Penthouse Retrospective

by John Bolster Originally Published: September, 2010

Danny Trejo | 10 Years Ago This Month

You were off the hook.

Yeah, and the free person that my friend [allegedly] tore the lip off, they couldn’t find him. He left the state. And the baseball coach had retired and left. So they had no witnesses, and we got out. But when I walked into the hole three months earlier, I remember saying a prayer. I said, “God, if you’re there, it’s gonna be all right. If you’re not, I’m fucked.” I got out of the hole in August, and I dedicated my life to helping other people. That’s all I’ve been doing since 1968. I got out of the joint on August 23, 1969, and I’ve been on a mission to help anybody I can. Everything good that has happened to me in my life has come as a direct result of helping someone else. Everything.

You do drug counseling now, in addition to acting.

I work for Western Pacific rehab in Glendale. I’ve worked for them since 1973.

Which is more rewarding?

Let me tell you something about the acting. My passion is talking to kids. Going to juvenile halls, high schools, junior high schools, penitentiaries. In order to talk to kids, you first have to get their attention, which is impossible because they have the attention span of a gnat. Then you have to keep their attention, and that’s impossible because they’re worried about what they’re going to do on Friday night. Then you’ve got to show them that you’re cool, which is impossible because nobody’s as cool as them. And then you have to deliver your message. Well, the good thing about the movies is that when I walk onto any campus, I already have their attention. They already want to hear what I have to say. See, I wish more people in the film industry would get involved in talking to our kids.

They’d have a head start in reaching the kids.

Exactly. But you’ll find all the people in the film industry who are having trouble in their lives — and I don’t mean divorce, or none of that stuff, ’cause that’s just standard shit — I mean drug problems, alcohol problems, spousal-abuse problems. The reason they’re having that problem is because they’re so fucking selfish, they’re not giving nothing back. But my life is a dream. I just keep putting it in the bank. I just keep going to them schools. I’m going up to Oxnard tomorrow and speaking to a juvenile hall up there.

What do you tell them? Because I could see a “scared-straight” approach working for you.

You know what? Screw that “scared” shit. Fuck that. I’m giving them facts! I’m going to say, “Whatever you’re going through right now — if you’re having trouble with your parents — [if you’re using] drugs, it’s gonna get worse. Without drugs, it’s gonna get better.” That’s a fact. And then I say, “Here’s another fact: Thugs are broke. Gang bangers go to jail. People who help other people seem to have better lives.” Those are facts. Every time I say that, every girl who has a thug for a boyfriend will like, elbow him — I see it: Yeah, you’re always broke, fucker.

There’s a Mexican rock band called Plastilina Mosh —

Yeaahhh [laughs].

You’ve heard their song “Danny Trejo”?

I was coming out of the Omni Hotel in Austin, and some fans ran up and said, “Have you heard your song?” I said, “What song?” So my son went to the computer and we heard it. Pretty soon, they were rocking it all over Austin. It’s kind of weird. Then I was in London, and some people had tattooed Machete — you know that picture of me with all the machetes? — on their backs. I thought, Whoa! I hope they like the movie [laughs].

You’ve worked with just about everybody, from De Niro to Clooney to child actors to Snoop Dogg. Is there anyone you’d still like to work with?

Ah, whoever, whatever movie’s being shot, call me. I mean, I just show up. I’m like a house painter. I’ll paint this house, that house, it don’t matter. Some people really take this seriously. To me, it’s my job. And I love doing it. But I’m like a plumber, a body-and-fender guy. It keeps me grounded. Because the film industry is made to seduce you into thinking you’re really something special. Here’s food for thought: “The whole world can think you’re a movie star, but you can’t.” That’s a quote from Eddie Bunker.

That approach has worked for you.

Yeah, it’s great. My kid’s getting ready to produce a movie, he’s 22 years old. I’m so proud of him. He might’ve been a mailman; I don’t know where he got so smart. The good thing — he looks just like me. Well, he looks just like me without the ten years of prison [laughs].

Is he going to do more acting, or just producing?

He’s in Machete — he’s done some work with me, but he once said, “Dad, every time I go with you to actors’ houses, they got pictures of themselves and all these actors on the wall. But every time I go to a producer’s house, they got Rembrandts and Andy Warhols and … ” He goes, “I think I wanna be a producer.”

Smart kid. All right, last question: Are you on Twitter?

[Pause] No!

I knew it: Badasses don’t tweet.

Badasses don’t tweet — that’s cool. Put that in there: Danny says, “Badasses don’t tweet.”

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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