Day Job: Hollywood’s go-to action tough guy (“Machete,” “Heat,”" From Dusk Till Dawn,” and literally hundreds of other roles) and Los Angeles restaurateur (Trejo’s Tacos, Trejo’s Cantina, Trejo’s Coffee and Donuts).
Current Happenings: Published his cookbook Trejo’s Tacos Recipes and Stories from L.A. in April. Distributing food and essentials like diapers to Angelenos in need during the pandemic and helping to feed hospital workers. A documentary about his life — Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo — will be released digitally on July 7.
Animal Crossing Island: Trejo’s (Visited May 19)
If there’s one thing we all know as pop culture consumers, it’s that when Danny Trejo shows up on our screens, he’s going to portray a certified badass. Not only has he been doing that for decades in films and television, he’s also played tough running street gangsters, survived the nuclear apocalypse and mowed down Nazi zombies in video games like “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City,” “Fallout: New Vegas” and “Call of Duty: Black Ops.” You just don’t mess with Danny Trejo.
But when it comes to Trejo’s personal gaming habits?
“I’m not into shooting or wiping out everybody,” Trejo says. “I do that in the movies. I’m just [into] relaxing.”
So odd as it may sound, Danny Trejo and “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” make a perfect pair. Since beginning New Horizons at the tail end of April — his tweet declaring his island arrival blew up to the tune of over 39,000 retweets, 253,000 likes and counting — he’s warmed to the soft charms of the Animal Crossing universe. It’s clear he’s taken in the playful, role-playing spirit of the game as my plane makes its decent Trejo’s airport, when Danny urgently cuts off a question of mine to deliver some vital info: “Please put your tray table and seat back in their upright position.”
It was actually Danny’s son, Theo (a 10th-grader), who introduced his pops to the world of Animal Crossing, and quickly the addictive nature of the gameplay took hold. “My son actually got me involved in this whole thing,” Trejo said. “He said, ‘Hey, let me show you this game.’ And I tried it. And the problem is that once you try it, it’s like, ‘Oh wait, oh wait, I can build something … oh here, let me pick up these sticks … [laughs] let me pick these oranges.' … Once you get started, you just wanna run around!’”
Upon arrival on Trejo’s, the isle’s Zen fencing immediately catches the eye. Danny has split the residential and commercial area along the island’s southern half into clean, stylish sections via the use fence dividers. It manages to feel both sleek and in touch with more ancient design cues, simultaneously giving Trejo’s a signature look while cultivating a tranquil flow.
Since checking out a new locale’s culinary scene always tops any travel agenda, the first thing I do when hopping off the plane is check out what restaurant options are available. Thankfully, real-life Danny is a restaurateur with a chain of Trejo’s Tacos in Los Angeles (plus Trejo’s Coffee and Donuts), so digital Danny wasted no time in setting up an outpost on his island.
“I built a little Trejo’s Tacos,” Danny remarks as he hops behind the counter of his food kiosk (complete with a sign displaying taco offerings) and mans a skillet full of sizzling peppers. “We’re planning on building a brick-and-mortar one soon, but for now it’s just a taco stand.”
While there is no carne asada, carnitas or pollo on the menu at this location — that would be a bit too real (and grim) in a game where your bipedal talking neighbors can be a cow, pig and/or chicken — chef Trejo whips up some fish tacos that provide a welcome reprieve from my fruit-only Animal Crossing diet. (Look, I’m aware that it’s very weird that fish don’t get the creature personification treatment in Animal Crossing, but I don’t make the rules.)
But one is not going to stay in filming shape if we just gorge on Mexican cuisine, so Danny quickly whisks me away to Muscle Beach. As the name (and its corresponding sign) might imply, Danny has set up a full-fledged beach gym on the southeastern shore of Trejo’s. It too has a real-life corollary for Danny. “I used to work out on Muscle Beach in Venice,” says Trejo. “So we made [one here].”
While the boombox blares K.K. Slider’s latest pump-up tunes, beach goers can blast their muscles and burn off those taco calories by doing sets with the barbell and on the pull-up-bar. Getting in fighting shape is also a breeze by battering the speed bag and sandbag with your first of fury. As I attack the speed bag, Trejo happily proclaims, “I’ve got a workout partner! Awesome!”
Danny’s communal spirit really shines through, as it’s clear he’s spent most of his time and bells beautifying the public spaces on Trejo’s, content with a humbler home life. After a few weeks of casual play, Danny still resides in a single-room house, but he makes the most of his limited space.
After the tough workout, Danny’s ready to replenish his system with a protein drink conveniently perched on a side table as soon as we get past his front door. The room’s colorful patterned carpeting evokes a vaguely art deco aesthetic, while the green wooden walls offer a touch of modesty. A Los Angeles Rams poster hangs over a quaint single bed — his island’s flag also boasts an “L.A.” reminiscent of the Dodgers’ logo — and a plasma TV mounted to the westward wall means he won’t miss a game of his favorite local teams (whenever sports start happening again).
The room also features a pet bowl and bed, a reminder once again that Animal Crossing’s species dynamics are incredibly strange. (Are they for his neighbors? Would you invite your neighbors over to eat out of a doggy bowl and sleep in a round bed that they are clearly to big to fit into comfortably?)
Outside his home there’s a purple-hued swimming pool and a fenced-off yard filled with flowers. It’s all a part of the chill vibes that Trejo hopes to foster on his namesake isle.
“A lot of flowers,” he says. “We love flowers. I wish you could see my [real] house. I’ve got that many flowers in my house.”
Relaxation is at the core of Trejo’s Animal Crossing affinity. “You know what?” he says. “This game is so relaxing, if you’re not careful, you’ll fall asleep playing it."
Trejo uses the game to unwind after bigger projects, like taking the edge off after some irl yard work with a little fishing (though his casting accuracy is a work-in-progress) or by digitally working out. He also has fitting plans for future expansion on Trejo’s. “I think I’ll put in a movie theater pretty soon to show my movies,” he remarks.
That calming element has been vital during these troubled times, and that isn’t lost on Trejo. “We’ve had quite a deal with this virus, you know, and I think we’re all just trying to come together. And this game really — I know it sounds silly — [brings people together],” he says. “I’ve got so many people commenting that they’ve seen me play this game. When I said I was going to play it went viral on Facespace or whatever. More people watch this than watched ‘Heat.’”
As a former inmate, Trejo also floats the idea of how beneficial Animal Crossing could be for the incarcerated. “I don’t know if you know my background or not, but I was incarcerated for a long time — I did 18 months. And if I had been in the hole with this game, I think this game would’ve just been awesome.”
While he remains a fiery presence on screen, it turns out Danny Trejo needs to calm down and relax just like the rest of us. “‘Are you gonna kill anybody?’” he asks rhetorically. “No, man! It’s a peaceful island. …
“What I like about it is, it’s not a violent game. It’s relaxing. You kind of learn how to save, build, plan. I’m just so impressed with this game. I wish there were more video games for younger people — I guess for anybody — because I sure enjoy it and I just turned 76.”
Coming next time: T-Pain
Seth Sommerfeld is a Seattle-based culture writer and the Resident Representative of Ahch-To. Follow him on Twitter @sethsommerfeld