Why Danny Trejo ‘Thanks God Every Day’

From solitary confinement to film, franchises, and now 'Man at Arms,' Trejo opens up to LifeZette about a remarkable life's journey

“It’s like a history lesson, but it’s a fun one with a great teacher because I’m the host,” actor Danny Trejo told LifeZette in an interview about his new reality series, “Man at Arms.”

The program finds the 73-year-old star of such franchises as “Machete” and “Spy Kids” working with historians and blacksmiths to recreate some of the most iconic weapons that ever existed.

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The show reviews the history and motivation behind the weapons. It then explains how they’re built, and it all culminates in a fun final act, in which Trejo and others put the weapons to work.

“Robert [Rodriguez] called me to talk to me about a show about weapons,” said Trejo, who has a long relationship with the director and founder of El Rey Network, which is the distributor of “Man at Arms”; the two men are actually second cousins.

Asked what he knew about weapons making, Trejo responded, “Well, I know how to make a shank.”

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Trejo laughed as he recalled that conversation, but his expertise is more than serious. It’s all part of a personal history and journey that make him far more than the typical Hollywood artist.

As a young man born in Los Angeles, Trejo didn’t spend his days rushing from acting audition to acting audition like other wannabe thespians. Instead, the future star was in and out of prison systems for crimes such as assault and battery and robbery; at California’s San Quentin Prison, he became a champion boxer in the lightweight and welterweight divisions.

It was during time spent in solitary confinement (for assault against a guard) while serving a five-year sentence that Trejo decided to change the course of his life. “In 1968, [during] Cinco de Mayo, I dedicated my life to helping other people,” he said.

Related: History’s Most Incredible Weapons Get Their Own Show

The actor entered a twelve-step program, left prison and became a drug counselor. He attributes much of the change in his life to faith. “I thank God every day,” said Trejo.

His first acting role came about by accident; he had a role in 1985’s Oscar-nominated “Runaway Train,” starring Jon Voight and Eric Roberts. One of the film’s writers, novelist Edward Bunker, had served time with Trejo and asked him to coach Roberts in boxing. The director of the film got one look at Trejo and something clicked — he put him in the movie.

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What followed were seemingly endless bit parts in films, including “Death Wish 4.” Trejo always stood out. Perhaps it was his face, his rugged demeanor or his eyes, which carried a lifetime of experience behind them.

Trejo eventually earned roles in such hits as “Desperado” and “Spy Kids” for Robert Rodriguez and even appeared in Michael Mann’s “Heat,” starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Val Kilmer, and again Jon Voight.

“You work with those guys, you better have your A-game,” said Trejo, who counts the latter film as one of the favorites of his filmography, along with the recent “Machete” movies, which have catapulted him from character actor to leading man. (go to page 2 to continue reading)[lz_pagination]

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