With a face like mine, it’s hard to be anonymous when you travel. Don’t get me wrong, looking like I do definitely has its advantages. In prison, for instance. But when I visit other countries, I’m amazed how some people react.
Ten years ago, I was in Cape Town, South Africa, to shoot a movie called Death Race 2. We’re in a van and pull up to this place near a high school, and all of a sudden, all these kids start running in our direction, yelling, screaming, real excited. And I’m asking the driver, “Who’s here? Who they going to see?” And the driver goes, “You.” It turns out they’d all seen the kids movie Spy Kids, where I play the hero’s brother, a gadget-maker named Machete. I was like, “OK! Now I’m an international kids star!” Which isn’t half as strange as my first trip to Cape Town.
Back then, I was shooting From Dusk Till Dawn 2, a horror movie where I played a vampire. From Dusk Till Dawn is supposed to take place in Mexico, but we shot the first one at a studio in Hollywood. For the sequel, we went to South Africa to look even more legit. Cape Town is awesome—beautiful country, a great experience. I swear to God, Cape Town looks just like Encino, but with fantastic wildlife. On a break, I got to visit a game reserve near Johannesburg, and it blew my mind.
This time, I was hanging out with Orlando Jones, who’s a great actor and really sweet guy. Orlando’s African American, right? And he’s pretty well known. But he didn’t get the reception he might have expected. The two of us went to visit a mall in Cape Town, and when we’re standing around, I notice a bunch of guys checking us out. These guys are all like six-foot-nine, seven feet tall—just these great big African dudes. And they’re dressed like perfect East Los Angeles cholos! Perfect Pendleton shirts buttoned at the top with the lower buttons open, khakis, Dickies, flawless white kicks—every single detail was right.
This one guy comes over and he speaks perfect English—I mean, like the Queen’s English—but in a perfect East Los Angeles cholo accent. He says, “Yo ese, me and my homies would love to take a photo with you.” At first I think, “Is this guy clowning me?” And he goes, “No, really, homes. Blood In Blood Out, homes, we watch that all the time”—talking about this LA gangbanger movie I did back in 1993. Then he hands his camera to Orlando and tells him, “Here, take a picture of us,” like he’s just some random guy. And Orlando says, “I come all the way to Africa to see my people, and they’re all dressed like East LA cholos.” These guys were completely engrossed in Blood In Blood Out. One guy named his son Miklo, after the main character. But they weren’t taking the negative aspects of the movie—they weren’t bad guys, and they all had jobs. They just liked the clothes, the style, the whole culture. People really love that culture all over the world.
Everywhere I go, I’m the patron saint of gangsters. When I show up, I have everybody’s attention, but not as Danny Trejo. I’m the guy from Spy Kids, the guy from Heat, from Desperado, from Blood In Blood Out. And people, especially kids, want to hear what that guy has to say. That’s the power of movies. So I always try to carry a positive message wherever I go.
Actor and restaurateur Danny Trejo co-owns seven locations of Trejo’s Tacos, Trejo’s Cantina, and Trejo’s Coffee & Donuts in the Los Angeles area. He released his first cookbook, Trejo’s Tacos, in April.