The new FX multi-camera comedy series Saint George follows the chaotic life of George Lopez (conveniently played by George Lopez, who also co-created, executive produces and writes the show), a recently divorced working-class Mexican-American man turned successful entrepreneur. Struggling to balance the parenting demands of his all-American Anglo ex-wife (Jenn Lyon) and the cultural expectations of his overbearing Mexican-American mother (Olga Merediz), he also has to figure out how to relate to his 11-year-old son (Kaden Gibson), his freeloading uncle Tio (Danny Trejo) and his cousin Junior (David Zayas).
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Danny Trejo talked about why he wanted to work with George Lopez, who he’s known for about 20 years, how much he enjoys doing comedy, that his character is part freeloader and part ladies’ man, that Tio is clearly a better uncle than father, and getting to do some physical comedy on the show. He also talked about his most recently finished film, Bad Ass on the Bayou with Danny Glover, how much fun he had working with bad-ass chick Gina Carano on In the Blood, what it was like to be a part of Muppets Most Wanted, and crying on Kermit’s shoulder when he learned that his mother died while he was shooting the movie in London. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
DANNY TREJO: Yeah. I have known George since before he did his radio show. It’s been about 20 years. We grew up in the same neighborhood. I grew up before him. I’m older than he is. But he had heard about me being a bad guy, before we were even in any kind of entertainment field. And I had heard about him being really funny at school. And then, a lot of the people that he looked up to, I ran around with.
What was it about this show and this character, in particular, that appealed to you?
TREJO: Working with George has been amazing, and doing comedy is a completely different deal. Laughter is the key to everything. When you’re happy all day, you’re just in a better place. So, I did the first 10 episodes and I just thought, “I’ve gotta stick with this. This is amazing!”
You’ve known George Lopez for a long time, but what’s it been like to work with him?
TREJO: I’ve always had respect for him, and he’s always had respect for me and where I come from, but his comedy is so funny. His timing is great. I’ve watched his stand-up routine, and I know some of the people that he talks about. Working with him is almost like saying a prayer in the morning. You just feel a little better. Once you start laughing in the morning, everything else is okay.
What have the other actors been like to work with, as well?
TREJO: Jenn Lyon, who plays George’s wife Mackenzie, is just the funniest woman alive. She was excited. She’s from North Carolina. She came in and started saying, “Danny, you’ll never guess what I got?” I didn’t know. She said, “I got a library card from Santa Clarita!” She was genuinely excited. And I said, “Hon, Santa Clarita is the suburbs of Magic Mountain. What are you talking about?!” I laugh with her, all day long. And then, David [Zayas], who plays my son, is amazing. His timing is great. And Olga [Merediz], who plays my sister and George’s mom, goes at it with George. They’re always fighting with each other, and me and George are always laughing.
TREJO: Oh, yeah, but he doesn’t know it. That’s just the way he lives his life. I go over to fix an electrical problem that George has in his house. I have a spatula and a butter knife, and I’m going to fix this electrical problem. I hold the wire back with the spatula and I turn the screws counter-clockwise with the knife. There’s an intelligence to his madness. But, he does end up shorting out the entire neighborhood. You also have to remember that Tio’s sister has been taking care of him for a long time, and that’s George’s mom. It’s a tight-knit family. George is the only one who’s not tight-knit. He keeps trying to get away from us.
Tio also seems to see himself as a bit of a ladies’ man. Will we see more of that on the show?
TREJO: Yes. George has gotten divorced, and I’m trying to fix him up with different dates. It is hilarious. I try to fix him up with two insane ladies, fresh out of rehab or something.
Is Tio a better father or a better uncle?
TREJO: Oh, he’s a better uncle. He’s not a father figure. He wants to help George get some babes. Tio’s backstory is that he’s an ex-convict. He came out and got with his sister and George.
Do you get to do physical comedy on the show, as well?
TREJO: Oh, yeah! There’s one episode where I play a Mexican wrestler. I try to liven up these kids’ party, and I end up almost breaking my back.
TREJO: There’s an audience there, but it’s not a live audience. It’s a lot of guests. There’s laughter, like crazy. People can’t help it. It’s funny, I’ve said some stuff that I didn’t think was funny, but everybody will be laughing.
You seem to keep working non-stop. Do you know what movie or movies that you’re going to be shooting next?
TREJO: I just finished Bad Ass on the Bayou, with Danny Glover, John Amos and Loni Love. It was a great cast, and it is a kick-ass movie. It’s one of those films where you better not go get a beer because then you’ll miss something.
What was it like to be a part of Muppets Most Wanted?
TREJO: You are not going to believe it! Me and Ray Liotta do a song-and-dance number from A Chorus Line. It’s very funny.
Could you ever have imagined that you’d be a part of a Muppet movie?
TREJO: I never imagined that I’d be out of prison. I worked with all of the Muppets. It was amazing! I was acting next to puppets! In 30 seconds, you’re having a full-on conversation with a puppet on a hand. The guys are great that do it. My mom passed away while I was in London shooting the movie, and I was a momma’s boy, so it really hit me. My secretary called me and said, “Don’t worry, you don’t have to come home. We’re already taking care of everything. We know what to do.” I still had two weeks left to go, so I finished those two weeks. I was being really strong. I just shut down. People were coming up and saying, “We’re really sorry about your mom.” And I was like, “Yeah, it’s fine. She’s in a better place.” Everybody was like, “You didn’t like your mom?” I know my mom in Heaven would have said, “Screw this little bastard!” And then, Kermit came up and said, “Dan, I’m really sorry about your mother,” and I lost it. I was holding onto Kermit.
TREJO: Absolutely! It was really cool. He was great!
What was it like to do In the Blood, and get to work with such a bad-ass chick as Gina Carano?
TREJO: Working with chicks is so much fun. It’s so fun to see chicks so empowered. And she’s not only a bad-ass, but she’s go-to-hell gorgeous. I kept teasing the director (John Stockwell) and saying, “Okay, now do we kiss?” And he was like, “No, Danny, she’s gonna kick you in the chest.” And I was like, “Well, that’s kind of like foreplay.” She would laugh about it. She has a great heart.
In the beginning of your career, you played a lot of bad guys and scary guys.
TREJO: The first five years of my career, I was Inmate #1, Bad Guy #1 and Mean Guy #1. I had a great career going, until somebody told me that I was typecast. I said, “Well, what’s typecast?” And they said, “Well, you’re always playing the mean Chicano dude with tattoos.” I thought about that and I said, “Wait a minute! I am the mean Chicano dude with tattoos, so somebody is getting it right.”
Since then, you’ve gotten to show off your range, as an actor, doing comedy, drama, action and even a bit of romance. Would you have been perfectly content, if that shift had never happened, or are you much more creatively fulfilled now?
TREJO: I would have been content with still playing Inmate #1. I worked on every prison movie made, from 1985 to 1991. I would go from movie to movie to movie. IMDB has me at 280 credits, right now, and a lot of those were just one day of me going, “Hey, I’ll kill you guys!”
Do you consider yourself a workaholic, or are you just having too much fun?
TREJO: I think I’m a workaholic, but I’m a workaholic that is loving his work.
Is there a project that you’ve done that you’re most proud of?
TREJO: I think Saint George is going to be one of them. But I would have loved the movie Machete, even if I wasn’t in it. It’s non-stop action.
Saint George airs on Thursday nights on FX.