It might be one of the first films conceived as a trailer and later expanded into a feature.
“Machete,” Robert Rodriguez’s story of an ex-Federale betrayed by his bosses and out for revenge, began as a tongue-in-cheek teaser for “Grindhouse,” the director’s 2007 homage to 1970s exploitation fare. But, it soon evolved into something more.
“Once we made the trailer, I thought that was as far as it was going to go,” says Rodriguez, 42, who cast cousin and longtime friend Danny Trejo as the titular tough guy at the center of his cheerfully gruesome thriller. “But it got such a huge reaction — people kept asking for it. The cast came together, the story kept getting better, and the whole thing took on a life of its own.”
That, and Trejo kept on him.
“I wanted him to write the script,” says the 66-year-old actor, who has played supporting roles in six prior Rodriguez productions — including “Spy Kids” (2001), in which his “Machete” character first appeared, and two sequels. “I’d call him all the time. I was ready.”
Trejo, a veteran of more than 50 movies who spent his formative years in and out of jail — becoming a prison boxing champion during 18 months in San Quentin — had never enjoyed top billing.
For Rodriguez, “Machete” — the distant offspring of an idea the two hatched as far back as 1995’s “Desperado” — was the perfect vehicle to change that.
“Everybody’s had Danny in their movie before,” Rodriguez says. “Steven Seagal has killed him a few times. Robert De Niro put a bullet in his head in ‘Heat.’ Now, it’s time for Danny to return the favor.”
Seagal and De Niro, along with Michelle Rodriguez (no relation) and Jessica Alba, are just a few of the marquee talents who form what the director calls a “dream cast,” made possible, he says, by “De Niro, back in ‘Goodfellas’ mode.” That they joined him for “Machete,” one of his most personal projects to date, is icing on the cake.
“When I first started in the business, something like this didn’t seem possible,” the Mexican-American director says. “But look at the response the ‘Machete’ trailer got from everyone, not just Latins.
“Nobody wants to go see just a Latin movie, not even Latins. They don’t want to feel like a side group, they want to be part of world culture. But with ‘Machete,’ you can go out and see Latin superheroes on the screen.
“And if you’re not Latin, you get great entertainment with a different flavor than you’re used to.”