Danny Trejo – the man, the myth, the legend. Known by many from his staple roles in the films of visionary Robert Rodriguez, Trejo has come a much further way since. Now, whenever Trejo isn’t acting in front of a camera, he is leading multiple business fronts in his hometown of Los Angeles. Locals have accepted and helped nurture his ‘Trejo’s Tacos’ and ‘Trejo’s Coffee & Donuts’ ventures to become more than just your average restaurants. The ex-felon turned actor has rightfully done what so many people of “influence” claim to achieve: utilize fame for the purpose of giving back to communities.
Besides recently keeping busy with acting, including roles in The Flash and What We Do in the Shadows, Trejo has been deep into participation with the now second documentary film on his life, Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo. Directed by Brett Harvey, the documentary is one of the most precious of the year, tracing Trejo’s complex journey from prison to movie star for the sake of inspiring a better future for all. On top of this, Trejo added author to his resume by releasing a cookbook featuring the various Mexican recipes from his restaurants. Trejo truly shows no mercy to time, even in the face of an ongoing pandemic.
It was our great honor to sit down with Danny Trejo for an exclusive interview. We talk how the self-made “Trejo Empire’ has been holding up during these troublesome times and the various projects he’s most recently poured his heart into. We would be remiss if we didn’t bring up the upcoming 10-year anniversary of Machete and it’s long-desired threequel, Machete Kills in Space.
It’s really hard not to talk about the ongoing pandemic because it’s affected so many different industries, so many different artists. You’re more than an artist, you’re a full fledged entrepreneur. You have multiple food businesses in L.A, your hometown. How has the pandemic affected the “Trejo Empire” so to say?
DT: Well, we’re doing takeout and delivery. We’re taking care of the staff. Everybody works, we haven’t lost anybody. We’re not doing as well as we do when there’s no pandemic, but we’re staying afloat. We’ve tied up with Goldbelly, they deliver all over the United States. So we’ve been doing parties in New York and Texas, they ship overnight and stuff. So we’re staying afloat, but of course it hurts everybody. I know a lot of actors that are out of work and what you would call the “rainy day” funds are being lost already.
Yeah we have all this stuff going on, but it’s almost like you don’t know how to take a break because you have multiple projects coming out at the same time!
DT: Well, what we’ve been doing anyway, we pass out a lot of food, 500 meals, like every other day. We also pass out Pampers. Women with babies always ask for Pampers. So we got 150 boxes of Pampers and passed them out. My assistant Mario Castillo said, “Wow Danny, we went from shot callers in San Quentin State Prison… to passing out Pampers!” He said if we go to the joint, our nickname would be something like, “Hey Huggies!”
Well, those supplies are important nonetheless! We have to talk about Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo because it was just released. Congratulations on that.
DT: I’m really happy the way it turned out.
The many journeys and intricacies of your life have never been a secret. They’ve already been shared with the public to an extent, but thanks to Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo, your stories are now available on a wider scale. More people literally across the globe are going to know Danny Trejo’s true history now more than ever.
DT: What I wanted to do, more than anything, was get a tool to take to schools, to take to prisons, to take to juvenile halls and let them see that. I wanted to show hope and redemption, not just the fact that I’ve been in prison. What can happen once you get rid of drugs and alcohol. I think we accomplished that. Brett Harvey, the director, he caught that. When he first talked to me, he said this is what he wanted to do. I liked his vision and we collaborated naturally. I gave it to my agent Gloria Hinojosa, smart lady, and she said, “Yeah, let’s do this”. That’s how this came about.
It’s more interesting when you take into consideration that this actually isn’t your first go with a biographical documentary. You participated in the 2005 indie doc also about your life, Champion. It went on to win awards at festivals. There are many heavy hitters in it, like Stevie Buscemi and Dennis Hopper. Why do another similar project and why was right now the perfect time for Inmate #1?
DT: Right off, it’s just the way everybody is – a lot of people are losing hope. A lot of people are somewhat down. People are losing and fighting to keep their houses, fighting to keep their cars. It’s unbelievable. I’m talking about a lot of people, people that I know. So I thank God that maybe this can just give somebody a little hope. “Wait a minute, we can have redemption. We’re going to get through this”. I mean, god we fed most of Los Angeles, the hospitals, even the different city substations when they’re working 24 hours a day.
Yeah, you can say the film came at a unique time. Speaking of something else that arrived in time, you also released a cookbook within the past few months.
DT: Yes! Trejo’s Tacos: Recipes and Stories from L.A. Named after my restaurant.
This is not to make light of the ongoing pandemic because it’s very serious, but Trejo’s Tacos: Recipes and Stories from L.A. kind of came out at a good time because people are stuck at home and they have to cook?
DT: Exactly. People are stuck at home cooking Trejo’s Tacos! I remember when Anthony Bourdain ate at my restaurant. He loved it. He said, “I won’t eat at any place but here in LA.” He actually loved our cauliflower tacos. He liked the fact that we have vegan, vegetarian, and gluten free options. When he asked me about gluten free, I said, “Well, you know Anthony, I work with autistic children and doctors have said that kids with autism don’t do real good with gluten.” So we have a gluten free menu. If you come to my restaurant, when it’s open around four, five, six o’clock, you might see families with special needs kids simply because so mom doesn’t have to cook three different meals.
The book itself feels alive. It opens the door to a unique corner of your world. It also kind of bridges the gap between real authentic Mexican food and what many people believe to be real Mexican food. Was this always the intention?
DT: We tried to give it a restaurant feel. You can both eat in and take out, but now we can just take out naturally and deliver. A lot of the recipes come straight from us. We also tried to make it healthier than what people think is just Mexican food. We have an epidemic really of obesity in Los Angeles. And so a lot of the stuff that we’ve done is to try to make it a little more healthy.
For being such a prolific figure in the Latinx community, it must be very complex when balancing everything you’ve got going on. You’re on film, selling food, and now teaching people how to make your recipes at home. How has your growth over the last slew of years changed the way you take movie roles? Are you looking for something different within a script in 2020 than maybe a few years ago?
DT: My agency Amsel, Eisenstadt, Frazier & Hinojosa – Gloria Hinojosa my agent – they do that. They pick out three scripts from the roughly forty scripts we get a week. A lot of people send them in and they’ll pick out three. Then they’ll give me a synopsis of the three. Gloria always goes, “one, two and three.” Those are her choices and I don’t even have to look at them because I know she’s got my best interests at heart. You know what I mean? She’s not going to give me something that’s not going to make it or not going to be good. So I say, “Let’s just go with it Gloria” and then I just read the script on the way to the shoot.
When you started off, you were cast in all of these similar roles of the “Bad Ass”. But now you’ve branched that into different genres. Like The Flash for example.
DT: Well, let me tell you something about The Flash. Most of the time, when you go onto a sitcom or a show that’s on TV every week, they become like a tight family. When you come in sometimes, you feel left out. You understand? Because they’re this tight family and you’re just coming in for the day. Honest to God, they made me feel like I came home, The Flash! And not just because I was a name, but they really went out of their way. “Hey, you want to go to dinner?” I just love all of them. It was so, so unbelievable.
Suffice to say that if they were to call you back, you would return in a heartbeat?
DT: Oh yeah, absolutely. The Flash! Are you kidding me? I love that. And I love Canada. It’s just pretty hard for an ex-felon to get in there, but it’s pretty cool (laughs).
We have to talk about this… it’s insane how time flies, but in September, Machete is turning 10.
DT: Wow. That’s unreal. Machete, Machete Kills, if Robert [Rodriguez] would ever get off his ass, he’d write Machete Kills in Space! I might write it (laughs)!
Looking back 10 years, it’s unbelievable. What are some of your fondest memories of working on the first film?
DT: You know what, first of all, my God I got to kiss Jessica Alba.
Not everyone can say that.
DT: Come on, I kissed Jessica Alba. So that’s one of the highlights. Then man, I got to work with Michelle Rodriguez who is just a kiss from God’s lips. She’s an amazing lady. She was just so cool, so much fun to work with. We just had a blast on that set – it was crazy. I got to kill Steven Seagal! I was the only actor to ever kill Steven Seagal. Then on the second one, I got to work with Lady Gaga and Amber Heard. It was amazing, all the people that we worked with were amazing.
I can only imagine how many times people ask you about Machete Kills in Space. But can you tell us the last time you probably spoke to Robert Rodriguez about it?
DT: You know I haven’t spoken to Robert in a while. He’s been really busy and I’ve been busy. Maybe I’ll call him, see what’s up. But I haven’t talked to Robert for a while. He kind of dumped me I think… I got too big (laughs). He’s great. But he’s busy, he’s got six kids. That will keep you busy. His kids are wonderful too.
Well, even if it’s not Machete Kills in Space, anything that would bring you guys together again would be exciting.
DT: Well, I’m in a new SpongeBob Squarepants movie. I believe it’s coming out in 2021. I did American Gods season three. That was a lot of fun! Then this documentary, Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo, I’ve been doing a lot of press for a month. I haven’t been able to stay home.
Oh, did you see that rap song Pete Davidson did for me on Saturday Night Live? God man, I couldn’t believe it. That was amazing. You know what’s amazing? He bought his own shirt. I couldn’t believe it. If his people would have asked, I would’ve gave him a dozen shirts!
You’ve just mentioned some upcoming projects, but what else do you have boiling within the “Trejo Empire”?
DT: My record label ‘Trejo’s Music’ is doing good. We just dropped another song called “Satisfy My Soul” with Tarah New and Baby Bash, which is doing really good. I have a boxer, her name is Seniesa Estrada. I sponsored her. She went down as one of the WBC world champions in Mexico. Then we went to Vegas and on the Canelo undercard, she won the WBA championship. She’s amazing, 108 pounds – she almost weighs as much as her boxing gloves. And her story is amazing. Her dad got out of the pen and started training her brothers. She went to the gym with them and wanted to fight. They kept saying, “No, no, no, it’s for boys”. So they got this 11-year-old kid and said, “Look, I don’t want you to hurt her, but I want to convince her that she doesn’t want to fight”. So they put them in the ring and she beat the hell out of this kid, not knowing how to box. They had to pull her off him! She’s a WBC and WBA champ. I just adore her, she’s so much fun and sponsoring her has been a lot of fun.
Also, me and Donal Logue, who’s one of my best friends and also a great writer and actor, he was on Gotham and Sons of Anarchy. So right now, we’re writing my memoir, my autobiography. That’s been quite a journey.