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The Hard Road of American Bad-Ass Danny Trejo

The Hard Road of American Bad-Ass Danny Trejo:

Has anyone’s ascent to stardom been more inspiring than Danny Trejo’s?

Between 1959 and 1972, the Echo Park, CA native spent most of his time behind bars in San Quentin and Soledad state prisons on drug trafficking charges. While incarcerated Trejo became San Quentin’s lightweight and middleweight boxing champion. But more importantly, he had an epiphany.

As described in a 2012 interview with USA Today, Trejo was forced to do some soul-searching one night in solitary confinement. With his back literally against the wall he said to himself, “God, if you’re out there, I’m listening. If you’re not, I’m screwed.“

Judging by what followed, God must’ve been listening.

Upon his release in 1972, Trejo became a drug counselor at his local intervention clinic (where he continues lending a helping hand). It would be another decade until Trejo received his first break in Hollywood from a recovering drug addict he was sponsoring. Committed to keeping this man (who was working as crew on a movie) clean, Trejo raced to the LA set.

While consoling his coke-crazed friend, a casting agent noticed Trejo’s scarred face. The agent promptly walked up to Trejo and offered him $50 to be an extra. This bit part would eventually land Trejo a job as Eric Roberts’ boxing trainer on the set of Runaway Train. After Roberts received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his authentic performance as an escaped convict, Trejo was in demand.

From that point forward, Trejo would never be out of work again. With over 294 acting credits to his name, the 70-year-old veteran has made a name for himself by playing hyper masculine characters with grit and panache. Fearsome, formidable, yet vulnerable when he needs to be, the prolific actor has worked with everyone from Robert Rodriguez (his second cousin) to Michael Mann (Heat) to Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad). In his latest movie, Preggoland, Trejo plays a grocery clerk who befriends then blackmails Ruth (Sonja Bennett), a woman faking a pregnancy to gain the acceptance and love of her friends and family.

In tackling our Lucky 7 Trejo discusses his new taco shop, not taking off his shirt for Preggoland, and his success, which he attributes to everyone but himself.

What was your first exposure to Playboy magazine?
The foldout cover of Marilyn Monroe. It was one of the first pinups. I was middle school and my Uncle had the Playboy and I stole it. My first thoughts were, "Damn!” And I’m still saying “Damn!”

What movie scared you the most when you were a child?
Years ago I saw a movie called The Thing and it was scarier than hell. Nowadays, it would be like nothing — compared to The Exorcist. At the time it was really scary. I love scary movies. I’m doing the From Dusk Till Dawn TV series with Robert Rodriguez and it’s amazing.

If you were on death what would your last meal be?
My last meal would be tacos out of my restaurant, Trejo’s Tacos. I would get a bunch of them. I would order enough for the whole death row. We’ve been putting them together right now and the restaurant is going to open up at the end of May. It’s right on La Brea, between Sycamore and Olympic for anybody that wants to come to the opening.

What was your first car?
My first car was actually a 1950 Buick. The first thing I did was lower it. Right now, I got about five different cars that are all lowered. My prize is a 1936 Dodge sedan, all cherried out. I’m a car guy, but all mine are lowed. It’s funny because they asked me to be on the program, Fast N Loud, and I said, “Okay, call me when you need somebody that’s low and slow.”

What was the first song you knew all the words to?
[Begins singing] “Way back up in the woods among the evergreens…” “Johnny B. Good,” by Chuck Berry. I was about 13 years old.

What is your pop-culture blind spot?
I didn’t see Black Swan. I haven’t listened to Tchaikovsky lately. I didn’t read Fifty Shades of Grey.

What is your biggest mistake?
Going to prison. But I’ve been really blessed in my life. People have helped me. I have to say, everything good that has happened to me has happened as a direct result of the help from someone else. That’s how life works. The more you do for other people, the better your life gets.


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