starship Troopers" fame), where he plays -- what else? -- a ruthless anti-hero brought back from Hell to avenge his death, and rack up some fresh souls for the Devil (Rourke) in the process.
While visiting the set of "Dead in Tombstone" in Bucharest, Romania (the same Western town used for the Oscar-nominated "Cold Mountain," believe it or not), Moviefone Canada sat down with Trejo to reflect on his lengthy career, his action hero status, and what he thinks of so-called Hollywood "bad boys."
Moviefone Canada: So you have something like 250 credits on IMDB, and 25 coming up in the next year...
Danny Trejo: [Laughs] There's a bunch of 'em, but you've got to understand, a lot of those are student films that I've done, and first-time directors, and ultra-low budget, where they pay you $100. So I just do a lot of those. They're cool. I love what I do, and one of my mottos is, "A busy man has time to do everything."
This project was specifically put together with you in mind though, right?
They had asked me what I'd do if I had my druthers, and I said I'd love to do a Western. So about a month later they called up my agency and said we've got a Western for Danny. The character's beautiful. He's a good bad guy, he wants to get out of the game, but his brother calls him back and then his brother ends up killing him. And Guerrero goes to Hell and makes a deal with the Devil, who's Mickey Rourke, and he gets to come back and send all the souls of the Blackwater Gang to the Devil. But he gets killed again, so he goes back to Hell and he refinances the deal with the Devil. [Laughs]
How was it working with Mickey Rourke?
Oh, I've known Mickey for years, me and him go way back. I produced a film a long time ago called "Animal Factory" and Mickey was in it. He played a drag queen. Did a great job too. Kinda scared me. [Laughs]
You've worked with a lot of big names over the years...
Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Val Kilmer, Jon Voight. Jon Voight actually was one of the guys that gave me my start, in "Runaway Train." I was a drug counselor, and I walked on the set to help a kid who was having a drug problem, and ran into a friend of mine that I was in prison with, a guy named Eddie Bunker. Eddie asked me, what are you doing here? I said, "I'm hanging out with this kid." And some other guy asked me if I wanted to be an extra, and I said, "An extra what?" He said, "Can you act like a convict?" And considering I'd been in every penitentiary in the state of California, I said I'll give it a shot. And so I took off my shirt, I have that big tattoo... I'll never forget that guy, he went like this. [mimes framing a shot with his hands] I thought, well, that's a stupid gang sign. Squaresville.
Then Eddie had seen me win the lightweight and the welterweight championship up in San Quentin State Prison, and he said, "We need somebody to train one of the actors how to box." I said, "How bad you want this guy beat up?" I started training Eric Roberts how to box, and Andrey Konchalovskiy, the director, saw that I could control Eric (I guess that would be the word), so he hired me to fight with Eric Roberts in the movie. Him, Jon Voight, and Eddie Bunker kind of hired me. So yeah, I've had the pleasure of working with some great, great people.
So you've gone from a henchman to a leading man now. How have you enjoyed that transition?
Well, you know, no matter what you're doing in the movies, you've gotta bring your A game. I don't care if you're an extra or supporting, you're bringing your A game. The only difference about being a leading man is you're bringing your A game every day, for the duration of the movie. That's all. But you're still just an actor.
What do you think you bring to the table as an action hero that sets you apart, though?
A lot of movie experience, and people seem to like the characters that I play. They like good bad guys. And I mean, I don't look like Brad Pitt or Leonardo DiCaprio, so some people like a heroic guy looking a little more "earthy," I guess.
You've become almost synonymous with tough guy, bad-ass characters over the years. What do you do to bring that attitude to a role?
I show up. [Laughs] That's about it, I show up and do what's asked. And it seems to come across pretty good.
Do you think you have to be tough to act tough?
No, no. Hollywood wants guys that can act tough, they don't want tough guys. I always think it's kinda cute when it's like, "Hollywood bad boy beats up bathroom on airplane" or something. To me, that's just bad behavior. I would love to hear something about a Hollywood bad boy doing about five armed robberies or something. I'd go, yeah, OK, he's a bad boy. But otherwise, they're just brats.
So how do you act like a tough guy then?
How do I? I don't. [Laughs] I've got kids that keep me in line. On-screen, that's a different story. On-screen, then we gotta act like I won't only kill you, but I'll kill the people that dry-clean your clothes.
Catch Danny Trejo on DVD and On Demand in "Dead in Tombstone."