“You Be in Movie”: Danny Trejo Tells Rob Zombie His Wildest Stories

Danny Trejo

Danny Trejo wears Jacket and Pants Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello. Tank Top Stylist’s Own. Jewelry (worn throughout) Danny’s Own.

From a stint as San Quentin’s welterweight champ to a brush with Charles Manson, Danny Trejo has seen it all. And that was before he became Hollywood’s baddest bad guy, an instant solution for directors looking to inject a heavy dose of mean machismo into their movies. Today, the East L.A. native has moved into his mogul phase, launching a record label, a nonalcoholic beverage line (he’s been sober since the ’60s), and Trejo’s Tacos, a chain that is taking him international. Last winter, he was at home when Rob Zombie gave him a call to find out how, at 79 years old, Danny still does it.


TUESDAY 10:30 AM FEB. 27, 2024 LA

ROB ZOMBIE: Hey Danny, are you there?

DANNY TREJO: What’s up? Who’s this?

ZOMBIE: It’s Rob. How are you?

TREJO: Rob! I thought it was going to be an interviewer! I was being all cool. How you doing, homie?

ZOMBIE: [Laughs] I’m alright. How you doing?

TREJO: Hey, we need to do another movie, man.

ZOMBIE: I know. It’s been too long. You were just there long enough for me to shoot you in the head.

TREJO: What helped me was I had, shit, cancer. I’ve had everything. I beat cancer twice.

ZOMBIE: What? You never talked to me about the cancer. What happened?

TREJO: Well, I still got it, but it’s shrinking.

ZOMBIE: Holy shit. I saw you last year when we ate at your restaurant. So it was after that, obviously. Right?

TREJO: Yeah. The problem is that I couldn’t tell anybody. And I wanted to work. The IRS said, “You better fucking work. You owe us a lot of money.”

ZOMBIE: [Laughs] Aren’t you living off taco money yet?

Danny Trejo

Pants Maison Margiela. Belt Stylist’s Own.

TREJO: Well, no. I’m cool. Hey, I owe as much money as rich people. You know what I mean?

ZOMBIE: I still remember the first time you told me about your tacos. I thought you were joking.

TREJO: You know what? So did I. [Laughs] I couldn’t believe it. My business partner Ash Shah said, “Danny, why don’t you open a restaurant?” And I said, “Trejo’s Tacos.” And the reason I said it was because it used to piss my dad off. In the ’50s, women didn’t work, especially Latino women. And my mom was a great cook, and I would say, “Mom, why don’t you open up a restaurant, Trejo’s Tacos.”


TREJO: I tell you, my dad, he’d get so angry any time I’d talk about my mom getting a job.

ZOMBIE: Did you just open in London?

TREJO: We’re opening one next month.

ZOMBIE: Is that the first one outside of the U.S.?

TREJO: International Trejo, fucker. [Laughs] Yeah, that’s the first one. And there were already some people in–oh, god, where is it Wabi Dabi, Abu Dabu, Abi Dabi, that one?

ZOMBIE: Somewhere in the Middle East.

TREJO: That real rich place, the richest place on the Earth.

ZOMBIE: Oh, Dubai?

TREJO: Dubai, yeah. What’s-her-name is out there, Lindsay Lohan. She married some rich dude.

ZOMBIE: She lives in Dubai? Huh.

TREJO: Yeah.

ZOMBIE: That’s… weird.

TREJO: I did a commercial with her, and then I did Machete with her.

ZOMBIE: I remember.

TREJO: It’s so funny how some women need a strong man. Or a strong woman, doesn’t matter, but somebody stronger, because all she had was kiss-ass people.


TREJO: She needed somebody, her better half or whatever. I don’t know what the fuck you call it.

ZOMBIE: It’s a fucked-up business. If you don’t have somebody you can trust to tell you that shit’s fucked up, you get fucked up.

TREJO: You hit the nail on the head.


TREJO: When I did Spy Kids, it was, “Oh shit, I gotta work with all these kids.” And these kids are making more money than mommy and daddy, and this kid goes, “No, I don’t want to do it.” And you hear mommy begging him, like, “Please, but we got to pay the rent.” And I worked with Daryl [Sabara]–

ZOMBIE: Oh yeah, Daryl was in Halloween with us. He’s cool.

TREJO: Awesome kid. Well, when he was little, we were doing Spy Kids, and we were working with Alexa [PenaVega]. They were 12 and 9, I think. And man, both moms had them under control. I thought, “God, I want kids like that.”


TREJO: That’s because they have somebody strong up on top.

ZOMBIE: Yeah. You see it all the time. It’ll be somebody awesome, and they make awesome movies, and then they start making really shitty movies. Then you realize, “Oh, no one’s telling them the truth anymore.” And it’s destroying their career because they’re just floundering in stupidity.

TREJO: I got into this business because somebody couldn’t handle an actor. [Writer] Eddie Bunker and [director] Andrei Konchalovsky had a lot of trouble with one of their star actors, and he wanted to learn how to fight, so I taught him how to fight.

ZOMBIE: That was for Runaway Train, right?

TREJO: Yeah. They pulled me in, and said, “You be in movie.” I’ll never forget that. Just, “You be in movie. You fight Eric [Roberts] in movie.” And Andrei puts his hands on both my cheeks, kisses me, and says, “You be my friend.”

Danny Trejo

Pants Givenchy from Neiman Marcus Beverly Hills.

ZOMBIE: Oh, boy.

TREJO: He said it in a very sensual way and then walked away. When you come from a prison background, “You be my friend” is definitely a red flag. You’re either going to kill somebody immediately, or take a shower with them, no questions asked. And I turned to Eddie and said, “Look, I’m going to train the kid for the $350. But if I’m going to be kissing that old man, it’s gotta be more money.”

ZOMBIE: That’s when your dressing room was your car, right?

TREJO: Yeah! That was a life-changing moment. I went from making, shit, maybe $180 a week before taxes, to $320 a day.

ZOMBIE: That’s crazy.

TREJO: It wasn’t that money changed my life, it just changed my lifestyle.

ZOMBIE: What year was that?

TREJO: 1985.


TREJO: Me and Eric [Roberts] had a rough time, because he was a loose cannon. You know, movie stars. You’re one of the only real movie stars I know that’s still got a head on. But I think it has to do with your other venture. You’re a rock-n-roll star, too.


TREJO: I worked with one guy who, no matter what the director said, he had to talk to him.

ZOMBIE: It’s brutal when you get an actor like that. I try my best to hire people I know, like you. You show up, you do it, it’s lunch. But some actors are such a fucking pain in the ass. It’s weird that they can derail the whole day with nonsense. I can’t take it.

TREJO: I’ve never had a director say, “Do this again, Danny, because it really looks shitty.”

ZOMBIE: [Laughs] Exactly.

TREJO: My son Gilbert just got into DGA [Directors Guild of America].

ZOMBIE: Oh, did he?

TREJO: Rob, he did a film called From a Son. I’m his dad, he’s my son. He goes out, overdoses, and dies. That’s the beginning of the movie. My mom used to tell me that when something happened to me out on the street, she would automatically wake up. She knew something was wrong. And so the scene is him overdosing, and me waking up in bed 80 miles away.

ZOMBIE: Is the movie available?

TREJO: Yeah, I’m going to have them send it to you because it’s amazing.

ZOMBIE: I want to see it.

TREJO: He’s such a great kid, man. Right now, he’s touring with Neil Young.

ZOMBIE: What is he doing for Neil Young?

TREJO: He’s taking pictures.

ZOMBIE: Amazing.

TREJO: He’s just been working, man. I get worried when my kid doesn’t ask me for money. Because it’s like, “Are you dealing drugs?” But he’s doing good.

ZOMBIE: [Laughs] How old is Gilbert now?

TREJO: Gilbert’s 35.

ZOMBIE: Holy shit.

TREJO: Kids are getting up there. I’ll be 80 in–

ZOMBIE: I know. Are you gonna have a big party?

TREJO: I’m going to do something. I always kill it.

ZOMBIE: I know. Fuck.

TREJO: Life’s just been really, really good. And I still lift weights, I run, I do everything, train in the backyard.

ZOMBIE: Right on. I’ve known you for 20 years-everybody else is getting older and grayer, and you look exactly the same.

TREJO: Well, shit. On my driver’s license, for hair color it says, “Just for Men.”

ZOMBIE: [Laughs]

TREJO: I see all these guys with white hair, and I’m like, “Why?”

ZOMBIE: We don’t want Machete with white hair.

TREJO: God, I guess Robert [Rodriguez] screwed up and sold part of Machete.


TREJO: To Russians or something. Everyone always asks, “When are you doing Machete Kills in Space?”

ZOMBIE: I thought for sure it was going to happen. It’s so ridiculous.

TREJO: But I’ve been working. Right now, I’m known as the most recognizable Latino on the planet.

ZOMBIE: Without a doubt. You don’t even need the word Latino in there. You’re just the most recognizable person.

TREJO: So funny. I did The Masked Singer, and one day I went to Vons because I like those rotisserie chickens, and this lady screamed at me, “You’re the raccoon! You’re the raccoon!” I said, “No.” Because you can’t tell anybody. Right?


TREJO: And she’s like, “I’ll bet you are the raccoon.” I said, “No.” She said, “What are you doing here?” I said, “Uh, buying some chickens?” “No, but what are you doing here?” I said, “I live in Mission Viejo, this is right where I grew up.”

ZOMBIE: So weird.

TREJO: And then I saw her after The Masked Singer, and she said, “You owe me money.” She was funny, man. But I guess I’m pretty recognizable.

ZOMBIE: I think so. Do you remember the first time you came over to my house, we were having a barbecue, and I told you that Antonio Banderas lived across the street, and you went running across?

Danny Trejo

Jacket, Tank Top, Pants, and Shoes Givenchy.

TREJO: Yes, I was on the street going, “Hey, Antonio!”

ZOMBIE: Yes, screaming. He never came out.

TREJO: He was afraid of me.

ZOMBIE: You kept calling him a fake Mexican.

TREJO: Because he was Spaniard. And Spanish people, like it or not, have a way of talking down to you. Spanish is a beautiful language. The way Mexicans speak it is guttural.


TREJO: You know what? I cannot go down to Mexico. You talk about a cluster-fuck. It’s crazy. I’ve been swarmed down there.

ZOMBIE: [Laughs] Of course. You’re like the Mexican Beatles down there.

TREJO: Yeah. That’s funny, because there’s a picture of me and my son in the paper when we were down there, and we got mobbed. And people were asking Gilbert, “Please kiss my baby.” I go, “Stop.”

ZOMBIE: They want some of that Trejo magic to rub off. I read something, and I don’t know if it’s true, but did you cross paths with Charles Manson in prison?

TREJO: Yeah. I forget the year, but I was in the county jail, and Manson came in, and he’s very limber. He was only five foot five or something.

ZOMBIE: Yeah, he’s tiny.

TREJO: He’s a tiny dude. He was prey. But he grew up in the system, so he knew how to manipulate, whose ass to kiss, whose ass not to kiss. And when he came in, the Blacks were on him, because there weren’t that many white guys. And I said, “You got any money?” “He said, “No, I got money on the books.” I said, “Well, get over here, sleep in front of our cell.” So they wouldn’t get him, you know what I mean?


TREJO: And I found out he hypnotized. There were three people in my cell, and when we found out Charlie could hypnotize us, we said, “Well, get us loaded on weed.” And he did. We were loaded on marijuana. And then after we woke up, I said, “Charlie, get us loaded on heroin.” And he said, “Alright.” So two of us got loaded. Then the other guy, the one that didn’t get loaded, Charlie asked him, “Have you ever been loaded on heroin?” And he goes, “No.” So Charlie said, “Your mind doesn’t know how to react.”

ZOMBIE: That’s trippy.

TREJO: Dang, that’s a trip down memory lane.

ZOMBIE: That’s a good trip.

TREJO: I saw Manson talking all that murder, gangster shit. I would laugh, like, “God, man, that’s so weird.” But you gotta remember, he couldn’t have gone to Watts or East L.A. and picked up four girls. They’d have boned him. The brothers would have fucked him up. But he did three, four, five little girls from Bogalusa, Louisiana, and Tyler, Texas, that ran away from uncle and came to Haight-Ashbury, and everybody from Oakland was pimping them out.

ZOMBIE: Yeah, he was a smart pimp with a bunch of young girls that were taking LSD too much.

TREJO: You got it.

ZOMBIE: Easy to control.

TREJO: And instead of all living on the street, they lived out here on Spahn Ranch. I knew a couple of girls that stayed at that ranch, and they said the big thing they would do was pick crabs off themselves. They were all just little freaks. One of them was a suicide prevention person. She came out of the feds, because the feds had a program, and my sister Dyhan ran it. I’ll call her and tell you the girl’s name.

ZOMBIE: Yeah, I’d be curious.

TREJO: Hold on.


TREJO: Hey, sis?

DYHAN TREJO: What happened now?

TREJO: Remember the Manson girl who was at suicide prevention?

DYHAN: What about her?

TREJO: Who was it? I can’t remember who she was.

DYHAN: It was at suicide prevention?

TREJO: Yeah, when you ran suicide prevention.

DYHAN: Oh, wow. Geez. I just remember Dr. Shannon.

TREJO: Yeah.

DYHAN: And you know he died.

TREJO: Yeah, but that girl. I was telling the story to Rob Zombie, and I can’t remember which one it was.

DYHAN: And she was at suicide prevention? She was a client?

Danny Trejo

Jacket, Pants, and Shoes Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello. Tank Top Stylist’s Own.

TREJO: Yeah. She was a client. She came out of the feds. And Joe Morgan used to visit her.

DYHAN: Yeah, I’m trying to remember, because we only had girls there for a while, and then we got rid of them. They were too much of a headache. I’m going to have to think about it.

TREJO: Find out and call me back.

DYHAN: Okay. Bye.

ZOMBIE: Here’s my final question, Danny. You’ve fucking done everything. What’s next?

TREJO: What do you mean? What are you going to do? Let’s do one.

ZOMBIE: I’m thinking about it. Right now, I’m focusing on music, but after that I definitely want to do another movie together. We’ve done four so far? Yeah, four.

TREJO: I got a record label. I started Trejo’s Music.

ZOMBIE: Yeah, you were telling me last time I saw you. You were always a mogul.

TREJO: Mogul sounds like one of those things that dig in the ground.

ZOMBIE: You’re a kingpin, how about that?

TREJO: That’s cool. Hey, make sure to call me when you come out here.

ZOMBIE: I will. I could use some more delicious tacos.

TREJO: I’ll feed you the best Mexican food you ever had. Hey, we get five-star Yelps every time.

ZOMBIE: Well, fuck, Danny. It was good talking to you.

TREJO: I love you, man. I’m going to write a script and send it to you.

ZOMBIE: Okay. Sounds good.

TREJO: Love you, buddy.

ZOMBIE: Take care, man.


Grooming: Ali Carbajal using Glycelene and Oribe.

Photography Assistant: Abdul Kircher.

Fashion Assistant: Austen Turner.

Production Management: Gabriel Bruce.