Danny, the story of how
you got into acting is pretty remarkable. Can you share it with our readers?
It was lightning from the sky. When I got out of the joint I was a
drug counselor. I had a friend who calls me up and says, “Hey, I’m
thinking about using man. I think I’m gonna use.” I believe
you have to try to be there for people who have addiction problems. Sometimes
all you have to do is just hang out with them to help them through the
tough times. So he asked me if I wanted to come over and hang out. I said,
“Yeah, I’ll come over.” My friend was a PA on the set of Runaway Train. I went on the set and it was a movie about prison.
I walk in and there were all these guys dressed as convicts, with tattoos.
Which was funny watching these guys trying to look tough because I had
just gotten out of that environment. So while I’m there, my friend
says, “You wanna be an extra?” I said, “extra, what’s
an extra?” He said, “you’ll make $50.” I said, “they’ll
pay me 50 bucks. Sure!” Then I bumped into this guy who recognized
me from prison…the movie was about boxing and he remembered that
I had won the boxing championship in prison, at San Quentin. He asked
what I was doing there and I told him I was an extra. He asked me if I
wanted to do something bigger. He told me I’d have to act and fight
against this guy. He said, “You’re going to have to act like
a convict, you think you could do that?” [laughs] I said, “Yeah
I think I can do that.”
No, I’ve been through just about every prison in the state of
you’ve gone through, I’m sure you’d agree that crime doesn’t
pay. Yet in a weird way it sort of did pay off for you in the long run.
Yeah, it’s funny. I was hired as a consultant on armed robbery
for Heat. I wasn’t supposed to be in the film. [Originally]
I was just supposed to help make sure the armed robbery scenes were authentic…things
went well and later they popped me into the film as part of Robert De
What was it like
working with Robert De Niro?
I have a lot of respect for him. I’m a drug counselor first and
foremost. Acting is my side job. We were working on Heat and at
the end of the day I invited Robert to a prison I was going to speak at.
He told me they still had some shots to wrap up, so I just assumed he
was trying to give me the polite brush-off. I was in the prison when we
get a phone call. One of the guards says, “There’s this guy
at the door for you who says he’s Robert De Niro. Should we let him
in?” So he actually showed up. It’s something that he didn’t
have to do and I didn’t expect him to. To this day, those guys remember
You could sit back
and enjoy your money and career and forget all of the bad times, but you
haven’t. You’re still a drug counselor. Why do you do it?
I try to keep giving. I’m always telling folks in Hollywood that
giving back and helping someone out is the biggest hook. It’s my
biggest hook. But they don’t like to hear it.
I grew up doing all
the wrong things: drugs, armed robbery. So why do I try to help others?
Because I owe. I owe [for all the things that I did in my past.]
And it’s a great feeling helping people out. The other day I see
this guy that I spoke to in prison at the market and he says, “Hey
Danny. You spoke to us when I was locked up. I’m doing good now.
I’m working, I got two kids. I’m doing good.”
When I go to prisons
guys stop in their tracks. They say, “Hey! It’s that guy from Bound by Honor. Orale, you’re from La Honda! [laughs]. Right
away I have their attention. You have to grab their attention and their
respect. If I can reach just one guy to help him that’s what I want.
That to me is the greatest high, when you can help somebody.
speak to prisoners and encourage them to get their life straight, but
then you’re in movies playing guys that do all kinds of bad things.
Doesn’t that seem like a contradiction?
That’s a good point, and you know what I always tell people?
I say “Remember, the bad guy always dies in the movies.” Even
in Heat I died. Even Robert De Niro died. If they’d ask me
to be the bad guy in a movie where I don’t die in the end then I
wouldn’t do it.
Growing up did
you ever imagine in your wildest dreams that you’d become an actor?
Never. My goals were to be a good laborer. Back then you had two paths.
You work like crazy or you go into crime. But growing up in the barrio
doesn’t mean you have to go the wrong way. I know a lot of guys that
grew up in the barrio that did good things. It’s not the barrio that’s
the problem, but the drugs and alcohol. A big problem is also what’s
missing in their life. I see guys go to prison and do really well there.
They do well when someone’s screaming at them and telling them what
to do. Why? Because it gives them structure. Out on the streets and at
home they don’t have any structure. They can do whatever they want.
So in contrast
to your own childhood you must be a strict dad.
I believe you have to be supportive and positive with kids. My son
says, “Dad, I wanna be a rock star.” I say, “Alright son!
[strums an air guitar] We’ll fly on jets all over the place.”
I don’t say, “No son, you’ve got to be a good lawyer.”
Are people in Hollywood
afraid of you?
In Hollywood all the actors want to know one thing. They always ask
me, “Hey Danny, so how would I do in the joint?” I look at them
and I tell, “Yeah, you’d be alright.” But what I don’t
tell them is that they’d really be someone’s wife. They’d
be someone’s bitch. [laughs]
Have any of those
Hollywood pretty boys given you attitude?
No, but a funny thing happened when I was on the set of From Dusk
‘Til Dawn. There was this guy mad-dogging me. He just kept staring
at me like he didn’t like me or something. I tried to ignore it,
but I’ll only ignore so much. He keeps staring at me and mad-dogging
me until finally I walk over to him and say, “Hey what’s your
problem?” He says, “Hey ju gat a problem?” doing his Tony
Montana from Scarface imitation. Everybody just started busting
up. The guy was George Clooney. He was just setting me up, and everyone
was just waiting to see how I would react. The thing is I didn’t
know who George Clooney was back then. George is a really funny guy, really
down to earth, cool guy.
Speaking of From
Dusk ‘Til Dawn, you got to see Salma do her famously sexy dance.
You’re a lucky man, did you ask her out?
It’s hard to think of her in a sexual way because I know her
and she is one of the nicest, kind, sweet genuine persons that I know.
How do you feel
about these other up-and-coming younger Latinos playing tough guy roles?
Do you see them as your competition?
No. I see all these guys coming up, trying to be like me and I think,
Orale, the more that make it, the better.
that you refused to work on American Me with Edward James Olmos.
It was a
bad idea. It wasn’t cool what they did. They asked me to do it, but
I said no. Eddie sent me the script to read, but I said nope. You can’t
do that. You’re
misrepresenting people at the highest levels of La Eme. If you made a
movie about the boy scouts and you said some bad things about the people
at the top, you’d get sued. People died because of things in that
Whoa! Maybe I should
change topics here before someone from La Eme pays me a visit. You have
that cool tattoo on your chest. Who’s the girl in the tattoo?
My tattoo was voted the number one most recognizable tattoo in the
world by International Tattoo magazine. It’s a tattoo of my
wife. Man I love that woman.
got some international fame?
Man, I went to South Africa and I was with one of my black friends.
I went down there and these guys were like, “Orale holmes,”
and acting like big time pachucos. My friend said that I went thousands
of miles to be with my people. I had to come all this way to see these
guys act Mexican.