Danny Trejo was born Dan Trejo in Echo Park, Los Angeles, to Alice (Rivera) and Dan Trejo, a construction worker. A child drug addict and criminal, Trejo was in and out of jail for 11 years. While serving time in San Quentin, he won the lightweight and welterweight boxing titles. Imprisoned for armed robbery and drug offenses, he successfully completed a 12-step rehabilitation program that changed his life. While speaking at a Cocaine Anonymous meeting in 1985, Trejo met a young man who later called him for support. Trejo went to meet him at what turned out to be the set of Runaway Train (1985). Trejo was immediately offered a role as a convict extra, probably because of his tough tattooed appearance. Also on the set was a screenwriter who did time with Trejo in San Quentin. Remembering Trejo’s boxing skills, the screenwriter offered him $320 per day to train the actors for a boxing match. Director Andrey Konchalovskiy saw Trejo training Eric Roberts and immediately offered him a featured role as Roberts’ opponent in the film.
Since then, Trejo has become a prolific actor in both films and television. Trejo has often appeared in five or more movies per year, in various genres. He has appeared in such major releases as Desperado (1995), Heat (1995), From Dusk till Dawn (1996), Anaconda (1997), Con Air (1997), Spy Kids (2001), XXX (2002), Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003), Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004), Grindhouse (2007), Rob Zombie’s Halloween (2007), Machete (2010), Predators (2010), and Bad Ass (2012).
Regarding his continued growth as a professional actor, Trejo has stated that he still cannot believe how fortunate he has been: “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”. Many of Trejo’s characters in Robert Rodriguez movies have been named after knives or sharp instruments: Machete in Spy Kids, Razor Charlie in the From Dusk till Dawn series, Navajas (Spanish for blades) in Desperado, and Cuchillo (Spanish for knife) in Predators. He also played Machete in a trailer made for Rodriguez’s film collaboration with Quentin Tarantino, Grindhouse. In 2010, he starred in a full theatrical version of Machete, based on the character, and later in a sequel, Machete Kills, in 2013.
He also lent his voice to Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (2002) and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories (2006) for the character Umberto Robina, who also resembles Trejo. Additionally, he voiced Raul Tejada, a Ghoul, in Fallout: New Vegas (2010). Trejo appeared in the PlayStation Move game The Fight: Lights Out (2010) as an instructor for the player’s character, and as himself in the second map pack for Call of Duty: Black Ops (2010); Escalation map pack, on the zombie map Call of the Dead.
Trejo owns several ventures in the food and restaurant business; as of January 2016 these included a taco restaurant on La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles, his own brands of beer, coffee, and various merchandise, with ice cream sandwiches under development.