Published Jun 23, 2020You've seen Danny Trejo in stone-cold classics like Heat and Con Air, watched him pop up in episodes of Breaking Bad and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, seen him appear in memes and viral videos and, of course, spotted him in Slayer videos. And yet there's still so much more to the actor's life story.
Fortunately, director Brett Harvey and producer Adam Scorgie have helped get us up to speed with their documentary Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo. The film, which concluded an impressive film festival run and debuted for streaming on Superchannel this week, chronicles Trejo's early life as a teen drug addict, armed robber and convicted felon through to his current life as a movie star and youth counsellor.
Of course, despite being 71 years old, Trejo's fascinating story is far from over. But Inmate #1 still serves as a perfect intro to Trejo's truly singular life.
Below, Harvey and Scorgie tell us about the challenges and triumphs of bringing Trejo's story to life. Inmate #1 is now available on Superchannel.
What is it about Danny Trejo that drew you to this project?
Brett Harvey: Danny's story was one of the wildest transformations of human character I had ever come across. We're talking about someone who started shooting up heroin at age 12 and began a career of performing armed robberies throughout his teens years. In his 20s, he was a prisoner in all the major penitentiaries across California, only to ultimately be facing three counts of the death penalty. To come out of that and become a drug counsellor for 15 years and then jump into Hollywood and rise to the level of stardom we see today is simply astonishing. When a story like Danny's comes along, it's impossible to pass it up.
Adam Scorgie: Danny's redemption story is so incredible, Brett and I just had to tell it. Then, after meeting Danny and getting to know his great sense of humour and willingness to share everything, we knew we had an award-winning film on our hands.
Making a documentary about someone who is still alive and working must be fairly different than covering someone more tied to the past. Did that aspect pose any challenges in making the film?
BH: Keeping up with the rate at which Danny's story continued to evolve was the tough part. Even after the cut off point of production, which was quite a while ago, Danny's story just continued moving forward. With dozens of new movies constantly coming out, new businesses and media stories of him helping out his community, there was unfortunately a moment where we had to cut off production and we weren't able to include the new elements. Not being able to include everything was tough at times.
AS: There were lots of challenges. One of the main challenges was finding friends of Danny's who truly know his past who are still alive or no longer in prison.
Do you think you had a unique perspective on Danny's story as Canadians?
BH: I think being from Canada and not having experienced a lot of areas like Pacoma and the various neighbourhoods of L.A., prior to the shooting of the film, allowed us to have fresh eyes and perspective when approaching his story. The murals, the culture and sense of pride in the community made it easy to find intriguing elements in his world. Being northerners allowed us to appreciate even the smallest nuances of his story.
AS: I think Danny's redemption story is universal and will connect with everyone and anyone who watches it. Danny's story is a true message of hope and helping others and that you don't have to be a product of your environment. You can change, you can evolve.
In your opinion, what is the quintessential film from Danny's career that people should check out?
BH: Without a doubt, the quintessential film from Danny's career that people should check out is Sherrybaby, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal. Danny plays a role that, on some levels, resembles various aspects of his real life. His performance is raw and moving. If you want to see what Danny is capable of as an actor, watch Sherrybaby. On the other hand… if you want to have a blast and watch the movie that launched Danny into stardom, then watch Desperado. He doesn't say a single line in the movie but has a towering presence that can never be forgotten.
AS: Well, besides Inmate#1 of course, I would say there are really three films you have to check out, if you haven't already.... Desperado, because Danny doesn't say one word, but is always remembered. Heat, because Danny was originally hired as an armed robbery consultant, and Sherrybaby, because you truly see how Danny evolved as an actor.