“Too many people in the San Fernando Valley knew me for all the wrong reasons,” writes Danny Trejo of his hometown.
It was then. Now, Trejo’s face, riddled with scars, watches over the San Fernando Valley in California in a huge fresco that pays homage to the legend.
“In Hollywood, they give you a star that anyone can walk on. In the valley, they give you a mural,” Trejo, a beloved Los Angeles icon, said in a recent video interview with USA TODAY. .
Trejo, 77, talks about almost every aspect of his life in a new memoir, co-written with his friend and longtime actor Donal Logue, “Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption, and Hollywood” (Atria Books, now available).
His memoir captures a different image of the fans of “Machete” and “Desperado” actors who have grown to love (or fear), spanning his 11 years in prison, his path to sobriety, his childhood in an American home. -Mexican and the intergenerational trauma he went through, how fatherhood changed him, his acting career and his foray into the culinary scene.
Trejo, who was born in Maywood in 1944, spent time in juvenile camps before eventually being incarcerated in Soledad and San Quentin state prisons for drug possession, trafficking, and armed robbery. Of one of his first nights on “California death row” in 1966, at the age of 21, Trejo wrote, “I was like, ‘Danny, you are going to die here.'”
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But in 1968, says Trejo, he made a pact with God. “If you let me die with dignity, I will say your name every day and do all I can for my fellow inmate,” he said. “I said detained because I never thought I would get out of prison. By the grace of God, on August 23, 1969, they let me out. I kept my agreement. I say his name 20 times a year. day and I help wherever I can. “
While still serving his sentence, Trejo began following 12-step programs and eventually became sober. After prison he worked as an addiction counselor.
If there’s anything he hopes readers will get away with, he says, it’s the belief “that no matter where you start, this is where you end.”
His path to redemption, however, was not linear. In and out of prison for over a decade, three things were constant in Trejo’s life: his uncle Gilbert (who, the actor writes, introduced him to a life of crime at a young age), drugs and women.
Trejo, who has been married four times, is aware of the mistreatment he inflicted on the women in his life. (“I loved them but how could I trust them?” He writes.)
“I tried to make amends with the women I was involved with just because it wasn’t their fault, I was broken,” says Trejo.
Father of five proudly remembers her daughter, Danielle, now 31, who taught her how to treat women.
“My daughter taught me more about how to deal with women than anyone in my life,” he says. Whenever he said something he didn’t think was “rude” his daughter would ask him, “What would you like if (a man) told me that?”
“Well, I would kill him,” Trejo said as he would reply. “My daughter has really helped me change my life.”
His son Gilbert, 33, named after his late uncle, also called out his father on his “toxic masculinity” as they walked home one night, which Trejo details in his memoir. (Trejo writes that he was so shocked that he called Logue to ask him what that meant, “Donal, what is toxic masculinity? Because that’s what Gilbert says with that I was brought up! “)
Trejo’s perspective on masculinity has changed since that car ride. “Masculine means you go to work, support your family, help your neighbors – it’s masculine, it’s machismo. We screwed it up, thinking we’re meant to be warriors. No, we don’t. we’re not, we’re meant to be gatekeepers. That’s what masculinity means to me now. ”
For him, the idea of masculinity is an act of service. “Anything good that has happened to me is a direct result of helping someone else,” he adds, “and it’s masculine – helping people.”
According to Trejo’s IMDb page, he holds 407 acting credits and has been “killed” onscreen more than any other actor (he made his debut as an extra in the 1985 action film “Runaway Train “), but he didn’t always feel caught. seriously by his Hollywood peers. He talks about a case where he found himself walking the line between two worlds – “my past as a convicted criminal and my new calling as an actor.”
Nonetheless, Trejo demanded respect.
“I called a few people to the side and said, ‘Look, Holmes, you don’t disrespect me because you don’t want to know what’s going on,’ Trejo says. ‘And people get it, they get it. like, ‘Oh wait, this is a real person. He’s not a movie star. ‘ I hate to be called a movie star. “
Rather, he is a “working actor”. “I’m looking for my next job,” he explains. “I’m hired to play, no matter what, whether I’m the leader or the extra. That’s how I like to keep it. I’m still friends with (everyone), all the extras.” Or as Trejo prefers to call them, “background artists”, because “you couldn’t make a movie without them”.
And for Trejo, there is no plan to step back from acting on the horizon.
“If I get older, I’ll be the cranky abuelito (grandfather),” Trejo laughs when asked if he would ever stop working in the film industry. “I love what I do, I do what I love.”
Naturally, with the life he has lived, Trejo advises young aspiring Latino filmmakers and actors to “just keep going for that brass ring.”
“Don’t give up. Don’t let anyone say you can’t do it,” says Trejo. “Meet people, be as friendly as possible. In every situation you find yourself in, try to get off better. And that’s what I do, I don’t care what it is. I want to be a better person. today than yesterday. “
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