When Hollywood is looking for a hard guy, the kind you wouldn’t want to meet in even a well-lit alley, they call Danny Trejo. You’ve seen his tough persona, you’ve seen his prison tattoos, and you’ve seen the distinctive lines on his face blown up on a big screen, but have you ever seen Trejo melt at the sight of puppies?
Danny Trejo is the long-haired, often shirtless, tattooed tough from a long list of films, including From Dusk Till Dawn, Desperado, Con Air, Rob Zombie’s Halloween, Machete, and recently Bad Ass. When one envisions Trejo, images of somebody getting drowned, garroted, or hacked to death arise. But today, Trejo—the man, not one of his characters—is kissing a dog in Pacoima, CA, at an event for his animal rescue organization, K9 Compassion.
He may play rugged bad guys in most of his movies, but in real life he is nothing like those guys … well, not anymore. He is an open book when it comes to his troubled past, and he has no qualms talking about his time in prison back in the mid-’60s, his former drug abuse, and so forth. In fact, he himself has a Hollywood story, which began with him as inmate number something or other, moved on to him getting a shot as an extra in a prison movie, and marched forward to his name being placed on a marquee. And Trejo’s phone still keeps ringing. He has appeared in about a dozen movies within the last year: Recoil recently came out, Death Race: Inferno will be unleashed on us later this year, and he’s about to start filming Machete Kills, the sequel to the Robert Rodriguez flick that once again has him returning as the leading Mexican you don’t want to fuck with.
Offscreen, Trejo uses his powers for good. He made a turnaround from a very dark place, owned up to his mistakes, cleaned up his act, and started using his experiences to teach others, especially young kids, steering them onto the right path. He and his wife also founded their own animal rescue organization called K9 Compassion that, among other services, has a nationwide dog spay and neuter campaign (his audience differs slightly from Bob Barker’s).
At the event this afternoon, the ever-shirtless Trejo is all smiles and handshakes. His mobile spay-and-neuter unit is set up between a mural of him and the Restaurante El Indio. By the end of the day it will provide approximately 60 free procedures to companion animals—none of them done with a machete.
INKED: How did K9 Compassion come to be?
TREJO: My wife, Debbie—it was her idea. We’ve always been compassionate about dogs. I’ve always loved dogs. In Latino culture, we really don’t spay or neuter our dogs. They’re just pets. Part of it is [in a husky voice], “I don’t want a dog with no nuts.” It’s kind of a man thing. The sad part is, dogs that don’t get neutered can get testicular cancer. So you’re kind of like doing them a favor. Also, 90 percent of all dogs that are hit by cars are unneutered male dogs. They’re chasing females. My wife schooled me in why we have to do this. When you go down to Mexico, you see dogs just running wild. But wait a minute, man. It’s our responsibility. We called the dogs in out of the wild. We built the fire and brought them in—they’re our responsibility.
How long have you two been doing this now?
She’s been doing K9 Compassion for three or four years now. Spay and neutering, we’ve been doing for about six months. That came about when we went to Polytechnic High School. We talked to the kids and asked how many of them wanted to have their dogs spayed and neutered and they all showed up. The girls here are all volunteers from Polytechnic High School. They’re awesome.
What other hobbies do you have that people might not know about?
I love old cars. I got a ’52 Chevy. I got a ’36 Dodge Touring Sedan. I got a ’65 Buick Riviera. I got a 1976 Cadillac Seville, just all cherried out. I love pulling up in my beautiful Cadillac, and then all these old people go, “Oh, that’s beautiful.” Then I hit the switches and then Kaaaaaaa [he mimics the loud, crashing sound of a car dropping]. I love building them and working on them. There are a lot of celebrities who just go out and buy them. But we build them from the ground up.
Do you still keep up with boxing?
I train. I train to stay in shape but I can’t get hit in the face anymore. It hurts. I work out with weights. Usually about three weeks before a movie, I’ll just really hit it hard and get ripped up.