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Danny Trejo relives his incredible journey from prison to Hollywood stardom




Game changers is a video interview series from Yahoo Entertainment highlighting the various creators who are disrupting Hollywood and the pioneers who led the way.

Danny Trejo has lived many lives in his 77 years on planet Earth. And he has enough stories from those different lives to fill an entire book … literally. The star of the contemporary action classic Machete recently published his first dissertation, Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption and Hollywood, which traces its unlikely path from the wicked streets of Los Angeles to the San Quentin prison cells to the red carpets of Hollywood blockbusters.

It’s a journey that often depended on the kindness of strangers and Trejo’s own compulsion to help someone in need. “All the good things that have happened to me are a direct result of helping someone else,” he told Yahoo Entertainment in our last one. Game changers interview. (Watch the video above.)

As a young man, Trejo too often received the wrong kind of help from the adults around him. The youngest of 11 children, his parents largely left him to himself, and he found the attention he craved in his uncle, Gilbert Trejo. “When I was with my uncle Gilbert, it was like life was cool, life was great,” he recalls. “I had no idea he was addicted to heroin.” The elder Trejo quickly made his 12-year-old nephew addicted to drugs, and also turned him into a fighter. “I’d rather fight than argue.… I’d make someone socks first. And that’s what Gilbert taught me to do. It was most of my childhood, really. C ‘is what I did. ”

Danny Trejo attends The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2 Los Angeles premiere in June.  REUTERS / Mario Anzuoni

Danny Trejo attends the film’s premiere in Los Angeles The house next door: meeting the blacks 2 in June. (REUTERS / Mario Anzuoni)

This lifestyle put Trejo on an inevitable collision course with the California prison system. Much of his young adulthood was spent in and out of prison, where he further honed his fighting skills. Trejo was ultimately eliminated from this life following a riot in Soledad State Prison, which put him on the path to sobriety. After leaving prison for the last time in 1968, he devoted himself to counseling other drug addicts, a career path that directly led to his first acting gig.

“I was working with this kid who was trying to get rid of cocaine, and he was a production assistant on a movie,” Trejo recalls. This movie was from the years 1985 Train out of control starring Jon Voight and Eric Roberts and like many film sets in the ’80s, it was loaded with cocaine. Trejo joined the film as an extra and immediately caught the attention of writer, actor and former prisoner Edward Bunker, who had a small role in the film. “He said, ‘We need someone to train one of the actors in boxing,’” says Trejo. Soon he was teaching Roberts boxing lessons and found himself facing him in the ring in a key streak. “My whole life changed there,” Trejo said of the game-changing experience.

Danny Trejo stars in

Danny Trejo stars in Machete (Photo: 20th Century Fox / Courtesy Everett Collection)

Once Trejo started working in films, he never stopped. Since 1985, he has amassed over 400 credits in feature films, as well as short films and animated films. Early in his career, however, he was only offered one type of role – the convict. “I didn’t even know I was being labeled, I just knew I was making money,” he says. “I was going with what I had. If you look at me, it’s going to be tough being the main man and having the girl. It took me a long time to start getting roles. ”

Slowly, but surely, Trejo built a reputation in and around Hollywood and made connections with key collaborators, including Robert Rodriguez. After starring in the director’s Hollywood debut in 1995 Desperado, he and Rodriguez planted the seeds for what eventually became the 2010 action favorite, Machete, Trejo’s first flagship vehicle after 25 years in the company. “When I did Machete, I almost burst into tears, “he said.” I swear to God, it was unreal.

PASADENA, CA - JULY 28: Actor Danny Trejo attends Trejo's First Anniversary Celebration Ceremony at Cantina Pasadena at Trejo's Tacos on July 28, 2018 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Rachel Luna / Getty Images)

Actor Danny Trejo attends the Cantina Pasadena de Trejo first anniversary opening ceremony at Trejo’s Tacos on July 28, 2018 (Photo by Rachel Luna / Getty Images)

In recent years, Trejo has opened up a new career as an LA restaurateur. He currently owns eight restaurants, including Trejo’s Tacos, Trejo’s Cantina, and Trejo’s Coffee & Donuts. And he’s always looking for ways to help the new generation of Latinx actors. “There are a lot more Hispanic actors [now]”he notes.” I think we need to have more executive producers and more people with the money to make more Latino films. “

“Latinos with the money don’t want to start making movies,” he continues. “So stop crying that there aren’t enough Latinos in the movies. Let’s raise some money and make a movie! Guys.”

Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption and Hollywood is available now from most major booksellers.

Video produced by Nurys Castillo and edited by Jimmie Rhee

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