Danny Trejo on ‘Death Race 2’

We talk to Danny Trejo from the set of 'Death Race 2'.

Brett Johnsonby Brett Johnson

Danny Trejo on 'Death Race 2'

Danny Trejo is undoubtedly one of the hardest working men in Hollywood. In 2010, the convict-turned-brilliant character actor is credited with more than 30 movie and TV roles, which ensures that his chiseled, tanned face continues to be instantly recognizable. Coming off an epic starring role in Machete, Trejo plays a cold-blooded inmate in Death Race 2. As the mechanic who fine-tunes the whip that helps Carl “Luke” Lucas (Luke Goss) compete in the race of his life, Trejo is every bit the ruthless bad-ass any antihero would want on his team.


CraveOnline chatted with Trejo on-set as a prison scene was being shot at an abandoned factory in the Gugulethu township outside Cape Town, South Africa. As he talked about everything from yarmulkes and the local beauties to the Three Strikes Law and teargas, Trejo showed that he can be just as intense as the steely-eyed characters he often plays or as playful as he wants to be. 


CraveOnline: Since Death Race 2 tells the story of how the demolition derbies started on Terminal Island, should we expect less action and more emotion?

Danny Trejo: There’s more story, but I don’t think there’s less action. Instead of just violence for violence’s sake, there are reasons why say, I’m cutting somebody’s throat.


CraveOnline: Tell us about your character.

Danny Trejo: I play a Mexican Jew. Goldberg. I don’t have to wear a yarmulke or nothing. I’m just a killer, and I’m the chief mechanic here. It’s funny because both of my kids are Jews, their mom is Jewish. (Laughs)


CraveOnline: Do you have any personal experience fixing cars?

Danny Trejo: I love working on old cars. I’ve got a 1936 Dodge, a ’52 Chevy pickup, a ’76 Cadillac Seville, a ’70 Fleetwood, a Mercedes, a Denali, and a Land Rover. The Dodge touring sedan is really, really rare. There are only five of them registered in the US.


CraveOnline:  I took a tour of the cars used in the movie. There’s a lot of horsepower in some of those vehicles. They’ve really beefed them up.

Danny Trejo: Oh yeah. I’d love to cruise that Dodge Ram truck down Sunset Boulevard. (Laughs)


CraveOnline: I also read in the press materials something like “a prison movie wouldn’t be a prison movement without Danny Trejo.” Is that accurate?

Danny Trejo: Well, for the first five years of my career I was always like Inmate #1. And then a lot of times I’ve played technical advisors. The director would ask, “Would they do that?” On this movie, too. Roel Reiné is cool because he knows what he wants. I love working with people who aren’t shooting in the dark. I’ve worked with a lot of people. We get paid great. Some are in for the dough, some are in for the acclaim, some love [filmmaking]. Roel is one of the people who just loves it. He’d be a grip if he wasn’t a director. (Laughs)


CraveOnline: There are big fight scenes in the movie. How realistic did they seem to you?

Danny Trejo: I’ve seen that for real, and been a part of that for real. Sitting up in there in the bleachers, even though people were acting, it looked…some of this stuff is pretty close to the truth. I flashed back. When they brought the helicopters over I almost started crying. Usually they’ll drop teargas. It was amazing…and then even Roel asked me did that look real? I said yeah, yeah. It was real. Some of the extras they did so well. It was like 142 degrees. It was smoking. I give them all credit. Nobody sloughed off. On movie sets, when we have to do that, people start hiding.


CraveOnline: Do you feel like some movies may glamorize prison? Does that annoy you?

Danny Trejo: Nah, it’s done for entertainment. If you look at what’s going on [in Death Race 2], if you step out of line, you get killed. If you snitch, you get killed. Got to remember what they’re showing here is that we’re doomed forever, we’re not getting out, they’re giving us a chance to get out if we kill.


CraveOnline: The movie actually seems to comment on the potential of a corrupt American prison system. Did that resonate with you?

Danny Trejo: Yeah, I speak in juvenile halls all the time. When you look at California, they pay their prison guards more than they pay their teachers. How stupid can you be? You have to go to the business of the prisons, when the population of California’s prisons is up, the economy is great. You’ve got me started. Literally people don’t realize it, that the Three Strikes Law was not to keep criminals off the street. The Three Strikes Law was to have a certain population number in prison. That’s all. So you’ve got guys 23, 24, 25 years old, doing life, so they don’t have to worry about the population [dwindling]…Let me shut up. Like I said, I love prison movies. I love the crashing of the cars and the beautiful pretty girls. I like the fun in it, even though it does have some social commentary.


CraveOnline: Given the array of characters you’ve played, you’ve become one of the most recognizable faces in Hollywood. How do you choose the films you’re in?

Danny Trejo: I look at the price first. It’s called being a businessman. I look at the money, then where’s it at and what’s it about. I hate dramas. I did a drama called Sherry Baby, even though it got a lot of acclaim. Maggie [Gyllenhaal] did really well. I did really well. They just don’t move fast enough—too much talking, too much dialogue. Let’s shoot somebody, let’s blow up something. (Laughs)


CraveOnline: Are there other things that make the movie-making experience more enjoyable?

Danny Trejo: Babes, bullets and blood. (Laughs) I had a choice of about three different films. One was in New York and its freezing. The other one was in like Louisiana, which is humid as hell. So then I was like send me to Cape Town. My kids are grown and I have people to take care of my dog. Cape Town is amazing. I think they turn all the ugly girls away at the border. (Laughs)


CraveOnline: Have you worked in or visited South Africa before?

Danny Trejo: This is my third time. I did Dusk Til Dawn 2 and 3 here. I’ve been all over. I’ve seen every club there is. My life is cool. (Laughs)


CraveOnline: What did you shoot today?

Danny Trejo: I’ll be shooting in about an hour. Right now they’ll shoot the fight scene, then they’ll shoot the crowd scene and they’ve done it to where they’ve shot the fight here and the crowd up here. Roel has set rules to how he wants to cut this so it’s a lot simpler. The cast is awesome too. I’ve made really good friends with Fred Koehler (who plays Lists) who was in the last Death Race. And then Joe Vaz (who plays Rocco)—he’s from South Africa and he’s a great little actor. He was in the Lost Boys. And our leader is Luke Goss. The reason why I like our little group is because we’re eclectic; we’re like killer drop outs.


CraveOnline: Despite this movie not getting a theatrical release, it seems to have all the bells and whistles of a big budget film.

Danny Trejo: I believe that when you go straight to DVD, then more people see it. I’ve got more people who’ve seen me in movies that went to DVD. Especially right now, you have a family of three and you take them to the theater, that’s almost 100 bucks. Right now a lot of people can’t do that. $12 each ticket, plus popcorn and sodas, unless you’re slick and [smuggle in] a Coke can and some popcorn. So you know it’s like let’s rent this movie, and you get to watch it on your TV and make your own popcorn. 


DEATH RACE 2 arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on 1/18