The majesty of Danny Trejo

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As Machete Kills is released in the UK, we cast a glance at the cult of Danny Trejo, Hollywood’s most successful typecast actor.

Over the years, Danny Trejo has played more angry Latino dudes than you can shake a shitty stick at, and as such has reached a strange cult status where we vehemently lap up his hard man roles. It’s curious, as Trejo has been typecast and pigeonholed so tightly into the same role that he’s become almost a caricature of himself, the go-to guy if you want a terrifying Mexican with a ponytail. Machete Kills is released today, and sees Danny Trejo return to the role of Machete, the knife wielding Mexican federal turned mercenary for the US government. But what is it that keeps drawing us back to him?

It started in 1985, when Trejo was cast as an extra in Runaway Train. He also taught Eric Roberts (brother of Julia, Academy Award nominated, star of Syfy’s Sharktopus) to box, after director Andrei Konchalovsky learned of Trejo’s career as a prison boxing champion.

Trejo was training his whole life for the Mexican criminal role, because, you know, he was one. Day-Lewis eat your heart out

Born in LA, Danny Trejo quickly learned that it was easier to rob someone than it was for him to make an honest living; naturally things spiralled, and he ended up with an 11-year stint in jail, serving his time at San Quentin on robbery and drug charges. As if serving time in California’s most notorious prison wasn’t enough, he thought, “I’ll up my badassery status,” and started boxing, eventually earning San Quentin’s Welter and Middleweight titles, which means he’s as hard as, well, Danny Trejo. So, really, his whole life he was training for the Mexican criminal role, because, you know, he was one, which brings a whole new dimension to method acting. Daniel Day-Lewis eat your fucking heart out.


15 years after Runaway Train, Trejo had made a name for himself with Robert Rodriguez’s Desperado, Heat, From Dusk Till Dawn and Con Air. He’s reprised the role of Machete no less than seven times, including Rodriguez’s four Spy Kids movies and the trailer featured in Grindhouse.

Trejo has kept audiences entertained because his performances are so self-aware

Perhaps one reason why Trejo has kept audiences entertained is because his performances are so self-aware. It’s difficult to hold grievance against a man who clearly knows he’s made the career off the back of looking like a criminal. Especially when he takes roles as the Angry Hispanic Father-in-law in A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas or as Stubborn Latino Janitor in Modern Family. These are clearly poking fun at his career, and there’s a lot to be said about a man who can laugh at his own ridiculousness. Now the guy is nearly 70 and currently topping IMDb’s cart for most popular figures born in 1944. Trejo is currently beating Danny DeVito, Michael Douglas and George fucking Lucas.

Even at his ripe old age, Trejo is still knocking out films at a rate of knots only Samuel L Jackson can compete with, appearing in 21 films over the past three years. Of course quantity doesn’t mean quality, as seen by Scary Movies 3-5, and even if Trejo’s films aren’t of the highest calibre, that isn’t where cult status comes from. Cult status comes from having a career spanning nearly 30 years and not having to deviate from the same well-trodden track. He plays the musclebound Mexican very well. As such, we all go into a Danny Trejo movie knowing what to expect. Then we enjoy his performance immensely, and for that you simply cannot fault him.

Read next: Five best single location films

All images: Open Road Films

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