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Danny Trejo: Hollywood’s favorite criminal

Trejo was a real-life bank robber, thug, inmate, and drug addict before stumbling into a bit part as an actor 25 years ago.

Danny Trejo didn’t need acting classes to play a convincing crook, said Nathan Rabin in The A.V. Club. The street-toughened Mexican-American, 66, was a real-life bank robber, thug, inmate, and drug addict before stumbling into a bit part as an actor 25 years ago; he’s since appeared in 183 films, mostly as a convict or a criminal. In his formative years in California, Trejo spent time “in every penitentiary in the state,” after multiple convictions for armed robbery and other crimes, before kicking drugs in the mid-1970s. He was working as a drug counselor when he visited a film set to help one of his clients, an actor; the director noticed Trejo’s tattoos, weathered face, and imposing physique and asked if he wanted to be an extra. “He said, ‘Can you act like a convict?’ I thought it was the funniest thing I’d ever heard.”

He immediately liked the excitement of working before a camera, which reminded him of how he felt while robbing a bank. “There’s no adrenaline rush like that. The only time I ever felt adrenaline like that was when I heard [the director] yell, ‘Action!’ I just totally got hooked.” Since then, Trejo has become Hollywood’s go-to crook. His most gratifying acting moment, though, was a brief appearance on the soap opera The Young and the Restless, which his mother had watched for years. “She was like, ‘You finally made it!’” says Trejo. “She was so proud of me. It was hilarious.”

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