Courtesy photoTough guy Danny Trejo

Danny Trejo becomes a leading man

More than 40 years after leaving prison, and after appearances in more than 200 movies and TV shows, Danny Trejo has his second starring role.

The tough, tattooed character actor — who was born in Los Angeles in 1944 and served hard time in the 1960s — appears in Robert Rodriguez’s “Machete Kills,” the sequel to the successful, acclaimed “Machete” from 2010.

“I was always the mean Chicano dude,” Trejo says, laughing, during a recent visit to The City. “I didn’t know what typecasting was. I just kept working. I remember the first time I was interviewed, this young girl said, ‘Danny, aren’t you afraid of being typecast?’ And I thought about it, and I said, ‘I AM the mean Chicano dude with tattoos. Somebody got it right.’”

He continues: “I was taught real quick that the way I look intimidates people, so it’s up to me to make them feel comfortable. So the first thing I’ll do if someone’s looking at me is wave. It kind of disarms them.”

Rodriguez first cast Trejo in “Desperado” in 1995. At the time, they didn’t know they were second cousins. They found out when Trejo’s family came to the set to visit.

Now they have worked together a dozen times.

“A Robert Rodriguez set is like going to Disneyland and you don’t have to wait in line,” Trejo says. “It’s just a lot of fun. He sets it up, shoots it and moves on. He doesn’t waste a lot of time.”

Trejo’s entry into show business was in 1985’s “Runaway Train,” when an actor friend who was a recovering drug user called him to the set to help him keep him away from temptation. There he ran into Eddie Bunker, a writer and former inmate, who got him a job teaching actor Eric Roberts how to box.

Bunker’s advice — “Don’t get mad. You’re just here to make your money. You don’t got no opinion.” — helped Trejo get a part in the movie, which quickly led to more jobs.

Like many character actors playing small parts with lots of personality, Trejo became more well-known after “Desperado” and other hits such as “Heat” and “Con Air.”

Fans could pick him out on the street, even if they didn’t know his name. Today, things are different, Trejo says.

“Now, they call me Machete.”

IF YOU GO

Machete Kills

Starring Danny Trejo, Mel Gibson, Demian Bichir, Amber Heard

Written by Kyle Ward, Robert Rodriguez, Marcel Rodriguez

Directed by Robert Rodriguez

Rated R

Running time 1 hour, 47 minutes

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