How Danny Trejo’s criminal past helped him succeed as an actor

In 1993, actor Danny Trejo was strolling by way of San Quentin State Jail, the place he was filming scenes for the film, “Blood In, Blood Out.”

The forged and crew stopped at cells C545 to C550, which have been blocked off for the filming, and out of the blue Trejo felt an eerie sense of déjà vu.

“We have been climbing the steps to the set and with each step, my coronary heart pounded more durable,” Trejo writes in his new memoir, “Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption, and Hollywood” (Atria Books), out now.

“After we reached the flight between the fourth and fifth tier, I finished. I used to be standing on the identical steps the place [fellow prisoner] Tyrone stabbed the person who tried to kill me.”

C550 was his former cell, his dwelling from 1966-1968 for promoting heroin to an undercover cop.

After rehearsing the scene, Trejo entered C550 with a fellow ex-prisoner on set and mentioned a prayer.

“We acquired down on our knees and thanked God for our freedom from medication and alcohol, our freedom from prisons, and we thanked him for our youngsters and our lives,” writes Trejo. 

Ex-con Trejo brings authenticity to badass roles in films like 2007's "Grindhouse."
Ex-con Trejo brings authenticity to badass roles in movies like 2007’s “Grindhouse.”
Weinstein Firm LLC

“I’d come full circle.” 

Trejo, with over 300 movie and TV roles to his credit score, is greatest recognized to audiences for his roles in “Spy Children,” “Breaking Dangerous” and “Machete,” which made him the primary Chicano motion star.

However Trejo, 77, had an unlikely path to stardom. A heroin consumer by age 12 and vendor by 13, Trejo spent the higher a part of 1956-1969 in prisons like San Quentin and Folsom for quite a lot of crimes together with drug dealing and armed theft. From his jail tattoos to his world-weary look, he appears extra like a bouncer you’d by no means wish to mess with than a kid-friendly motion star.

Danny Trejo was paid $320 a day to train actor Eric Roberts to box for the film "Runaway Train" in 1985.
Danny Trejo was paid $320 a day to coach actor Eric Roberts to field for the movie “Runaway Practice” in 1985.

After discovering God and sobriety in 1968, Trejo grew to become an advocate for restoration, founding rehab facilities and giving his telephone quantity to each addict he met so he might assist them break away from the nightmare of dependancy.

Then, in 1985, he acquired a plea from an addict that will change his personal life.

The decision got here from a person who mentioned he was engaged on the set of the film “Runaway Practice,” the place cocaine was plentiful, and he was afraid he’d begin utilizing once more.

Trejo dropped every thing and headed to the set. He by no means discovered the person and suspects he relapsed earlier than Trejo arrived.

However as soon as there, an assistant director noticed Trejo’s rough-hewn look and requested if he wished a job as an additional, taking part in a convict. Trejo accepted and shortly found that one of many movie’s screenwriters, Eddie Bunker, was a “profession felony” who Trejo and his uncle had purchased plans for a heist from again in 1962.

Bunker requested if Trejo, who had boxed in jail, was nonetheless combating. Actor Eric Roberts performed a boxer within the movie and wanted to be educated, a job that paid $320 a day.

Trejo went to work and was rapidly upgraded to Roberts’ on-screen opponent. With performing, Trejo discovered a well-paid occupation that appeared eerily pure.

On the set of "Death Wish 4," star Charles Bronson was impressed by Trejo's intensity.
On the set of “Dying Want 4,” star Charles Bronson was impressed by Trejo’s depth.
Cannon Movies

“Performing wasn’t new to me,” Trejo writes. “I’d acted to outlive my childhood. I’d acted like I wasn’t scared after I was terrified. In Folsom, I acted to maintain my sanity. Now that I used to be doing it for enjoyable, I cherished performing. I cherished the sensation. Like a brand new drug, I used to be hooked.”

All through his profession, his tough-guy persona would assist him in surprising methods.

On the set of 1987’s “Dying Want 4,” a veteran character actor named Perry Lopez, “a legend amongst Latino actors,” Trejo writes, was guiding the actors by way of a scene.

A youthful actor objected to this, and mentioned to Lopez, “Who the f–ok made you the director?”

“Perry regarded like he’d been punched,” Trejo writes. “I snapped. I mentioned, ‘I did, motherf–ker. Do what he says or I’ll beat you to loss of life.’ ”

Simply then, Trejo felt somebody hovering behind him. The movie’s star, Charles Bronson, had heard the trade.

“Bronson gave me a as soon as over and mentioned, ‘I heard you’re some sort of drug counselor.’ ” 

Trejo responded that he was and Bronson smiled. 

“I like the best way you counsel,” he mentioned. 

On the set of the 1993 jail flick “Final Gentle,” director Kiefer Sutherland forged a pal who wound up being a free cannon, and was fired and escorted off the set. 

A couple of week later, Trejo observed one thing was bothering Sutherland. The director confessed that the fired actor was threatening him and his kids. 

“I used to be an actor, however I used to be additionally seen as a little bit of a fixer,” Trejo writes. “If folks had issues that they didn’t suppose had a authorized answer, they hit me up for recommendation and assist. I informed Kiefer to not fear about it.” 

Trejo — here with “Spy Kids” Daryl Sabara and Alexa Vega — is now known for his role in the kids' film.
Trejo — with “Spy Children” Daryl Sabara and Alexa Vega — is now recognized for his function within the youngsters’ movie.

Trejo and a pal visited the person, who mentioned he was upset as a result of Sutherland had implied the function would earn him a SAG card, giving him entry to the Display Actors Guild, and that chance was now gone. 

“I attempted to be diplomatic,” Trejo writes. “I mentioned, ‘Possibly the cardboard didn’t work out on this one. However if you happen to don’t reduce it out, somebody would possibly put an M-80 up your ass and light-weight it.’ ” 

The following day, the person despatched flowers to Sutherland and apologized to his spouse. 

Trejo’s profession was full of poignant moments, too. Filming “Muppets Most Wished” in London in 2013, he and Ray Liotta performed convicts who sang and danced whereas jail guard Tina Fey gave Kermit the Frog a tour of the power. 

Whereas on set, Trejo realized that his mom had died. 

“Proper earlier than we began filming, Steve Whitmire, the puppeteer who did Kermit, put the puppet near my face and mentioned, ‘I’m so sorry your mommy died, Danny,’ ” Trejo writes. 

Trejo experienced an especially emotional moment on the set of “Muppets Most Wanted” in 2013.
Trejo skilled an particularly emotional second on the set of “Muppets Most Wished” in 2013.

“There’s a rule Steve was abiding to that when you’re working with the Muppets you all the time have to remain in character. Steve was honest. Kermit was honest. He scrunched up his little face and that puppet confirmed a lot emotion it reduce by way of all of the layers of damage I used to be holding on to. I bolted off the set . . . and burst into tears. To today I’m satisfied it was my mom who informed Kermit to say one thing.” 

Trejo additionally grew to become a daily within the movies of director Robert Rodriguez. Taking part in Uncle Machete in Rodriguez’s “Spy Children” made him recognizable to kids world wide, altering his picture in a method that thrilled him. 

“In a single day, with ‘Spy Children,’ I’d gone from being the unhealthy man, a Mexican stereotype, to somebody youngsters might look as much as,” writes Trejo, who’s divorced and has three grown kids. “Through the years, I’ve most likely heard, ‘Look, Mommy, it’s the person from “Spy Children” ’ in forty completely different languages.” 


“Machete,” an grownup growth of his “Spy Children” function, gave him prime billing for the primary time, marking the head of a life that noticed him vault from childhood heroin vendor to hardened convict and, lastly, to Hollywood star. 

His first day on the set, he stepped out of his trailer and noticed co-star Robert De Niro. 

“He smiled that world-famous smile and pointed at me,” Trejo writes. 

“Primary on the decision sheet!” De Niro mentioned of the record of the movie’s forged ordered by precedence. 

“When Robert pointed at me and made a primary together with his finger, he was saying I used to be the captain on this one and giving me his blessing,” Trejo writes. 

“I bowed. ‘Mr. De Niro, sir, can I get you a cup of espresso?’ ” 

De Niro laughed. 

“Let’s each get one,” he mentioned.

The Many Deaths of Danny Trejo 

Danny Trejo has died on-screen 65 occasions, probably the most in film historical past, in response to the location Film Mortality. (The late horror movie star Christopher Lee is second with 60.) 

“I’ve been shot, stabbed, blown up and hanged. You identify it, it’s been finished to me,” Trejo writes. “I do know some actors who refuse to have loss of life scenes, particularly older actors. For me, it’s enjoyable.” 

Listed below are seven of Trejo’s most memorable on-screen deaths: 

“Death Wish 4”
Cannon Movies/Paramount Footage

“Dying Want 4” (1987) Charles Bronson locations a wine bottle on a restaurant desk the place Trejo sits with two associates, calling it a present on the home. Moments later, the bottle explodes, killing Trejo immediately. 

“Heat” (1995
Warner Bros

“Warmth” (1995) Crushed inside an inch of his life, Trejo tells Robert De Niro, “Don’t depart me like this.” So De Niro shoots him to loss of life. 

“From Dusk Till Dawn” (1996
Dimension Movies

“From Nightfall Until Daybreak” (1996) Trejo is slain when a pool cue impales his coronary heart, disintegrating his vampire physique. 

“Con Air” (1997)

“Con Air” (1997) Trejo, handcuffed to a fixture in an airplane, dies when it crashes. His physique is taken away. His arm stays contained in the aircraft. 

Breaking Bad” (2009)

“Breaking Dangerous” (2009) Trejo is decapitated and his head is positioned on a turtle with the phrases “Hola DEA” written on it. When a DEA agent later lifts the top, it explodes, killing him as properly. 

“Predators” (2010)
twentieth Century Fox

“Predators” (2010) Trejo is murdered by “Hell-Hounds” on the Predators’ Sport Protect Planet, then propped up in a lure that kills anybody who tries to assist him. 

“Zombie Hunter” (2013)
Arrowstorm Leisure/Highland Movie Group

“Zombie Hunter” (2013) Taking part in Father Jesus, who makes use of an ax to lop off the heads of the undead, Trejo is decapitated himself by a large zombie.


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