Danny Trejo Got His First Movie Role Thanks to Doing Time in Prison

Danny Trejo is one of the most easily recognizable actors in Hollywood. With a tough, craggy face and deep voice, Trejo has appeared in dozens of films, from action adventures to comedies. He’s loved by fans all over the world, who celebrate his longevity and his status as a pop culture icon.

While Trejo has been in Hollywood since the mid-’80s, there was a time when he was somewhat directionless in life. In fact, Trejo wandered into acting by accident, getting discovered after a stint in prison. 

How did Danny Trejo get discovered?

Trejo was born in California in 1944. As a child, Trejo experienced a lot of difficulties, getting involved in drugs as a teenager. According to IMDb, he was in and out of prison for more than 10 years, eventually getting sentenced to time in San Quentin. It was around this time that Trejo really developed his fascination with boxing, winning lightweight and welterweight boxing titles.

After completing a rehabilitation program in prison, Trejo went on to become an outspoken advocate for substance abuse recovery. According to MovieWeb, Trejo was released from prison in 1969. He officially launched a career as a drug and substance misuse counselor. In 1985, Trejo was asked to assist one of his clients on the set of a movie called Money Train.

MovieWeb notes that Trejo connected on the set with Edward Bunker, a writer who once did time alongside Trejo. Bunker offered him a role in the film as one of the extras in a prison scene. Trejo took the job, kickstarting a truly legendary career in Hollywood.

What is Trejo best known for?

Over the years, Trejo has been open about his past. He’s often spoken out about the prison system in America. In a 2021 interview to promote his memoir, Trejo talked about why he believes the prison system is broken. He noted, “They took all the weights out. They took all the boxing out. They took all the exercise (equipment out). It’s like now it’s just a warehouse for insanity. That’s all.”

Of course, Trejo’s film career is nothing short of impressive. Over the past few decades, he’s appeared in movies like the Spy Kids franchise, Desperado, From Dusk to Dawn, Con Air, and Grindhouse. He has frequently collaborated with his friend and cousin, filmmaker Robert Rodriguez. In addition to his work in live-action films, Trejo has frequently lent his voice to animated projects and video games.

Danny Trejo is an entrepreneur and restaurant owner

Actor Danny Trejo attends Trejo's Cantina Pasadena one-year anniversary ribbon cutting ceremony at Trejo's Tacos
Danny Trejo at the one-year anniversary of Trejo’s Cantina Pasadena | Rachel Luna/Getty Images

Fans of Trejo might know that the actor has a passion for food, and over the years, he has opened a series of successful restaurants. He owns Trejo’s Tacos, Trejo’s Coffee and Donuts, and Trejo’s Cantina, California-based eateries that feature inclusive menus and Tex-Mex flavors.

In a recent interview, Trejo revealed that he wanted a diverse selection of items when developing his menus: “I work with autistic kids. And doctors have said that gluten doesn’t do really good with autistic kids, so I said, let’s have gluten-free. So we got everybody. If you come to the restaurant, about 4:30, 5:00, you’ll find people with special needs children – so mom doesn’t have to cook three different meals, you know?”

According to The Things, Trejo’s eateries have received acclaim from food critics, with his restaurant’s recipe for rainbow cauliflower tacos making it onto a 2017 top 10 list from the Los Angeles Times. For Trejo, who could almost be said to have lived multiple lives due to his wide variety of experiences, his latest evolution is proof of his versatility and talent.

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