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States Pop Quiz #33: Danny Trejo

The ex-convict turned action movie hero talks lemon meringue pie, childhood road trips and why he is the ultimate example of the American dream

As part of our States of Independence summer takeover, 50 American indie icons have volunteered to take the Dazed Pop Quiz; a quick-fire Q&A about what they love and loathe about life in the USA. Check back here every day for more from the series. 

Danny Trejo is the bad man from Echo Park who, after several drug-related spells in prison, found himself on the set of a boxing movie in need of a down-n-dirty fighter (1985's Runaway Train). His distinctive looks and real-life criminality have, since then, helped him redefinine the great all-American (with a dash of Mexican) cinematic villain – and that's on all points of the spectrum, from the don't-mess thugs of Desperado and Con Air, to more sympathetic roles in Bubble Boy and the Spy Kids trilogy.

Recently, he has branched out into music videos, starring in Train's spaghetti western video "Angel in Blue Jeans", mouthing along to Pat Monahan's vocals, alongside Hannah Simone. We asked American cinema's most wanted about all things USA in our quick fire Q and A, in which the actor demonstrated a boundless optimism and love for his country that could possibly only ever come from a San Quentin regular-turned-action movie star (and those don't come around very often).

Which living American do you most admire and why?

Danny Trejo: President Obama.

Which living American do you most despise and why?

Danny Trejo: I kind of train myself not to despise anybody because if I despise somebody I end up jealous. I don't like giving anybody that much power.

What three words define the states today?

Danny Trejo: Fair, wonderful country.

Who gave you your first break? Do you still talk?

Danny Trejo: Eddie Bunker, the screenwriter. Well I met Eddie on a movie set, and he got me to train Eric Roberts for a boxing match [in the film Runaway Train] and then the director Andrei Konchalovsky gave me a job as an actor, playing a boxer myself. Sadly, Eddie passed away about 5 years ago but he was about 75 I guess. 

When and where are you the most happy?

Danny Trejo: Today!

What food reminds you of home?

Danny Trejo: I would have to say arroz y frijoles, rice and beans.

What's the best road trip you've ever been on?

Danny Trejo: I went to San Antonio, Texas with my Mom and Dad when I was really young, before I started getting into trouble. I would have to say then. 

Whose face should be on the $100 bill?

Danny Trejo: I would say, mine! 

 What would make you leave America forever?

Danny Trejo: Probably, the feds looking for me. The federal government chasing me. If I was on America’s Most Wanted I’d have to go live in the UK. 

We'll get you in. What's your ultimate American film?

Danny Trejo: I have to say I do love Machete, even if I hadn’t have been in it. That is my kind of movie. We killed 22 people in the first three minutes!

What's your ultimate American album? 

Danny Trejo: My ultimate American album? God man, this is going to sound really bad, but as an album I just love Credence Clearwater Revival. Now all the Stones fans are going to be mad now. That’s a great driving around record.

When did you first fall in love?

Danny Trejo: Oh wow, I'd say when I was about five. Seriously, a little girl named Tina Castro. Ha!

What law would you change or invent?

Danny Trejo: I don't know – I'm pretty happy with everything going on right now. 

Where in the states would you ride out the apocalypse? 

Danny Trejo: Las Vegas. 

What noise reminds you of the states? 

Danny Trejo: The sound of people laughing.

Lovely. What do you think is your favourite American building?

Danny Trejo: I would say the old Alexandria building. I love that building, it's a very old building.

If you lost it all tomorrow, what would you do the day afterwards? 

Danny Trejo: I'd probably go fishing.

What do you think America's going to look like in 2050? 

Danny Trejo: Hopefully still beautiful. We're trying to keep our air better, you know, to go green – so we’re trying to do a lot.

Do you think the American dream still exists?

Danny Trejo: Oh absolutely – I'm living it! I came from prison to being a movie star. Yeah I think the American dream still lives. You have to shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, I'd rather shoot for the moon and miss than aim for the gutter and make it. 

Okay, maybe just one more question. What is your ultimate American guilty pleasure?

Danny Trejo: I'm looking at it right now, it's a gorgeous woman from America. And a lemon meringue pie. My two favourites. She's standing in front of a lemon meringue pie.