Danny Trejo Doesn’t Mind Being Typecast as ‘Mean Chicano Dude With Tattoos’

Danny-Trejo Big Break Hollywood
Caroline Andrieu for Variety

Danny Trejo, who won two boxing titles while serving time in prison in his youth, is best known playing the ethnic heavy in hyper-macho mid-’90s genre films like “From Dusk Till Dawn,” “Desperado” and “Blood In, Blood Out.” These days, he’s in such demand that this year alone he’s attached to more than 20 projects, including Robert Rodriguez’s “From Dusk Till Dawn” TV series. It was his role in another TV project, as Raul Galindez in the TV movie “Shannon’s Deal,” written by John Sayles, that earned him his first mention in Variety.

What do you remember about “Shannon’s Deal”?

We shot that in Philadelphia. And we did a scene in the Spectrum where the 76ers used to play. I was walking around the Spectrum holding a machine gun. And Michael Jordan was still with the Bulls, who were playing the 76ers. And that’s about it.

But that wasn’t your first time on camera.

I started my career in 1985 completely by accident. I was a drug counselor, and one of the kids I was working with asked me to support him (on what turned out to be the set of “Runaway Train”). And one of the a.d.’s asked me if I wanted to be an extra, and I said “Extra what?” I had no idea. I had never been on a movie set in my life. And he said “Can you play a convict?” And I thought about having been in prison for a few years, and I said, “I’ll give it a shot.” It was kind of funny to me.

What happened next?

I played “Inmate #1” for the first five years of my career. I never had a name. One of the first names I got was Raul in “Shannon’s Deal.” Otherwise I was “Boxer” or “The Bad Guy.”

Did that bother you?

The first time I was interviewed in L.A., this girl asked me, “Aren’t you afraid of being typecast?” And I said “What?” And she said, “You’re always playing the mean Chicano dude with tattoos.” And I thought about it, and I said, “I am the mean Chicano dude with tattoos. Somebody got it right.” I thought I was having a great career.

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Danny Trejo got his first mention in Variety with the TV movie “Shannon’s Deal.