You all know Danny Trejo, the man mountain actor who is a favourite of writer/director Robert Rodriguez and has been in over 400 movies including Heat, From Dusk Till Dawn, Machete and a whole lot more.
Born in 1944, Trejo’s life story plays out like a movie, one that co-writer and director Brett Harvey (“Ice Guardians”, “The Culture High”) and writer Scott Dodds (“The Bailey Experience”, “Ice Guardians”), bring to life.
Early-on his life, Trejo moved to Pacoima, California, the place he still lives, and life was good growing up with his aunt and her daughters.
He discovered TV and became a huge fan of John Wayne, originally thinking he was an historical figure, not an actor.
However, it was when he began to spend time with Gilbert, his Uncle, that the life of crime began. Gilbert was already robbing stores, he was a hardman and a career criminal and Danny saw the respect others had for him and wanted that for himself.
He began following his Uncle, doing the things he did, including having his first shot of heroin at just 12-years old.
The pair, amongst others, began robbing local markets and stores and Trejo spent much of his life in and out of juvie and jail.
Trejo knew he had to adapt to life on the inside and, somewhat fortuitously, Gilbert had been an ace boxer and Danny was his sparring partner, or as he puts it, punching bag.
Trejo was good at fighting and became notorious in prisons, even becoming the San Quentin boxing champion in 1966, ’67 and ’68.
It was during a baseball game inside when a riot broke out and Trejo threw a rock that hit one of the guards, a captain. He and his buddy where thrown in the hole, if the guard identified him, that would be it.
Whilst in the hole he began reflecting on his life, where it was, where it was going and decided he wanted to change. Luckily the guard said he couldn’t identify who threw the rock and Trejo was free to turn his life around.
Once out of jail he did a few jobs here and there before becoming a drug councillor, crap pay but he was helping others.
One night he gets a call from someone he’s helping who says he is somewhere where there’s a lot of drugs and he’s tempted. Trejo tells him not to do anything and he’ll be right there.
He arrives on the set of Runaway Train, Trejo’s first movie, which is set inside prison. All these actors trying to act like hard criminals and Trejo is just laughing. Someone offers him a part of one of the criminals and when he hears it is $50 a day he jumps at the chance.
The writer, Paul Zindel, recognises Trejo from his notoriety on the prison circuit, and asks if he’ll train the lead actor in boxing, Eric Roberts. Trejo agrees and his part in the movie gets bigger and bigger.
From there his career just takes off as he accepts anything and everything offered to him, usually playing ‘inmate number 1’, Trejo doesn’t mind or care as long as he gets paid.
Throughout the documentary we hear from the man himself and see all the great work he now does; from giving talks at schools and prisons to handing out presents at Christmas and clothes to the homeless.
We hear from friends and colleagues such as Michelle Rodriguez, Cheech Martin, Donal Logue, Robert Rodriguez and Trejo’s sons and daughters.
This is a great documentary that is surprisingly very moving, particularly towards the end. Trejo’s life is like something from a movie and Harvey and Dodds simply have to tell it, there’s no need for embellishment or enhancement in anyway. Trejo’s infectious personality and down-to-earth nature means it just all works.