• Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The skill Danny Trejo learned in jail that helped him land his first movie role

Gisselle Bances
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Danny Trejo’s road to stardom happened totally by chance. Trejo was in and out of jail for 11 years. While serving time, he became a boxing champ. “I came out of the pen in 1969 and I dedicated my life to helping other people,” he told Yahoo Entertainment. “I never even dreamed of being an actor.”

Danny Trejo poses for the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. (Photo: Michel Cizek/AFP/Getty Images)
Danny Trejo poses for the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. (Photo: Michel Cizek/AFP/Getty Images)

The Mexican-American star successfully overcame drug addiction and works as a drug counselor. It was his time in prison combined with his counseling background that helped him score his first movie role in 1985.

“I was trying to help this kid on a film set,” Trejo said. “He was having a lot of trouble with cocaine.” It was at that point he ran into former inmate and screenwriter Edward Bunker. The two met at California’s Folsom State Prison in the late ’70s and became friends. Bunker knew Trejo was a badass in the ring and put him to work. “I started training an actor, named Eric Roberts, how to box for a movie called Runaway Train.” Trejo then met with director Andrei Konchalovsky who offered him a role, as a boxer. Konchalovsky, during the movie just came up and said, ‘You be in movie. You fight Eric in movie,’” Trejo recalled. “And then he leaned over and kissed me on one cheek, kissed me on the other cheek, and walked away.”

Danny Trejo at the screening of <em>Machete</em>. (Photo: Barry King/FilmMagic)
Danny Trejo at the screening of Machete. (Photo: Barry King/FilmMagic)

That role paid $320 a day and was the beginning of his acting career. Since then he’s gone on to star in more than 250 films and TV shows. One of his most popular movies is Machete directed by Robert Rodriguez. Trejo and Rodriguez are cousins! “When we were doing Desperado, my family came down from San Antonio, Texas, to see him,” Trejo said. “My uncle Rudy called him over and they talked and he said this is your cousin, you guys are cousins.” The dynamic duo has made 12 movies together.

Danny Trejo and director Robert Rodriguez. (Photo: Robert Benson/Getty Images)
Danny Trejo and director Robert Rodriguez. (Photo: Robert Benson/Getty Images)

Trejo has also used his famous last name to build a food empire. He has seven restaurants in southern California, including Trejo’s Tacos, Trejo’s Cantina and Trejo’s Coffee & Donuts. “A lot of actors have tried to open restaurants, but then they just use their name, they don’t put their soul in it,” he said. “I go to my restaurants. I eat at all of them.”

Read more from Yahoo Entertainment:

Follow Yahoo Entertainment’s La Lista: Latinx on Instagram and Facebook. La Lista celebrates all things Latinx — from celebrities to culture to lifestyle.