Interviewed by Joshua Jabcuga in July, 2005 for MPShoot.com
"Every evening I follow my master/
Lead me down to the praying ground/
No sir I can't seem to go no faster
I'll be taking the long way around"
Lyrics to "Long Way Around" from LIVING WITH THE LAW by Chris Whitley.
Joshua Jabcuga: The first movie that I really sat up and took notice of you in was Michael Mann's HEAT, my personal all-time favorite movie.
Danny Trejo: Yeah.
Joshua Jabcuga: In a film filled with icons such as Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, actors like Val Kilmer, Jon Voight, Tom Sizemore, you more than stood your own ground and put in an amazing performance. And from there it really seems like your career has been on this nonstop upward trajectory. You've worked with Robert Rodriquez, Rob Zombie, Michael Mann, of course. What are some of your own personal highlights?
Danny Trejo: RUNAWAY TRAIN, the first movie I did, 1985, I just walked on a movie set, I was actually a drug counselor. And I walked on the movie set to help somebody and somebody asked me if I wanted to be in a movie. And I said, "What do I have to do?" They said, "You wanna be an extra?" And I said, "An extra what?" And they asked me if I could act like a convict. And considering I spent about eleven years in the pen, I said, yeah, I'd give it a shot. The rest is history.
Joshua Jabcuga: How do you approach scripts? Do you see yourself as a character actor?
Danny Trejo: You know what, I don't even read 'em anymore. My people read 'em for me and they say, "Hey, this is a good one," and then I just look at the character. Then I read 'em, you know, but if I started trying to read every script I got, I'd be reading forever. I just ... I like making movies, you know what I mean. After THE DEVIL'S REJECTS I produced a movie called NICE GUYS. And I got Jason Mewes ("Jay" from Kevin Smith's JAY & SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK) in it. (He laughs.)
Joshua Jabcuga: As far as working with Robert Rodriguez, what about SIN CITY 2? Any chance that you'll be involved?
Danny Trejo: If there's a SIN CITY 2, I will be in it. Do you hear that Robert? (He laughs.) (Robert Rodriguez is the co-director, along with Frank Miller, of SIN CITY.)
Joshua Jabcuga: As far as influences on your craft, have you studied anyone? You've worked with some of the masters like Pacino and De Niro.
Danny Trejo: (nodding head) Yeah. You know what? It's like ... it's like, I tried to get a little bit out of everybody. You know what I mean? It's like acting kinda depends on the character, you know, what kind of character, happy guy, sad guy, bad guy, mean guy, convict. You just gotta take it from there. And I love to do it. I can't think of anything, you know, that I'd rather be doing.
Joshua Jabcuga: Do you have criteria for choosing the scripts, other than the money of course?
Danny Trejo: The money. (He laughs.) And they kinda choose them for me. And then they give 'em to me, and then I read 'em, and "Yeah, that's a good one." You know, I just like something that's appealing. You know, something that's gonna look good on screen, 'cause you get a lot of scripts that don't make sense. And I don't even see those. I've got a production company called 4.0 Productions. Trejo 4.0 Productions. My son got a 4.0 exit exam from high school and I said, "Shit! That's it right there." Trejo 4.0 Productions and we've got a couple of pretty good ones coming up. I'm getting ready to do one called JACK'S LAW that I'm producing. And we're also going to do one called DOCTOR OCTOBER, that's a horror movie, you know.
Joshua Jabcuga: You've really become larger than life. For example, in Mann's HEAT, your character's name was, in fact, "Trejo."
Danny Trejo: Yeah, yeah.
Joshua Jabcuga: You've also been a character in a video game.
Danny Trejo: Yeah, that was a cool one, too. I'm in two. I'm in GRAND THEFT AUTO: VICE CITY and then I'm in that DEF JAM. And I was really buffed up in that, too.
Joshua Jabcuga: How do you handle all of that? Is it a trip? Do you see yourself as quote-unquote Danny Trejo?
Danny Trejo: I always see myself as Danny Trejo. Other people see me as something, but ... my wife, Debbie, and my kids, they kinda keep me --
Joshua Jabcuga: Balanced?
Danny Trejo: Yeah. Pretty well grounded, you know what I mean? I still take out the trash at home and do all that shit.
Joshua Jabcuga: And as far as positive influences ... you mentioned being in prison. What put you on this path to finding yourself? Was it the break into the movie business?
Danny Trejo: I'll tell you straight out. I stopped drinking and I stopped using drugs. Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous. Hello to all my friends over in "Cry-Help" in Burbank, and Jack Bernstein, who is the executive director there. He's a really good friend of mine who always helps me get people into detox. I was a drug counselor before I started in this movie career. In 1985 I worked for Western Pacific Rehab in Glendale. Basically, I still consider myself a drug counselor.
Joshua Jabcuga: Is it tough being in the movie business, with all the stories you hear, you know, Hollywood being Hollywood?
Danny Trejo: No. You know what? I mean, you can buy into this shit and really think you're somebody, but the reality is it's nice to be important, but it's more important to be nice.
This article is dedicated to my father, James J. Jabcuga, hero, teacher, leader, friend.