'Inmate #1': Danny Trejo owes his first movie role to prison, boxing and substance abuse counseling

'Inmate #1': Danny Trejo owes his first movie role to prison, boxing and substance abuse counseling
Danny Trejo (Getty Images)

Everybody who isn't living under a rock has heard of Danny Trejo, also known by his popular nickname Machete. The 76-year-old is one of the most prolific actors in Hollywood and an absolute icon. Trejo spent a large chunk of his youth going in and out of prison. It was in prison that Trejo became a champion boxer and got onto a 12-step program that helped him deal with his substance abuse problem and eventually led to him becoming a counselor.

What most people don't know is that those two things were what led to Trejo getting his big break in the movie 'Runaway Train'. In a 2007 interview with CraveOnline, Trejo recounted that story describing how he went from a state of absolute hopelessness to his current stardom thanks to his decision to dedicate himself to helping others.

"When I was doing time, all I thought I'd be doing was time. I didn't have any hopes of getting out," Trejo recalled. "Really by the grace of God, I ended up getting out of prison. I realize that if I was going to stay out, drugs and alcohol were going to be out of my life and I was going to have to dedicate my life to helping other people. That's what I've done, talk at schools, that's how I got into this thing. I was a counselor."

Danny Trejo in 'Runaway Train' (IMDb)

"One of the kids that I was working with called me up and said, 'Come hang out with me. There's a lot of drugs at my job.' I thought it was a regular job. I went down to this job and it was the set of a movie called 'Runaway Train' with Jon Voight and Eric Roberts. I walked onto that set and the director, I ran into a guy that I knew in prison, a guy named Eddie Bunker who's a writer. And he just said, 'Hey, you want a job?' 'What do I gotta do?' 'We want you to train one of the actors how to box.' I said, 'What's it pay?' He said, '$320 a day.' I said, 'How bad you want this guy beat up?' He said, 'You got to be careful because this actor's real high strung. He might sock you.' S***, for $320, give him a stick. I started training Eric Roberts how to box. That was the first film and the director liked me and I got along with Eric. From that day to right now, IMDb has me at 130-some movies."

Well, it's been one hell of a journey since then and today, Danny Trejo is a legend. But he wouldn't have become the star he is today without the dark days he spent in the system and the actor talks at length about that journey in the upcoming documentary 'Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo'.

Catch the documentary when it releases  July 7 on Digital HD.

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