Danny Trejo Swings a Mean Machete

The closest that actor Danny Trejo ever came to doing a love scene before he made Machete? That would be in Jerry Bruckheimer's Con Air.

"Yeah, I played a rapist and I attacked Rachel Ticotin," Trejo says, pausing and adding with a laugh, "I didn't get the girl."

By contrast, in Robert Rodriguez's Machete, which opens Sept. 3, the menacing-looking Trejo has romantic scenes with not just one actress but several -- because they come on to him. In a telephone interview, you can hear the amazement in Trejo's distinctively deep and raspy voice.

"It's my first lead in a film and I get the girl," he marvels. "And not just any girl. I get THE girl -- Jessica Alba. We had a kiss and I kept messing up -- but I swear I didn't do it on purpose."

And not just Alba -- Trejo gets frisky with Michelle Rodriguez and Lindsay Lohan: "I love strong women," says Trejo (pronounced TRAY-hoe).

A character actor whose rugged face, imposing scowl, long hair, droopy mustache and massive chest tattoo have made him a favorite of directors and audiences alike, Trejo sounds slightly stunned at where he finds himself, at the age of 66. A one-time drug addict and seeming career criminal who did 10 years in California's San Quentin penitentiary, Trejo now finds himself a hero in the Latino community, an in-demand performer whose IMDB page lists more than 200 film and TV credits since he made his debut in Runaway Train in 1985.

And now he's the star of his own film: Machete, in which actors ranging from Alba and Rodriguez to Don Johnson and Cheech Marin -- to Robert De Niro -- play supporting roles to him.

"Every time I think about that, I laugh," Trejo says. "I mean, I played a supporting role to De Niro in Heat. When he showed up on the set for this, he told me, 'I knew you'd make it.' And I said, 'Mr. De Niro, can I get you a cup of coffee?' I mean, he's one of the greatest actors America has seen."

In Machete, Trejo plays the title character, a one-time Mexican Federale who comes out on the losing end of a confrontation with a Mexican drug lord (Steven Seagal) and winds up as an itinerant and undocumented worker in Austin, Texas. There, he is recruited into a plot to help the reelection of a right-wing senator (De Niro), who's running on an anti-immigration platform. But Machete's real goal is revenge against the Mexican drug lord, who is also secretly involved in the reelection campaign.

The Machete character first appeared in what most people assumed was a mock trailer for the film, which was shown between the two halves of Grindhouse, Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's 2007 hommage to exploitation movies of the 1970s. But Trejo says the film's genesis came much earlier.