Marked for death
On a summer’s day in Mexico, two men in black are passing through a town. One of them is a musician. The other is a hired thug. If a third party commissions a hit on one of them, it is likely to be for El Mariachi, played by Antonio Banderas. But he will escape, and the one who will be mistakenly killed in his place is Navajas, played by Danny Trejo. It’s all according to plan. Why else would they arm Trejo’s character with knives to take to a gunfight? And this is how he dies in Desperado (1995), a film directed by grindhouse specialist, Robert Rodriguez, cashing in on the fact that all’s well when it doesn’t end well for Danny Trejo.
His directors clearly like to see tough guy Trejo dead in his movies. According to the infographic, Movie Mortality, put together recently by the website, Buzz Bingo, using IMDb sources, Trejo has notched up more on-screen deaths — 65 — than any other Hollywood actor. The earlier record-holder was Christopher Lee, who is now at second place with 60. Kit Harington, the Game of Thrones actor, has been named “the most likely actor of all time to appear in a scene where his character is killed”.
Trejo, now 75, is still going strong. He debuted in 1985 as a boxer in Runaway Train. In 2019, he dies in a zombie flick, 3 from Hell, playing Rondo, a member of a chain gang.
Trejo first showed his genre expertise in Death Wish 4 (1987). The late great Charles Bronson, in yet another vigilante role, walks up to him as he is eating in an Italian restaurant, and, posing as a salesman, offers him a wine bottle. Trejo says, “Hey, don’t I know you?”, his first line of dialogue in a feature film, and minutes later he is blown up as the bottle explodes.
Trejo remembers the film for being chosen to play Art Sanella, his first character with a name. As the actor, an ex-convict, has said in numerous interviews: “The first five years of my career, I played Inmate Number One” — nameless roles in which his weather-beaten face and a much-tattooed body, which looked as if it had known many adventures, is all that was required for the job.
When not dying dishonourably, Trejo has shown he is capable of other tricks: he played uncle in the Spy Kids trilogy (2001) and was a good samaritan in Desperate Housewives, season 2 (2006). But he returned to his bad ways and signed up with a drug cartel only to be killed in Predator (2010), having learnt nothing from his history of getting mixed up with hoods in the Michael Mann noir, Heat (1995), where he is finished off by Robert de Niro, or getting thrown off a plane in Con Air (1997).
But every underdog has his day. Though nobody has fancied him as a romantic face, he did get to play lead in the cult Machete movies and kiss Jessica Alba eight times.