The release of Robert Rodriguez’s Machete this week signals not only the long gestating realization of the imaginary exploitation movie promised by the fake trailer in Grindhouse — it also signals the long overdue emergence of Danny Trejo as an honest to God action movie hero. For years, Trejo has been a part of the movie tough-guy firmament — and he’s often been unforgettable, even in disposable roles like “Thug No. 1” and “Kidnapper No. 3.” Perhaps that’s because the actor is a genuine hard-ass — he spent years in the federal prison system, and got into the movies only late in his life, after a post-prison job as a drug counselor led him onto the set of the Jon Voight-Eric Roberts flick Runaway Train. (Hilariously, the reason Trejo got onto that set was because one of his counselees was a production assistant on the film and was having trouble keeping off drugs on a coked-up movie shoot.) Anyway, we’ve gone over Trejo’s film career (Jesus, this guy has made a lot of movies) and come up with what we believe are Danny Trejo’s eleven Baddest Badasses.
Danny Trejo walked onto the set of Michael Mann’s film as an, um, “armed robbery consultant,” and wound up with a part in the actual film. Is that badass enough for you? As “Trejo,” the getaway driver in Robert De Niro’s gang, Trejo doesn’t get many lines or even have to do all that much (except, obviously, look like a tough motherfucker whenever the camera cuts away to him). He still manages to make a startling impression in the film, thanks to one unforgettable scene, where he confesses his betrayal to the vengeful De Niro while dying in a pool of blood. (It starts at about the 7:20 mark in this clip
Taylor Hackford’s ambitious Latino gang epic has a cult following, which is kind of amazing given its hilariously over-the-top acting and soap opera-level plotting. But Danny Trejo manages to emerge unscathed once again — perhaps because he gets so few actual lines. As Geronimo, a member of the Hispanic gang La Onda that the film’s mixed-heritage protagonist Miklo (Damian Chapa) joins while in prison, Trejo is the only one who looks like he belongs in that world. As everyone around him fakes accents and postures in increasingly desperate attempts to look tough, Trejo conveys unspeakable menace with just one glance