Danny Trejo. Actor. Convicted felon. Rehabilitated drug addict. All-round badass. Look at him. I swear the man was born with a 70-year old face:
How has he not been in The Expendables yet? This guy has had one hell of a career. He started out in 1985 as a boxing prisoner in Runaway Train, during which he coached Eric Roberts for their boxing scene. From there, Trejo went on to play variations on the theme of Prisoner or Gang Member until he was cast by Robert Rodriguez, his second cousin (though they didn’t know it at the time) in Desperado. Trejo and Rodriguez have since had a fairly profitable partnership, working on at least 10 films together, though it’s only recently that Trejo has graduated to the starring role in Machete and Machete Kills. Speaking of which, I recently hosted an episode of the Lambcast devoted to Machete Kills, alongside Robert, Fredo, Will and Pat. The episode can be listened to here.
In total, Trejo has racked up 260 acting titles at the time of writing, which is staggering, considering he’s only been in the business for 30 years.He has 18 works just listed for 2013. That’s insane. Now, with such a huge filmography you might have expected this to have been a difficult list to come up with, but of this cavalcade of films (and some TV shows), I’ve barely seen any. So, consider this list to have some gaping holes in it. However, for the most part you can’t really blame me, as a great deal of Trejo’s CV either went straight to DVD or not even that far.
This is an honourable mention purely due to how little Trejo is in the film, popping up only in the fake trailer for Machete between Death Proof and Planet Terror. I really enjoyed Grindhouse as a whole, and was looking forward to its release greatly, only for it to not hit cinemas in the UK (apart from a belated special showing near me, the night before I had an important exam. Screw you, Odeon). Of the two films, Planet Terror is a clear favourite for me, mainly due to its zombie-like plot, gory effects and awesome cast. Death Proof isn’t bad, and certainly doesn’t deserve as much criticism as I’ve heard it receive, but there’s not as much going on entertainment-wise to reward as many viewings, apart from Mary Elizabeth Winstead dressed as a cheerleader. Other contenders for this slot included Fanboys (which I don’t remember Trejo being in) and xXx (which I don’t remember at all). Had his cameo from The Muppets not been cut, that would have been a shoe-in.
When you imagine a Danny Trejo film, Sherrybaby isn’t really what you think of, and the role he plays here is completely different from anything else I’ve seen him do. He isn’t a criminal or badass, he’s just a fellow addict alongside Sherry (Maggie Gyllenhall) at her Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.Of all the films on this list, this is easily Trejo’s best performance, but that’s because for everything else he isn’t really required to do a great deal of actual acting, whereas here he has a few scenes to really make a presence, and he uses them wisely.
9. Once Upon A Time in Mexico
Is he a Mexican, or a Mexi-can’t? That’s pretty much all I can remember from the third entry in Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi trilogy – that and the image of Johnny Depp, as CIA agent Sheldon Sands, wearing sunglasses with his eyes drilled out being led around by a small boy and shooting people despite his blindness. I admit this film is a bit of a mess – the plot is overly convoluted, there’s too many characters and cameos, and it all gets a bit confusing towards the end – but there’s still some entertainment to be had, and it at least inspired me to buy a double-disc set of El Mariachi and Desperado, although I haven’t actually seen them yet.
Another Rodriguez joint, but this time only in a producing role in favour of the unfortunately named Nimord Antal’s entry into the Predator franchise. In true saga tradition, the Predator series has upped the stakes each time, moving from the jungle of Guatemala, to the streets of Los Angeles, and here to the home planet of the predators. Trejo, here playing an enforcer for a drug cartel, has been selected amongst a small group of other armed and dangerous individuals – including a death row inmate, an Israeli sniper and a member of the Yakuza. The idea is for the predators to hunt them down, as presumably these people will make for more of a sport than the likes of you or I. Alas, as is so often the case, Trejo’s role in the film is mercilessly brief, but the manner in which he departs is at least memorable.
7. Runaway Train
Trejo’s first acting role also sees his briefest screen time on this list, which is understandable seeing as he’s credited simply as ‘Boxer’, and other than participating in the match with Eric Roberts’ fellow inmate, and later participating in a prison riot, he isn’t seen again. The film itself is an underrated gem, and marked the first stop of my American Road Trip series that I’ve just begun writing over at French Toast Sunday. You can read my full review here.
6. Machete/Machete Kills
Ah, the inspiration for this list! It’s a wonder how Machete ever actually came to be made, seeing as it’s based on a fake trailer from the middle of the Grindhouse film. Amongst the four trailers, I was personally more eager to see Edgar Wright’s Don’t, Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the S.S (with Nic Cage and Udo Kier!). or Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving, but I have t admit that in the pure insane entertainment stakes, Rodriguez’s Machete worked for me. Where else are you going to see a man using another man’s freshly excavated intestines as a rope? Or driving a car from the back seat, with a machete rammed into the spine of the driver? Machete Kills is on a similar level, with added cameos (Walton Goggins! Cuba Gooding Jr.! Lady Gaga?), a nice appearance by William Sadler, and of course an introduction of Carlos Estevez as President Rathcock. Unfortunately it peaked early with the currently-fake-but-who-the-hell-knows-anymore trailer for Machete Kills Again… In Space, but if they can pull it off, with a lightsaber-style Machete and a Trejo-on-Trejo fight, well then I’m on board.
I seem to be talking about this film an awful lot recently. Not only did it top my best movie snakes list, but I’ve also likened it on a recent podcast to the Creature From the Black Lagoon (minus Jon Voight). Whatever the reason, Anaconda is an awesomely terrible yet thoroughly enjoyable movie, that just so happens to kick off with [SPOILER ALERT] the death of Danny Trejo’s snake poacher. It isn’t the most memorable death in the film – bearing in mind this is a film with a snake big enough to eat people whole – but it’s a nice piece of trivia to see Trejo pop up, albeit for a far-too-brief appearance which, if memory serves, doesn’t even feature any dialogue.
The last proper cameo on the list, Anchorman sees Trejo crop up in just one scene as a bartender, who initially tries to quell Ron Burgundy’s (Will Ferrell) attempts to express his inner anguish through the majesty of song, before offering the sage advice of “Ladies can do stuff now and you’re going to learn how to deal with it. ” I love the bar scene – mainly because Ron blows a conch shell to assemble his newsteam, only to discover they’re right behind him and have been the whole time, and how disheveled Ron looks to begin with. The film itself is magnificent, one of my favourite comedies, with a cast with no weak link (well, I’ve always thought Christina Applegate’s Veronica Corningstone was a little underwritten, but then she’s not the focus, she’s the catalyst) and some truly unforgettable set pieces, not least of which is the infamous newsteam brawl. I just hope Trejo returns for a repeat cameo in the upcoming sequel.
3. From Dusk Till Dawn
Another bartender role, but with a slight difference to his Anchorman appearance, because here he’s a vampire. Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino collaborated on this film of two halves and, whilst friends of mine would always insist of skipping straight to the “superior” second half, I’m more partial to the first, as the Gecko brothers (Tarantino and George Clooney), whilst on the run from the FBI after robbing a bank and then shooting up a liquor store (whose cashier is John Hawkes!) , take a pastor and his family (Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu) hostage. The second half is certainly fun – there’s a lot of inventive kills, and liberal amounts of blood and guts- but the dialogue and character moments of the first half are more my speed.
2. Con Air
I freaking unashamedly love Con Air. Love it. Uncontainably. Damn it’s awesome. It’s one of those big dumb Jerry Bruckheimer action films that doesn’t take itself in any way seriously, and is all the better for it. I mean, take a look at the plot. A bunch of the world’s deadliest criminals are all being transported by plane simultaneously, and of course they take over the plane. On board is Nicolas Cage’s Cameron Poe, a US Ranger convicted for killing a man whilst defending his newly pregnant wife, who just happens to have earned parole and is on his way home on the same flight. It’s insane, loud, brash blockbuster fun. The cast is what really makes it though. From John Malkovich’s Cyrus ‘The Virus’ Grissom, through Ving Rhames, Dave Chappelle, M.C. Gainey, Mykelti Williamson, the legendary Steve Buscemi and of course Danny Trejo as Johnny-23 (named after the number of women he’s raped), and that’s just the cons in the planes. Back on the ground, chasing the plane there’s John Cusack and Colm Meaney as well. Trejo gets one of my favourite moments in the film, although admittedly his acting has very little to do with it.Let’s just say it’s the scene where his arm is hanging from the roof of the plane.
It takes a lot to knock Con Air from the top spot of one of my lists. Fortunately, Heat is a lot of a film. There’s so much going on in the crime epic that some of the supporting characters (read: anyone other than Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) or Detective Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino)) occasionally get lost in the shuffle, and honestly if I were to list them all here then I’d be typing all day. Trejo plays a member of McCauley’s gang, imaginatively named Trejo, who plans to act as a getaway driver for the latest heist. It’s a small role, and he often finds himself in the background or supporting the scene up until a crucial moment halfway through the film, pictured above. This is another example of Trejo (the actor, not the character) being perfectly cast in a role that absolutely suits his unique look, and despite his relatively minor role in the film he still adds a great deal to the picture. There’s so much going on here that the only reason I don’t watch it more often is that the damn thing’s nearly 3 hours long, but with such a rich tapestry of characters and such a dense plot, it just has to be that long.
As I mentioned, this is a list of pretty much every Danny Trejo film I’ve seen, so if there’s any not present that you feel deserve a pot, then chances are I haven’t seen them. As such, please feel free to shout out some suggestions (or more helpfully, leave them as comments below).