By Guillermo Azabal
Los Angeles, Apr 29 (EFE).- Danny Trejo smoked his first marijuana cigarette at age eight. By the age of 12, he had moved on to cocaine and heroin.
As a teen and young adult in Los Angeles, he was a full-time criminal whose convictions for offenses such as drug dealing and armed robbery led to various stints in California’s prison system over a period spanning nearly a decade.
From those inauspicious beginnings, it would have been hard to imagine that son of working-class Mexican-Americans forging a career as a Hollywood actor.
But after finding faith and going sober, he broke into acting by chance and now has hundreds of film and television roles to his credit.
The latest is his appearance in “Green Ghost and the Masters of the Stone,” which will have a limited release in the United States starting Friday.
In that comedy/action-adventure, Trejo plays the mentor of a car salesman who, according to the official trailer, “must harness both his physical and mystical strength to save humanity and go from Gringo to Green Ghost.”
Trejo’s big break as an actor came in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s when, while working as a counselor for recovering addicts, an individual he was assisting asked him to accompany him on the set of “Runaway Train,” a 1985 Andrei Konchalovsky film about escaped convicts.
That man was working on the set and said the availability of cocaine made him fear he would start using again.
Although Trejo never saw that individual there, he was spotted by an assistant director and ended up being cast in the film in a small role as a boxer, a sport he had practiced in prison.
That debut was followed by appearances over the years in action films like “Desperado,” the From Dusk till Dawn trilogy, “Six Days, Seven Nights,” “Spy Kids” and in acclaimed television series like “Breaking Bad” and “Sons of Anarchy.”
But despite his success, Trejo has never forgotten where he came from and has continued to be involved in reorientation, reinsertion and drug detoxification programs that assist at-risk, marginalized individuals.
In an interview with Efe, he said he has paid special attention to the problem of mental illness in the US since the onset of the pandemic.
“Some of the people that are homeless don’t even know they’re homeless. And that goes all the way back to when Ronald Reagan (who was governor of California from 1967 to 1975 before becoming president of the US) closed all the mental health facilities,” Trejo said.” He put all the mental people out on the street, and they were supposed to be taken care of in the communities, but there was nothing in the communities to take care of them.”
He says the problem of homelessness and crime is no worse now than when he was a hoodlum on Los Angeles’ streets planning his next robbery to feed his drug habit, adding that the only difference is that “people have more phones” to film what is happening and make it more visible.
“People keep saying we have a homeless problem, but we don’t. We have a mental health problem and a meth problem,” Trejo said.
The actor’s life story was explored in the 2019 documentary “Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo,” a film in which he told of his rehabilitation process and how he exited a spiral of drugs and violence.
The key is to raise awareness among children and keep them away from so-called gateway drugs like alcohol and marijuana, according to the actor, who says the American dream is still alive and well.
“I think the opportunities are still there. You know, this is America. This is the land of the free, and we’ve got room for everybody,” Trejo said. EFE