Penthouse Retrospective

by John Bolster Originally Published: September, 2010

Danny Trejo | 10 Years Ago This Month

This is your first starring role. How much harder is it to be the lead, as opposed to a supporting role?

Usually you just kind of show up, remember your lines, and don’t bump into the furniture. But this time you’re kind of … the furniture. And I got the starring role, with De Niro [in the cast]. I mean, you can shoot me now. Career don’t get no better.

Would you like to do more leading roles?

Yeah. I usually go from movie to movie to movie, and this way, you get to stay on one for a while. And you don’t die. And you get the girl. My love interests were Jessica Alba and Michelle Rodriguez. So, thank you, Jesus.

Not too bad.

I have a kissing scene with Jessica Alba, and I had three of my friends there. I kissed her about eight times — you know, eight takes. And afterward my friends were trying to kiss me. They said, “Gimme your kiss! You kissed this gal!” I was like, “Get away from me, you punks.” But man, she is a sweetheart.

I think some daring casting director ought to put you in the lead for a romantic comedy, opposite Katherine Heigl or someone like that.

[Laughs] Well, I can always be a good bad guy. But it’s gonna be tough to sell me just as a good guy. There’s gotta be some edge somewhere, because, you know, people still get out of my way when I walk down the street. Even if I’m smiling.

You have real-world experience with drug addiction, prison, armed robbery, and boxing. What movies have really gotten it right on those topics, in your opinion? Let’s start with drug addiction.

There’s a movie that my son wrote, called A Love Story — when that one comes out, that’ll be the best drug-addiction movie you’ve ever seen. But [otherwise] look at The Salton Sea, with Val Kilmer.

That’s a good one; underrated, too.

Ohhh. That is crystal meth. Just the insanity of it. Because [most movies] always put some kind of romantic turn in it, you know? But that one just shows the fucking degradation of drug addiction.

How about boxing?

Raging Bull, with Bobby D, Bobby De Niro.

Armed robbery?

Armed rob — Heat! C’mon, homey! [Laughs] That one, every time I’ve been stopped by the police, they’ll say, “Hey, you’re the guy from Heat!” Then they’ll hand me back my driver’s license, and they’ll say, “Everything that the police did in that movie was tactically correct.” And that’s Michael Mann — he’s a stickler for that stuff.

You were the armed-robbery consultant, right?

That’s what I started as, and then I ran into Michael Mann, and I had done a movie called Drug Wars: The Camarena Story with him. We talked, and he knew my uncle in Folsom, because he went to Folsom to film The Jericho Mile. He said, “Hey, how’s Gilbert doing?” And I said, “Gilbert OD’d; he died.” And he says, “Oh, man, come on, I got a role for you in this movie.” So he pulled me and Eddie Bunker — we were the armed-robbery consultants [and Trejo had a speaking part]. Eddie Bunker was a really famous writer. Probably one of the greatest American criminal novelists there ever was. He wrote a book called Education of a Felon. If you really want to get into the mind of a criminal, read that.

What’s the best weapon for an armed robbery?

It depends on what you’re doing. Now, they’ve got AK-47s and blah, blah, blah. But back in the day, a sawed-off shotgun was the best thing there was. Because it was just scary.

What’s the best prison movie?

Blood In Blood Out got the best of that.

You’ve been in San Quentin, Soledad, and Folsom. Which was the toughest of those?

Soledad is the toughest because people are still trying to prove themselves. But you gotta remember, in prison — any prison — you have a choice: Because there’s only two kinds of people — predator and prey — you have to decide what you want to be. If you’re going to be a predator, that means you’re a predator 24/7. And well … I mean, if you’re in a pile of shit, I’d rather be on top.

What’s the best advice for someone doing his first bid in prison?

Education. Here’s a little food for thought: If you get involved in school in prison you tend to stay out of the mix, because your time is taken. There’s a difference between an inmate and a convict. An inmate is a guy that goes to school, the guy that’s always busy, the guy that’s doing something. A convict is the guy who, 24/7, is looking to get something. To either get drugs, or alcohol, or money.

I’ve read that you found God while in solitary at Soledad. Can you tell our readers about that?

Well, in 1968 — on Cinco de Mayo — me and two other guys were involved in a riot. Involved — we started a riot. An outside baseball team came in to play, and we got into a fight with them. It was alleged that I hit a prison officer in the head with a rock. It was alleged that one of my friends socked a free person, and it was alleged that my other friend injured the visiting coach. We went to the hole. I got out of the hole in August. So May, June, July, we were in there. When we went to court, the prison officer made the mistake of saying, “One of them threw the rock. I don’t know which one.” But in a court of law, three people can’t throw a rock. So that case got washed.

We have a bit of a reputation for good asses, but we do rather enjoy an exceptional badass every so often.

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