Some lower-budget films accurately portray the struggles people must over-come in order to succeed in life, as they not only reflect the limitations the characters face, but also the restrictions the filmmakers face. This is certainly true in the drama ‘Ranchero,’ which is now available on DVD. Not only does the lead character, Jesse Torres, must contend with the obstacles he encounters in the crime-ridden streets of his new life, but the production successfully adapted to its smaller budget.
‘Ranchero,’ which was directed by Richard Kaponas, follows Jesse, played by Roger Gutierrez, after the death of his parents. He leaves his childhood cattle ranch for the big city, where he reconnects with his friend Tom McCoy, portrayed by Brian Eric Johnson. Jesse soon finds himself in a neighborhood of drugs and gangs-Tom has become addicted to drugs and is in debt to the local gangs.
Jesse finds solace with a local girl, Lil Bit, played by Christina Woods, but as their romance grows, he’s confronted by mobster Capone, portrayed by Danny Trejo, who owns her. Jesse now must make hard choices as he deals with a drug addicted best friend, an angry mobster and gaining his girlfriend’s freedom.
Trejo generously took the time recently to discuss why he decided to appear in ‘Ranchero’ during an exclusive phone interview. He also spoke about the restrictions the film’s limited budget had on shooting, as compared to his bigger budget movies, including ‘Machete’ and its upcoming sequel ‘Machete Kills.’ The actor also revealed why he decided to reprise his role of Goldberg in the upcoming third installment in the ‘Death Race’ series, ‘Inferno.’
ShockYa (SY): You play the neighborhood mobster, Capone, who owns Jesse’s girlfriend, Lil’ Bit, in ‘Ranchero.’ What was it about the character and the script that convinced you to take on the role?
Danny Trejo (DT): Well, I didn’t even know the character. I did this as a favor to a friend of mine, the director-producer’s brother. He asked me if I would do a favor for his younger brother, and I said, of course. So that’s how I got involved in the project.
Then I saw the character, and I said, okay, I can do this. I can do this as an act of love for a friend of mine.
SY: Speaking of Richard Kaponas, the director, ‘Ranchero’ is his feature film directorial debut. What was your working relationship with Richard like, particularly since this was his first time directing a film?
DT: I’ve worked with a lot of first-time directors, in a lot of student films. As long as you nurse them along, they seem to get it right. He knows what he’s doing. He was a little unsure of himself, but he put it together.
SY: What were your working relationships with your co-stars like, particularly Roger Gutierrez, who played Jesse, and Christina Woods, who played Lil’ Bit?
DT: I make it my job to get along with people. (laughs) It makes the world a lot simpler.
SY: ‘Ranchero’ had a limited budget of $900,000. Did that place any kind of limitations on what you could shoot for the film?
DT: Well, the limitations were on the production, but they could ask me to do whatever they wanted to in the time they had available.
SY: ‘Ranchero’ has won awards at several festivals, including Best of Festival – Indie Fest USA and the Audience Award for Best Feature at the SENE Film, Arts, and Music Festival. What was the feeling like, knowing that audiences embraced the film?
DT: Oh, I think it’s awesome. It’s awesome for a first-time director, and that I did this for a friend, and it’s doing really, really well.
SY: You’re known for playing criminals or prisoners in many of your films. Why do you enjoy playing this type of character, and do you draw on any of your own personal experiences when you’re preparing for these roles?
DT: Well, what I always say is that the bad guy can do anything he wants. The good guy has to drink milk and he can’t say bad words.
SY: Do you draw on any of your own personal experiences when you’re preparing for those types of roles?
DT: I do a lot. I use a lot of what’s happened to me, and what I’ve done. That’s the type of stuff that brings it out.
SY: You’ll be reprising your title role of Machete Cortez in the upcoming action sequel ‘Machete Kills.’ Are there any details about the film that you can discuss?
DT: Well, ‘Machete Kills’ is going to be twice as big as ‘Machete.’ The cast is unbelievable and is way, way over the top. I think people are really going to enjoy this film. It’s non-stop action. I kill half an army in the first five minutes of the movie.
SY: How was working on ‘Ranchero’ similar or different than working on the ‘Machete’ films?
DT: Well, ‘Ranchero’ had a much smaller budget. You have a first-time director, so it went a lot slower. There were people a lot more worried about doing something wrong. It was heart-warming to see people who really love what they’re doing.
That’s the same way ‘Machete’ is, really. People who work on movies really love what they’re doing.
SY: Do you enjoy working on the lower-budget action films over the bigger-budget films, or vice versa, or do you enjoy acting in general?
DT: Well, I think I just enjoy acting in general. I’ve done so many movies that are just student films that pay me $100. (laughs) So sometimes you don’t do it for the money. I really love working.
SY: You also worked with Robert Rodriguez, who directed ‘Machete,’ on the ‘Spy Kids’ film series. What is your working relationship with him like?
DT: Working with Robert, he’s become like one of my brothers. We’ve done about 11 pictures together. So we kind of know what each other wants.
SY: What was the audition process like for ‘Machete?’ Did Robert ask you to audition for the role?
DT: The only film that I had to audition for for Robert was the first film that we did together, ‘Desperado.’ I walked into his office, and he said, “you remind me of the bad guys in my high school.” I said, “I am the bad guys in your high school,” (laughs) and we’ve been doing it ever since.
SY: You’ve also appeared in all of the ‘From Dusk Till Dawn’ films. What was it about that series, and the horror genre, that you enjoy?
DT: I love the horror genre overall. But I think ‘From Dust Till Dawn’ was the envelope pusher in the horror genre.
SY: You’ll be reprising your role of Goldberg, a loyal member of Luke’s pit crew, in the upcoming film ‘Death Race: Inferno.’ What was it about the story and the character that convinced you to return to the series?
DT: Well, I did ‘Death Race 2,’ and I really loved the director. The director, Roel Reine, is a great director. I love the way he works. So when I was asked to do ‘Death Race 3,’ I said, absolutely. So I got to go to Cape Town, South Africa again.
Then, I just finished another film with the same director, Roel, called ‘Dead in Tombstone,’ which is a Western. We did that for about eight weeks in Romania, so that was like a blast. So a lot of times, I’ll pick a movie because I like the director.
SY: So you enjoy working with the same directors on more than one film?
DT: Oh, yeah. If there’s a certain director I like, like Rodriguez (I’ll work with them again). I like a lot of the directors right now who have read Robert Rodriguez’s book, ‘Rebel Without a Crew.’ A lot of the directors now like to utilize time, and don’t like making you wait so much. So I like that.
SY: Besides films, you’ve also appeared on several television series, including ‘Sons of Anarchy’ and ‘Bones.’ Do you have a preference of one medium over the other?
DT: No, whichever. If I don’t have a film going, I’ll do TV. If I don’t have TV, I’ll do film. I don’t care.
SY: Do you have any plans for any other television shows coming up.
DT: Well, whatever comes up. I take it day by day in this business, whatever comes up, I’m willing to do.
SY: Do you have any other films coming up that you can discuss?
DT: Well, I have ‘Recoil’ coming up, with Stone Cold Steve Austin. I have a film called ‘Bad Ass’ that I’m the lead in.
SY: Do you have any one particular genre that you enjoy over the others?
DT: I love action, and horror with action in it. I love action movies.
Written by: Karen Benardello