With his intimidating, tattooed, muscle-bound appearance, character actor Danny Trejo has formed a successful career as the all-purpose hard case over his curious and enduring cinematic career. Beating the odds of repeat offender syndrome after being released from prison, Trejo has risen through the ranks to find himself in high demand as an actor, and has even expanded his talents to include a producer credit to his resumé. His life story is just about as pristine an example of rehabilitation as one could ask for.
Raised in the mean streets of East L.A., Trejo spent many of his early years incarcerated in such legendary prisons as Folsom and San Quentin on drug and robbery convictions. Channeling his intense energy into the boxing ring and winning numerous lightweight and welterweight titles, Trejo was released as a new man after completing a life-changing 12-step rehabilitation program to overcome his addictions. Applying the ideas that changed his life in an attempt to help others headed down a similar path, upon release Trejo became involved with numerous rehabilitation and counseling programs. A chance meeting with a young man who asked for his support at a Cocaine Anonymous meeting in 1985 later found the sympathetic ex-con meeting the struggling addict on the set of Runaway Train, and Trejo was quickly offered a role as a convict presumably based on his threatening appearance. Chance piled upon chance found an old prison buddy/screenwriter who remembered Trejo's hard-hitting boxing skills on the same set, and Trejo was then offered a chance to train Eric Roberts for a film, and was eventually offered the role as his opponent in the ring. Following with roles in The Hidden (1987), and later Lock-Up (1989), Marked for Death (1990), Mi Vida Loca (1993), and Heat (1995), Trejo formed an alliance with director Robert Rodriguez with Desperado in 1995, and soon graduated to such bigger-budget films as Con Air (1997) and The Replacement Killers (1998) in the latter 1990s. The Rodriguez-Trejo twosome found the actor taking on the role of Uncle Isadore "Machete" Cortez in the director's 2001 smash hit Spy Kids, and was later cast in both the film's sequel and Rodriguez's Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2002).