Danny Trejo Interview: Cutting Through the Bullshit
Written by Marc Parker and Melissa Benefield Parker, Posted in Interviews Actors
Image attributed to Danny Trejo
Danny Trejo has developed a prolific career in the entertainment industry with a hard earned and atypical road to success. From years of imprisonment to helping troubled youth battle drug addictions, from acting to producing to restaurant ventures, Trejo’s name, face and achievements are well recognized in Hollywood and beyond.
Trejo has starred in dozens of films including Desperado, Heat, From Dusk Till Dawn series, Spy Kids movies, Machete, Machete Kills, Bad Ass trilogy, Grand Daddy Day Care and Minions: The Rise of Gru.
"I know everybody’s stunt guy. So I just think it’s funny that I’m going to risk 80 people’s jobs just so I can say, 'Hey, I do my own stunts.' That’s bullshit."
Shadow of the Cat is an Argentinian fantasy film about a teenage girl who breaks free from her family and discovers a new world. In addition to Trejo, the movie stars Guillermo Zapata, Maite Lanata and Monica Antonopulos. It has been released on DVD and Digital HD, and is available on certain streaming platforms.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Danny, you’re a super busy guy! Have you been filming today?
Danny Trejo: No, I was actually on a zoom for a video game.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Is that something you can talk about?
Danny Trejo: Well, there was about 3,000 people viewing, and they just wanted to ask me questions about the video games that I’ve done. I did Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. I’ve done a lot of video games, so I guess all the gamers wanted to hear from me.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Very cool. You know, I thought Eric Roberts was the busiest actor in Hollywood, but you are absolutely right up there with him. Are you a workaholic?
Danny Trejo: Yeah. I’ve got to keep busy. It’s funny. My daughter says I could be the poster child for ADD (laughs).
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Do you just pick and choose the roles you want to play?
Danny Trejo: Yeah, and I have an agency that gives me three choices, and I’ll choose whatever I want because they get 20 scripts a week or something. If I read scripts, I’d be reading scripts, and that would be my job. So I trust my agent when she says, “Hey, this is a good one.”
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Let’s talk about Indican Pictures’ Shadow of the Cat, which is an Argentinian fantasy film.
Danny Trejo: Well, I got down in Argentina, and I did it all in Spanish, so it’s kind of cool and a lot of fun. Argentina was gorgeous. Buenos Aires is awesome. It’s funny because we were filming, and a peccary, which is a great big pig animal about four feet tall, was wandering through the set. Everybody was calm, and I asked, “Do they bite?” (laughs)
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Do they bite?
Danny Trejo: Nothing but vegetables. So it was cool. But it’s a great place. The people were all nice, and everybody was really friendly. It’s a great horror film, and I really enjoyed doing it. It’s got a lot of twists and turns and stuff. I love horror films, but monster films are a little different because some of them are just like, “Okay. It’s a monster.” But Robert Rodriguez was really the first to start the vampire zombie craze with From Dust Till Dawn a few years back. So now there’s The Walking Dead and this and that.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Frankenstein and Dracula, movies that were made many years ago in black and white, come to mind when I think monster films.
Danny Trejo: Of course, The Mummy! What I used to laugh at were these people who were running for their lives, and the Mummy’s going really slow but catches them (laughs). One of the scariest movies ever was a movie called The Omen. It was unbelievable. The music and everything was scary.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You play Sombra. Tell me about him.
Danny Trejo: I’m kind of the heroic character. I’m the gardener that helps and ends up knowing what to do.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I thought the slicing into a blood lemon was a cool nod to you being a restaurant owner in real life. I must admit, although I live about 2,000 miles away, I was checking out the menu of Trejo’s Tacos.
Danny Trejo: We’ve got some great quesadillas and some of the greatest tacos and guacamoles in the world.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What’s your favorite taco?
Danny Trejo: Mine is the Baja fish taco that we have. It’s really delicious. I love the white fish, and that’s what it is.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Yummy! You’ll have to ship me some of those tacos for the time being (laughs). I believe you hold the distinction of having the most onscreen deaths of anyone in Hollywood history.
Danny Trejo: I hold the record for more deaths on film. Everybody says, “You’ve died more.” I said, “Yeah. I went to the bank more, too.” (laughs)
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What is the weirdest way you’ve ever been killed onscreen?
Danny Trejo: Oh, my head was on a tortoise in Breaking Bad. You know, I was decapitated as Tortuga, so my head was on a tortoise. That was kind of ironic, and everybody in the world saw that. In fact, when I was in England doing a Comic Con, these three guys brought a huge tortoise, and I signed “Tortuga” on it.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: In films, do you ever do any of your own stunts?
Danny Trejo: You got great guys with the same kind of mustache doing stunts. Stunt guys love me because they know that’s not my job. I love actors that say, “Yeah. I do my own stunts.” Well, if you do your own stunts, buddy, that means you’re insuring the movie for whatever it is because there’s no insurance company in the world that’s going to let a lead actor do a stunt.” Anybody that says they do is a damn liar. I know everybody’s stunt guy. So I just think it’s funny that I’m going to risk 80 people’s jobs just so I can say, “Hey, I do my own stunts.” That’s bullshit.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You are in the Despicable Me franchise!
Danny Trejo: The Minions! It is so funny! Kids say, “Hey, there’s Stronghold!” They all know me, so it was awesome.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What was it about Minions: The Rise of Gru that appealed to you?
Danny Trejo: When you do a cartoon for kids ages five, six, seven, eight, nine, you’ll have an audience for years because kids will watch those movies as they get older, and they’ll watch other movies. I’ve got guys 25 years old coming up to me saying, “I loved you in Spy Kids. I got my little brother to watch it. It’s the best babysitter in the world.” Robert Rodriguez was such a genius to make it timeless.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You’ve said you accidentally fell into show business. What does that mean?
Danny Trejo: Everything good that’s happened to me has happened as a direct result of helping someone else. I was helping somebody. This kid I was working with as a drug counselor called me one night to come hang with him. I ended up on the set of a movie called Runaway Train. This guy kept looking at me. He comes over to me and says, “Danny, I saw you win the lightweight and the welterweight titles.” That guy’s name was Eddie Bunker. Eddie and I were in prison together in San Quentin. Eddie said, “Are you still boxing?” I said, “No. Are you crazy? I’m 40 years old!
We both laughed because we’d been doing that for free for years. He said, “We need somebody to train one of the actors how to box.” I said, “Oh, yeah? What’s it pay?” He said, “$320 a day.” When he said that, I thought he wanted me to beat somebody up. He knew I could fight, and I would’ve done it for another fifty bucks. He goes, “No, no, no. You can’t. This actor’s really high strung. He might sock you, Danny.” I said, “Eddie, for three hundred and twenty bucks, give him a stick. Are you crazy? I’ve been beat up for free!” I started training Eric Roberts how to box for a movie called Runaway Train. The director saw me and what I looked like. Eric picked me to fight in the movie, and the director gave me a SAG card.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Danny, what’s your favorite role so far?
Danny Trejo: I loved Machete. I loved the fact that we had a Latina superhero, and it’s the first time. I was Machete. I was the guy. I was such a superhero. I’m the only guy that killed Steven Seagal on film. Steven Seagal called me and said, “Hey Danny, that new movie Machete. You think there’s anything for me?” I said, “I don’t know. Let me ask Robert.” So when I asked Robert, he said, “Okay. Let’s kill him.” So I ended up killing Steven Seagal.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Are your children also in the entertainment industry?
Danny Trejo: My son just joined the DGA, the Directors Guild of America. I told him when he joined the DGA, “Hey, you just became my retirement plan, buddy! When I get older, you can make movies of old people.” My other son is more of a gamer.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Do you have anyone special in your life?
Danny Trejo: Everybody. My kids. I love my kids. They’re awesome. I’ve got the biggest relationship with my kids.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What about romantic significant others?
Danny Trejo: I met a girl in Arkansas, and she worked for a guy with a crystal mine. Avant mining. I wanted to go mining. So I went crystal mining at this place, and that’s where I met her. It was so unbelievable. I was there with Cheech Marin. It was weird because Hot Springs, Arkansas made Cheech Marin the grand marshal of the St. Patrick’s Day parade, and then they made me the leader of the parade.
So I kept telling Cheech, “Shh! Don’t sound Mexican. They think we’re Irish.” (laughs) I kept making him laugh because every time he said something, I’d say, “Shh! Don’t let them know we’re Mexican. They’re going to kill us.” (laughs) I kept telling him, “Lucky charms!” But I’ve got my house full of crystals, so that’s good.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Are you still speaking in prisons and mentoring young people?
Danny Trejo: Always. That’s what we do, me and Mario Castillo. We go to prisons. We go to juvenile hall. We go to high schools. Teachers have told me, “Man, we’ve had professional therapists. Kids don’t want to listen to them. You walk in, and the kids that don’t come to assemblies want to be here.” I said, “It’s not me. It’s the guy from Spy Kids, Heat, Desperado, Blood In Blood Out. It’s the guy that’s been in their living rooms. That’s who they want to hear.” So God’s given me this unbelievable platform with my message that is, “Drugs and alcohol will ruin your life. Education is the key to anything you want to do.”
That’s what I preach, and I’m a perfect example. I think that’s what interests them, the fact that I’ve been there, done that, bought a t-shirt and come back. So when I tell them about juvenile hall, they know. When I tell them about prison, they understand. Ears are wide open because the guy from Spy Kids says so.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You talk about your experiences in prison?
Danny Trejo: Absolutely, and when you tell a kid there’s only two ways to go, that you’re either going to be a predator or prey, they listen. Predators stay in prison. Prey get hurt. So those are your choices. It’s like, “Wait a minute. That therapist didn’t tell me that. But this guy’s been there.” I used to see Dr. Berkman in San Quentin. He’d say, “I can’t do anything for you, Danny. As long as you’re using drugs and drinking, I’m not even talking to you.”
When I was in junior high school, they put me and three other kids in a room all by ourselves By the end of the month, there were 20 kids in there, and we never went out of that room except with the bell rang. They called it “social adjustment.” I started working with autistic children as I got older. I realized everybody in that room was on the spectrum somewhere, some not as bad as others. I remember telling my daughter that I was never on the spectrum. She said, “Dad, are you kidding? You can’t sit still! Why do you think we love being with you? We know we’ll only be there 10 minutes, and we’re gone.”
Anyway, we were listed as bad kids. We were all the bad kids of the school. They were called remedial classes. I thought they were fun. I realized if you want to get gang kids out of gangs, give them something better. I’ve gotten somany gang kids out of gangs just giving them a job. When they get their first check, they realize they don’t want to be a gangster. That’s one of the answers.
Why do we have a homeless problem in Los Angeles? Because quite a few years ago, Ronald Reagan closed all the mental health facilities. Where did they go? They went downtown. There are generations of people living down there. So when people say, “I’m going to make 3,000 homes,” great. Put somebody with schizophrenia in that home, and they’re still going to be on the streets. California has a huge mental health problem and drug problem. There are some people you can give jobs and an apartment to, and they’ll be okay. There are others who don’t even know they’re homeless.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I know you love to work, so you won’t be retiring anytime soon.
Danny Trejo: (laughs) I’d go crazy. I would. My kids can’t stand to have me around the house. I have to be doing something. I always have a work crew over here and friends coming over. If you look in the trunks of their cars, you’ll see thermal underwear, socks and food because we always feed the homeless.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Thanks for doing that, Danny. That’s a very unselfish way to give back.
Danny Trejo: That’s why the good Lord let my restaurants stay open. We never stop feeding them, feeding hospitals, feeding the police. I was driving, and there was a cop car on the passenger side. I always tell them to be safe, that we need them. The cop goes, “Hey, during the riots, you fed us. Thanks.”
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What’s coming up?
Danny Trejo: There’s a movie called 1521. It’s when the Spaniards took over the Philippines. I play Magellan, so I get killed. One more screen death! (laughs)
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