How Danny Trejo Turned His Life Around
Prolific actor served time in San Quentin and Folsom prisons
What can you tell me about actor Danny Trejo?
—Adriel Herrera, Tulsa, Okla.
Trejo, 68, is one of those actors whose faces you immediately recognize, even if you do not know his name, because he has such a prolific career. He is also famous for the tattoo of a woman with a sombrero on his chest, which is reported to be his mother.
But Trejo never planned to become an actor. He fell into it after serving time in jail.
Born in the Echo Park section of Los Angeles, Trejo has said that in his neighborhood you either grew up to be a drug dealer or a day laborer, so he went into a life of crime, committing armed robberies to support his drug habit.
While he was in prison (he served time in San Quentin and Folsom), he honed his talent as a boxer, winning several titles. But with his criminal record, he was not able to pursue it as a professional career.
Trejo, however, is an example of how prison can rehabilitate someone. It was there that he turned his life around with the help of a 12-step program.
After his release in 1972, Trejo was speaking at a meeting and met a man who worked in the film industry. When he went to visit him on the set of “Runaway Train,” he was offered the role of a convict. He gladly accepted and then was surprised to learn that a screenwriter on the set, who had also done time in San Quentin, knew about his boxing skills and asked him to train the actors for a match.
The director saw Trejo training Eric Roberts and offered him the role of Roberts’ opponent.
His career was launched. Since then he has performed in too many films to mention, but among the more prominent are “Machete,” “Blood in Blood Out,” “Anaconda,” “Desperado,” “Once Upon a Time in Mexico,” “Con Air,” “Predators,” “Spy Kids,” “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” and the upcoming “Machete Kills.” He also starred in the FX series “Sons of Anarchy.”
As for why he works so much, he says, “When I was young, I was an armed robber and there’s no adrenaline rush like that. The only [other] time I ever felt that was when I heard [director] Andrei Konchalovsky yell, ‘Action!’ I was like, ‘Wow. Here we are again. This whole adrenaline-[rush].’
“But this time I didn’t have a gun. I found my calling. And then when I got my check, I said, ‘For the first half of my life, I went to prison for being a bad guy. Now they’re paying me to be a bad guy.’”
Trejo is married and the father of five children.
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