In 1993, actor Danny Trejo was walking through San Quentin State Prison, where he was filming scenes from the movie “Blood In, Blood Out”.
The cast and crew pulled into cells C545 to C550, which were blocked off for filming, and suddenly Trejo felt a strange sense of déjà vu.
“We walked up the stairs to the plateau and with each step my heart beat faster,” writes Trejo in his new memoir, “Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption, and Hollywood” (Atria Books), now available.
“When we reached the flight between the fourth and fifth floors, I stopped. I was standing on the same steps where [fellow prisoner] Tyrone stabbed the man who tried to kill me.
C550 was his old cell, his home from 1966 to 1968 for selling heroin to an undercover cop.
After rehearsing the scene, Trejo entered the C550 with another former prisoner on the set and said a prayer.
“We got down on our knees and thanked God for our freedom from drugs and alcohol, our freedom from prisons, and we thanked Him for our children and our lives,” Trejo writes.
“I would come full circle.”
Trejo, with over 300 film and television roles to his name, is best known to audiences for his roles in “Spy Kids,” “Breaking Bad” and “Machete,” which made him the premiere star of the movie. ‘Chicano action.
But Trejo, 77, had an unlikely path to stardom. A heroin user at age 12 and drug dealer at age 13, Trejo spent most of 1956-1969 in prisons like San Quentin and Folsom for various crimes, including drug trafficking and robbery. army. From his prison tattoos to his worldly tired look, he looks more like a bouncer you’d never want to play with than a kid-friendly action star.
After finding God and sobriety in 1968, Trejo became an advocate for recovery, founding rehabilitation centers and giving his phone number to every addict he met so he could help them break free from the nightmare of addiction.
Then, in 1985, he received a plea from an addict who would change his own life.
The call came from a man who said he was working on the set of the movie “Runaway Train”, where cocaine was plentiful, and he was afraid to start using it again.
Trejo dropped everything and headed for the plateau. He has never found the man and suspects he relapsed before Trejo’s arrival.
But once there, an assistant director spotted Trejo’s rude look and asked him if he wanted an extra role, playing a convict. Trejo agreed and quickly discovered that one of the film’s writers, Eddie Bunker, was a “career criminal” from whom Trejo and his uncle had bought plans for a heist in 1962.
Bunker asked if Trejo, who had boxed in prison, was still fighting. Actor Eric Roberts played a boxer in the film and needed training, a job that paid $ 320 a day.
Trejo got to work and was quickly promoted to Roberts’ on-screen opponent. With acting, Trejo found a well-paying profession that felt oddly natural.
“Acting was nothing new to me,” writes Trejo. “I had acted to survive my childhood. I acted like I wasn’t afraid when I was terrified. At Folsom, I took action to keep my sanity. Now that I was doing it for fun, I loved to play. I loved the feeling. Like a new drug, I was addicted.
Throughout his career, his badass character would help him in unexpected ways.
On the set of 1987’s “Death Wish 4,” a veteran actor named Perry Lopez, “a legend among Latino actors,” writes Trejo, guided the actors through a scene.
A younger actor objected to this and said to Lopez, “Who fk made you the director?”
“Perry looked like he had been punched,” Trejo writes. ” I broke down. I said, ‘I did it, mother of a family. Do as he says or I’ll beat you to death. “
At that moment, Trejo felt someone hover behind him. The star of the film, Charles Bronson, had heard the exchange.
“Bronson gave me a glance and said, ‘I heard you were some kind of addiction counselor.’ ”
Trejo replied that he was and Bronson smiled.
“I like the way you advise,” he said.
On the set of the 1993 prison movie “Last Light”, director Kiefer Sutherland chose a friend who ended up being a cowardly cannon, and was fired and escorted off the set.
About a week later, Trejo noticed that something was bothering Sutherland. The director confessed that the fired actor threatened him and his children.
“I was an actor, but I was also seen as a repairman,” writes Trejo. “If people had issues that they felt did not have a legal solution, they would contact me for advice and help. I told Kiefer not to worry about it.
Trejo and a friend visited the man, who said he was upset because Sutherland had hinted that the role would earn him a SAG card, giving him access to the Screen Actors Guild, and that opportunity was now lost. .
“I tried to be a diplomat,” writes Trejo. “I said, ‘Maybe the card didn’t work on this one. But if you don’t cut it, someone might put an M-80 in your ass and turn it on. ”
The next day, the man sent flowers to Sutherland and apologized to his wife.
Trejo’s career has also been filled with poignant moments. During the filming of “Muppets Most Wanted” in London in 2013, he and Ray Liotta played convicts singing and dancing while prison warden Tina Fey gave Kermit the Frog a tour of the facility.
During filming, Trejo learned that his mother had passed away.
“Right before we started filming Steve Whitmire, the puppeteer who directed Kermit, put the puppet next to my face and said, ‘I’m so sorry your mum died, Danny,'” Trejo writes.
“There is a rule Steve followed when working with the Muppets, you always have to stay in character. Steve was sincere. Kermit was sincere. He crumpled his little face and this puppet showed so much emotion that it went through all the layers of pain I was clinging to. I bolted the tray. . . and burst into tears. To this day, I’m convinced it was my mom who told Kermit to say something.
Trejo has also become a regular at director Robert Rodriguez’s films. Playing Uncle Machete in Rodriguez’s “Spy Kids” made him recognizable to kids around the world, changing his image in ways that delighted him.
“Overnight, with ‘Spy Kids’, I went from being a villain, a Mexican stereotype, to someone the kids could look up to,” writes Trejo, who is divorced and has three grown children. “Over the years I’ve probably heard, ‘Look, mom, this is the man from’ Spy Kids’ ‘in forty different languages.’
“Machete,” an adult extension of his role as “Spy Kids,” first placed him in the spotlight, marking the climax of a life that saw him go from childhood heroin trafficker to condemned hardened and, finally, to Hollywood star.
His first day on the set, he got out of his trailer and saw co-star Robert De Niro.
“He smiled that world famous smile and pointed his finger at me,” Trejo writes.
“Number one on the call sheet!” De Niro said of the film’s prioritized list of actors.
“When Robert pointed at me and made a number one with his finger, he was saying I was the captain on this one and giving me his blessing,” Trejo writes.
“I bowed. ‘Mr. De Niro, sir, can I buy you a cup of coffee? ”
De Niro laughed.
“Let’s both go,” he said.
The many deaths of Danny Trejo
Danny Trejo has died onscreen 65 times, the most in movie history, according to Movie Mortality. (The late horror star Christopher Lee is second at 60.)
“I was shot, stabbed, blown up and hanged. You name it, it was done to me, ”writes Trejo. “I know actors who refuse to have death scenes, especially older actors. For me it’s fun.
Here are seven of Trejo’s most memorable screen deaths:
“Death Wish 4” (1987) Charles Bronson places a bottle of wine on a restaurant table where Trejo sits with two associates, calling it a gift on the house. Moments later, the bottle explodes, killing Trejo instantly.
“Heat” (1995) Beaten just inches from his life, Trejo told Robert De Niro, “Don’t leave me like this. So De Niro kills him.
“From dusk to dawn” (1996) Trejo is killed when a pool cue impales his heart, disintegrating his vampire body.
“Con Air” (1997) Trejo, handcuffed to a device on an airplane, dies when he crashes. His body is washed away. His arm remains inside the plane.
“Breaking Bad” (2009) Trejo is beheaded and his head is placed on a turtle with the words “Hola DEA” written on it. When a DEA agent later lifts his head, it explodes, killing him as well.
“Predators” (2010) Trejo is murdered by “Hell-Hounds” on Predators’ Game Preserve Planet, then trapped in a trap that kills anyone who tries to help him.
“Zombie hunter” (2013) Playing Father Jesus, who uses an ax to chop off the heads of the living dead, Trejo himself is beheaded by a giant zombie.