It was easy for Danny Trejo to get into character of a boxing convict in the 1985 film Runaway Train. After landing 11 years behind bars during his youth, Danny became a Pennsylvania State Prison champion in both the lightweight and welter weight divisions. It was, however, hard to believe that 27 years after his rocky upbringing Danny would become one of the most recognized faces in the film industry.
His determination to kick destructive drug and alcohol habits combined with a positive attitude and willingness to help anyone in need has made him one of the greatest ‘bad guys’ with a heart of gold to grace the silver screen. Whether he’s fighting Steve Austin in the recently released film Recoil, or visiting a juvenile hall to speak about the crippling effects of drug and alcohol abuse, he’s one bad ass you don’t want to mess with.
Playboy.com: Where are you right now?
Trejo: I thought we were going to do a photo shoot for Playboy so I got into a Speedo and I’m in my bathtub.
Playboy.com: Oh man, we’re missing out! You have to tweet a picture of that. How did you get into Twitter anyway? A guy like you doesn’t strike me as one to take interest in social media.
Trejo: Believe it or not, a Channel 11 news anchor got me into it. I told her I didn’t even know who or what it was. [laughs]
Playboy.com: You come from a boxing background and your co-star Steve Austin comes from wrestling. Was there any moves exchanged between the two of you on the set of Recoil?
Trejo: As a boxer and an actor I’m able to stage a pretty good fight. It is awful to end up fighting with another actor because most of them grew up on Broadway, so it was nice working with Steve on our fight scenes. Steve is brilliant. He’s been doing this all of his life so fighting with him was a joy. All of the punches look real and all of the kicks he does are inches away from your face!
Playboy.com: Did you guys do a lot of your own stunts in this film?
Trejo: We did most of the fighting scenes. As an actor you always want to be working with people who know what they’re doing. Actors know how to act, stunt guys know how to do stunts and fighters know how to fight. Working with someone like Steve who knows a bit of everything was great. I met Steve through another wrestler named Diamond Dallas Page who’s really good friends with him, so I knew him a long time before this movie.
Playboy.com: What’s the craziest stunt you’ve done?
Trejo: In Machete I jump out of a window holding a guy’s guts, I guess you could say that it was pretty crazy.
Playboy.com: You have quite the cult following thanks to that film.
Trejo: It has gotten crazy! They’re actually inducting me into the Texas Film Hall of Fame. I’ve done about 7-8 movies in Austin with Robert Rodriguez. My neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley also did a Danny Trejo Mural, it’s huge! In Hollywood they give you a cute little star; in my neighborhood they give you a whole wall!
Playboy.com: We can’t wait for Machete 2.
Trejo: Yeah, it’s going to have to be pretty crazy and over the top to go above and beyond the last film. What’s funny about all of this is that Robert Rodriguez and I talked about Machete while we were filming Desperado 18 years ago. He just said, “I can really see you as this character.” So we just kept building on the idea of it. When they were doing Grindhouse, they needed the extra trailer so he called me up and said, “Let’s do this in case we don’t actually ever make Machete.” But the minute we showed the trailer in theaters, the audience demanded it. You have to go online and look up my Machete bike! I just built a motorcycle that’s got everybody’s picture on it from Machete. It is really cool.
Playboy.com: You always seem to take the time to accept roles in smaller budget films. Is that something that happened over time, or have you always been a fan of a good old B movie?
Trejo: I’m a firm believer in giving back. Every time a new director or a student film calls up, my agent cringes. When I hear about it, most of the time I do it! [Laughs] It’s just a lot of fun to give young kids a chance. The real joy is to see their excitement of being in charge of a camera and using their knowledge outside of the classroom. I’ve done student films that their instructors were on the set, so I do my thing and give autographs. All of the student projects I’ve worked on have been a lot of fun.
Playboy.com: You’re into vintage cars too. Do you just work on them or do you just collect?
Trejo: I’m no Jay Leno! [Laughs] I work on them. Everyone else buys them but we get them from scraps. Right now I’ve got a 1936 Dodge Touring Sedan that is absolutely gorgeous, there are only five of them on the registry. I also have a 1952 Chevy stepside pickup that’s just beautiful from the ground up and a 1965 Buick Riviera that is clamshell chrome. I love driving my 1976 Cadillac Seville around town. I’ll pull up somewhere and someone will say ‘that’s beautiful!’ Then I hit the switches and it starts bouncing up and down.
Playboy.com: Between working on cars and working on film do you ever make time for boxing out of work?
Trejo: No, I train. I go to one of the best gyms in the world called 24 Hours Fitness. It’s like God thought, “you know what? Danny needs a place to train.” So he made this place that’s open 24 hours. I work sometimes at one o’clock in the morning so when I get off of work and I’m so wired I can’t go to sleep, so I go to the gym. I work out about three times a week. If I’m doing a film I work out every day to get into shape. But then I walk all of the time. Anybody over fifty years over should just walk around the block to keep your heart pumping.
Playboy.com: You’re in so many films a year. Have you ever thought of directing?
Trejo: Oh, that’s real work. Have you ever seen a director? They go grey real quick. I can’t even imagine dealing with actors. I’ve watched Robert Rodriguez for years, he’s captain of the ship. He’s the first one on board and the last one to leave. When everybody goes home he’s setting up the shots for the next day. So you know, it’s not like it wouldn’t be fun but for me but I love acting. I love showing up, saying my lines, not bumping into the furniture and going home to work on my car.
Playboy.com: So what does the future hold for Danny Trejo?
Trejo: Recoil is out and it’s a lot of fun. Everyone should grab a copy to watch with friends. My next movie coming out is called Badass. It is about a war vet who went viral on YouTube after he kicked the shit out of these two guys who were bullying an old man on a bus. I’m also leaving for Romania to do a film called Deathly Tombstone which is a western. It’s so sad that we have to go to Romania to do an America western, but it has gotten so expensive here for low budget filmmakers that he can’t really do it here.
Playboy.com: You’re typecast as a bad boy. Are a lot of people surprised when they meet this kind-hearted, community driven, married man?
Trejo: [Laughs] Yeah, but you can’t tell anybody. My passion is talking to kids who are in trouble—in juvenile hall—especially because that’s where I grew up.
The great thing about the movie industry is that when you talk to kids you have to get their attention, which is impossible, because they have none. And then you got to keep their attention, which is impossible, because they have none. Then you have to show them you’re cool but that’s impossible because anybody five years older than them can’t be cool and then you got to deliver your message.
My message, ‘problems get worse with alcohol and drugs and education is the key to anything you want to do’ is a hard one to engage. My blessing is the film industry. I’ve got their attention the minute I walk onto the campus. They want to hear what the guy from Con Air has to say, what the guy from Heat has to say, what the guy from Recoil has to say. But if Joey the accountant shows up, it’s going to be real hard for him because the only ones that want to hear him are the math majors. The kids that get in trouble don’t want to hear it. So this life that the good Lord has given me is a blessing for what I want to do.
Playboy.com: And with that blessing you get to work with a lot of incredibly gorgeous women!
Trejo: One of the perks! I worked with some of the most beautiful women in the world. I love to be around women that God worked over-time on. Ashley Judd, Serinda Swan, Selma Hayek, Michelle Rodrigues, Jessica Alba, Lindsay Lohan… All of these unbelievable girls are friends of mine and it’s amazing!
Playboy.com: Speaking of Lindsay Lohan, do you remember what your first Playboy was?
Trejo: I hate to tell you, but I still remember Marilyn Monroe lying on that red satin. And you know what? I might even still have it!