Wednesday, July 8, 2020


The Rise of Danny Trejo’
Review: Prison, Recovery, Stardom

July 8, 2020

The actor Danny Trejo, with more than 300 movies under his belt, doesn’t mind being what some people call “typecast.” In this engaging documentary about his should-be-legendary life, directed by Brett Harvey, he acts out a typical exchange with an interviewer: “Danny, aren’t you afraid of being typecast?”

“How so?”

“You’re always the mean Chicano guy with the tattoos.”

“Well, I AM the mean Chicano guy with the tattoos. They finally got it right!”

But the real-life Trejo is an erstwhile mean guy. He spent much of the 1960s in San Quentin prison, for armed robbery. During his misspent youth, his sister recalls, a juiced-up Trejo accidentally walked into an A.A. meeting. Someone who knew better than he made a prediction: “You will die, go insane, or go to jail.”

Trejo didn’t die. He became a top prison boxer while doing time. He got clean and became a drug counselor. He had almost 20 years of sobriety before he set foot on a movie set. One of his charges was working on 1985’s “Runaway Train.” On a visit, Trejo was also reacquainted with Edward Bunker, a fellow San Quentin inmate who became a crime writer and movie consultant. And a star was born. (Not immediately, as such: The movie’s title, “Inmate #1,” comes from the role he was credited as playing in many of his early movies. He has since, among other things, helped originate the parodic action hero called Machete.)

There are a lot of laughs in his Hollywood redemption story, which also reveals Trejo’s hard-won gentleness. It’s heartwarming to see the actor, now 76, still walking the recovery walk. Addressing a group of Arizona prison inmates, he says, “Everything good that has happened to me has happened to me as a direct result of helping someone else.”

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