“Everything good that’s ever happened to me came out of helping others.” – Danny Trejo
With a towering figure and strikingly weathered facial features, there a few more recognisable faces in Hollywood than that of Danny Trejo. The second cousin of director Robert Rodriguez, Trejo is a cult icon of action cinema, appearing in Machete, Desperado, Con Air and Heat among many other popular fan favourites, often as a muscular knife-wielding brawler.
Born to Mexican-American parents in 1944 in Los Angeles California, the actor’s early life was marred by frequent stints in prison for various drug abuses and armed robbery. Though, in many ways, it was his stint in prison, as well as his subsequent rehabilitation, that made that actor so sought after later in his career. Whilst serving in San Quentin prison, Trejo became a champion boxer in the prison’s own lightweight and welterweight divisions, and simultaneously overcame drug addiction using a 12-step program.
Now 52 years sober, Danny Trejo has since enjoyed over 400 screen roles after being recognised by author and fellow convict Edward Bunker on the set of Runaway Train, where he was later offered a role by director Andrei Konchalovsky. This mere single opportunity has led the actor to work with such on-screen icons as Robert De Niro, Harrison Ford and George Clooney, himself commenting that: “I’m so blessed. I’m still scared that somebody’s going to wake me up and say, ‘Hey, we’re still in prison. Let’s go to chow’”.
With an infatuation with off-the-wall action movies and hard-hitting drama, it comes to little surprise that the films Trejo admires the most are each filled with such violence and tension. In the breakdown of his own five favourite films for Rotten Tomatoes, his first pick is John Ford’s The Searchers, recognised as one of the Western genres finest jewels, charting the journey of an American civil war veteran embarking on a rescue mission to get his niece back from the Comanches. Noting it as a “great movie”, Trejo admired the mighty performance of the great John Wayne, starring in arguably his most compelling role ever put to screen.
Almost two decades later, Michael Winner’s Death Wish was released, a snarling action film following an architect who goes on a murderous spree following the death of his wife at the hands of street punks. “Oh, I loved it,” Trejo comments on the second of his favourite films, recognising lead actor Charles Bronson as a primary source of inspiration in the movie. Appearing in the fourth instalment of the Death Wish series, noted that the film was the first that gave him an actual character title, stating “Most of the time I was ‘Inmate #1’, you know what I mean?”.
Having been incarcerated himself, Danny Trejo actually had a hand in the production of his next pick, the Steve Buscemi prison drama Animal Factory. Following the journey of a young man who is taken under the protection of an older convict at the prison, Buscemi’s film is recognised by Trejo as “probably the best prison movie that’s ever been made. It’s unbelievable”. Having been given the script by writer Edward Bunker and told to “see what you can do with it”, Trejo approached Buscemi on the set of Con Air saying: “Here, Steve. Read this or I’ll kill you”. Once Buscemi was onboard in the driver’s seat, the rest simply slipped into gear.
“Of course!” Trejo comments regarding his inclusion of Don Siegel’s Dirty Harry, the most iconic role of legendary actor Clint Eastwood’s career. “Do you feel lucky, punk?” Eastwood’s dirty police inspector Harry Callahan snarls pointing his Smith & Wesson revolver at a murderous killer. It’s one of cinema’s most memorable moments that well transitioned the actor away from his roles in traditional Westerns, and into the world of gritty crime.
Though Danny Trejo was not one to turn down a western, “I love westerns. You know, Eastwood, Bronson, Henry Fonda, they were the best for westerns”. Whilst The Searchers started this list, Once Upon a Time in the West, Sergio Leone’s sprawling epic starring Trejo favourite Charles Bronson, bookends it. Together with Leone’s own The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, the director monopolised the genre in the late 20th century with the arrival of his ‘spaghetti western’ movement. Noted as one of the westerns that he “loved”, Once Upon a Time in the West features some of the genre’s most iconic moments, in particular, Charles Bronson as the character simply named ‘Harmonica’. So joyously ridiculous yet so undoubtedly cool, it speaks to the sort of character that Danny Trejo would happily embody, it’s no wonder Leone’s film remains one of his favourites.
See the full list of Danny Trejo’s favourite films below:
Danny Trejo’s 5 Favourite Films:
- The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)
- Death Wish (Michael Winner, 1974)
- Animal Factory (Steve Buscemi, 2000)
- Dirty Harry (Don Siegel, 1971)
- Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone, 1968)