Danny Trejo’s gravelly guffaws holler down the line as he remembers the moment he could not quite believe how his life on turned out.

Once a violent drug dealer languishing in a gangster prison, he was now on a boat in the Amazon rainforest, looking up at a star filled sky – and over at one of the world’s most beautiful women.

The actor, one of Hollywood’s most famous tough guys, spent weeks on a river boat with Jennifer Lopez filming the 1997 movie Anaconda, which also starred Ice Cube and Owen Wilson.

“My God,” he chuckles in his raspy tones. “I’ll never forget that, just thinking, ‘I’m on the Amazon River with Jennifer Lopez’.

“She’s so nice, but I’m sorry, you can’t keep your eyes of her, it’s impossible.

“She wasn’t the big star she was about to become, but every time I looked at her I just thought, ‘Oh my God, The Lord put you on this earth just so we can all look and say, God did that!’








The actor is one of Hollywood’s most famous tough guys
(

Image:

SIPA USA/PA Images)



“I still run into her now and I still think the same, she hasn’t aged a day.”

Danny recalls how he impressed J-Lo by telling her the name of the jungle tribe who had made her wooden bracelets, details he had remembered from school.

He says: “Everyone was looking at me like, ‘How the f*** do you know that?’

“Ice Cube said, ‘Danny, I thought you were supposed to be a gangster?’”

In fact, Danny’s journey from mafioso jailbird facing the death penalty to one of Tinseltown’s most prolific actors is as remarkable as any of his nearly 400 films.

His scarred face, black handlebar moustache and tattooed body have made him the villain of choice.

Danny’s roles include knife-wielding henchman Navajas in Desperado alongside Antonio Banderas and Mexican cartel crook Tortuga in Breaking Bad.

He has also died on screen more than any other actor – including in Anaconda, where he shoots himself to escape a giant snake in the very first scene.








Danny’s journey from mafioso jailbird facing the death penalty to one of Tinseltown’s most prolific actors is as remarkable as any of his nearly 400 films
(

Image:

SIPA USA/PA Images)



It is an irony that is not lost on Danny, who is now aged 77.

“I was never supposed to make it out of the 1960s,” he says.

“I remember when people asked me what I thought of the new millennium, and I’d say, ‘I don’t give a sh**, I should have been dead a long time ago.’ Believe me, I’m the guy who know’s he’s on borrowed time.

“Even when I decided to get clean all those years ago, I still figured I would be dead in five years. I certainly wasn’t asking to become a movie star.”

He is talking about the moment in 1968 when, having reached rock bottom, locked in isolation at San Quentin prison, he says he asked God to help him escape the death penalty.

Born to Mexican-US parents in LA, Danny started using drugs aged 13 and spent 11 years in and out of the prison system for offences including drug dealing and robbery.

Aged 24, he threw a rock during a prison riot that hit a guard on the head and faced murder bid charges.

He says: “I was more scared than I’d ever been. Sitting in a cell looking at the death penalty, you can see the grim reaper next to you, laughing.”

Danny, whose new memoir is out now, recalls praying to God: “If you allow me to die with dignity, I will say your name every day and do everything I can to help my fellow inmates.

“I stopped using drugs and drinking that moment. It will be 53 years this August – I’ve never stopped trying to help people.”

Danny, who still attends AA meetings, got out of prison a year later after the charges were dropped, and began earning a living by sanding and painting cars.

He also volunteered at rehab clinics and started helping other addicts get clean.

It was while trying to help a young addict he stumbled across the career that would make him famous.

When Danny rushed to his aid, he accidentally found himself on the set of action movie Runaway Train.

The assistant director asked him would he like to become an extra and could he play a convict? Similar roles followed in Bulletproof and Death Wish 4 in 1987.



Before long, Danny was earning a reputation in Hollywood, not least because his tough guy ways did not stop after filming.

He recalls how, while playing another inmate in 1993 film Last Light, director Kiefer Sutherland asked for his help after an extra threatened him. Danny told the man: “If you don’t cut it out, someone might put an M-80 [explosive] in your ass and light it.”

The next day the man sent flowers and an apology to Kiefer’s wife.

Today, Danny is still one of the industry’s busiest actors, one of those stalwarts who everyone recognises, even if they don’t know his name.

Despite his success, he still says he is a “drugs counsellor”, not an actor.

Danny adds: “Movie stars are d***s. They think they’re so entitled, so the last thing I want to be is a movie star.”

He has even opened his home to addicts, with former user Mario and his boy living with him for 15 years.

Get news updates direct to your inbox with the Mirror’s free newsletters. Pick the one that’s right for you at www.mirror.co.uk/email.




Danny says Mario helped save his own son Gilbert, now a film director, when struggling with his drug battle.

He adds: “I was in Germany and I couldn’t find my son.

“Mario ended up crashing into a crack house and bringing him out. My son’s seven years clean now.

“That’s why I believe everything happens for a reason.

“Everything good that’s happened to me has happened as a direct result of helping somebody else.”

However, Danny has also had his fair share of lows and scares.

He recently told how he had battled liver cancer in 2010, and had a huge brain haemorrhage four years ago.

But with no signs of slowing down, is there any role he would still like to play?

Danny guffaws again: “Jennifer Lopez’s husband.”

Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption and Hollywood by Danny Trejo out now RRP £20 (John Blake Publishing)



Video Loading

Video Unavailable