Dan “Danny” Trejo (born May 16, 1944) is an American actor of Mexican descent who has appeared in numerous Hollywood films, most notably in “tough guy” roles as a villain, thug or lowlife characters, although he has also played protagonists in films such as Robert Rodriguez’s Spy Kids trilogy.
Born Dan Trejo in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, Trejo is the son of Alice Rivera and Dan Trejo, a construction worker. He is a second cousin of filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, though the two were unaware that they were related until the filming of Desperado. As a youth, he roamed the streets around his home area, committing various petty crimes with his uncle, and eventually became addicted to heroin.
While on the streets, Trejo developed talent as a boxer and considered taking it up as a profession. That ambition was dashed by a lengthy prison sentence. He served 11 years for drug and robbery charges in the Holmesburg Prison. While in Holmesburg, he became the Pennsylvania state prison champion in both the lightweight and welterweight divisions. During this time Trejo became a member of a twelve-step program which he credits with his success in overcoming drug addiction. He also served time in Folsom State Prison. Trejo was released in 1972.
While speaking at a recovery meeting in Los Angeles, Trejo met a young man in the movie business. His newfound friend invited him to the set of Runaway Train where Trejo was offered a job as an extra in the film’s prison scenes. Edward Bunker, himself a former convict and well-respected crime author who was writing the screenplay for the film, recognized Trejo, with whom he had done time at San Quentin. Bunker remembered Trejo’s boxing skills, and offered him $320 per day to train Eric Roberts, one of the movie’s stars, for a boxing scene. Director Andrei Konchalovsky liked Trejo’s work and decided to offer him a prominent role in the film.
Since then, Trejo has become a prolific actor in both films and television. Trejo has often appeared in five or more movies per year in various genres. Major releases in which he has acted include Blood In Blood Out, Animal Factory, Bubble Boy, Anaconda, Marked for death, xXx, Desperado, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Heat, From Dusk till Dawn, Con Air, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Predators, The Devil’s Rejects, Grindhouse, Rob Zombie’s Halloween, Snoop Dogg’s Hood of Horror and a guest role in the superlative Breaking Bad.
Trejo is known for his very distinctive appearance. In addition to his heavily lined face (usually sporting a long mustache), he has displayed the large tattoo on his chest for many roles (the tattoo depicts a woman wearing a sombrero). Many of Trejo’s characters in Robert Rodriguez movies have been named after knives or sharp instruments: Machete in Spy Kids, Razor Eddie in the From Dusk till Dawn series, Navajas (Spanish for blades) in Desperado, and Cuchillo (Spanish for knife) in Predators. He also plays Machete in a trailer made for Rodriguez’s film collaboration with Quentin Tarantino, Grindhouse. In 2010, he starred in a full theatrical version of Machete, based on the character.
The award-winning independent film, Champion was released in 2005, documenting Trejo’s life. Trejo has said that he is amazed when he walks the streets where he used to commit crimes and children ask him for autographs. He also pointed out that he often chooses to play bad guys to teach younger audiences that bad guys often die or go to prison, and that one should try to live a decent life.
His next major release will be a sequel to the surprise hit, Machete, entitled Machete Kills. The movie features another array of big names to rival those from the first, Mel Gibson, Amber Heard, Sofia Vergara, as well as returning cast members Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez and Tom Savini there is also a rumout that Tony Jaa has a cameo. The movie is due out early next year.