Adam Scorgie is a seasoned filmmaker; he has produced several award-winning documentary films. Originally from Canada, he started his career in New York City, where he worked in and studied the film industry. After returning to Canada, he co-created and produced his first feature documentary, “The Union: The Business Behind Getting High.” Perhaps beginners luck, but certainly excellent filmmaking, paved the way for “The Union” to win several Best Documentary awards and be revered as one of the most highly successful cult classics among documentaries in Canadian film history. His other films are: “The Culture High,” “Ice Guardians,” and “Chasing Evel: The Robbie Knievel Story.”
Scorgie truly wore his filmmaking hat in the production of “Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo” as he worked alongside director Brett Harvey in filming Danny Trejo’s poignant scenes. One can easily see that this filmmaker cares about his subject and sought to show the world the redemption story of a person that has risen from a life of drugs, crime, and violence to a person that now strives only to bring humor and good into the world.
You met Danny in 2015 on the set of a film you were making, and I believe the was film “Juarez 2045.”
Wow, yes, you’ve done your research, although the name of the film was changed to “Cartel 2045,” that’s where we had the idea with my producing partner Rocky Mudaliar, to film a documentary on Danny. I really didn’t know much about Danny other than his movie career. I can tell you after researching Danny, we were astonished!
His story is much crazier than if we would have scripted it. He has such a compelling life story. Brett Harvey made a hard-bound covered pitch book and presented it to Danny, and he said, “Yes, let’s do this, and I’m not giving this book back!”
Danny is most recognized for staring as Machete in the film as “Machete” could you please talk about that film?
Machete, the character is loosely based on Danny’s character in “Desperado.” “Machete” changed the paradigm for people that could be a leading man because Danny was always a character actor, and then in his mid to late 60’s, he becomes the leading man of an action film. Latinos, as in the doc, says, “The black community has Hancock, and the Latinos have Machete.”
Also, it’s really groundbreaking what he was able to accomplish with that role, all based originally on a fake trailer.
After “Machete,” in 2011, I interviewed John Cho and Kal Penn for their film, “Harold and Kumar, 3D Christmas,” Danny plays Harold’s father-in-law in that movie, and I interviewed all three of the Spy Kids for “Spy Kids 2.” Could you talk about his ability to appeal to such wide audiences, kids, and adults?
When you meet Danny, he is always joking, and we feel after getting to know him, it’s because he didn’t get to have a childhood. After all, he was in and out of prison so young. It became a high stakes world for him at a very young age; armed robberies, and heroin when he’s 12 and 13 years old. The big kid in him is living now, and he’s the biggest joker, like always joking, always making fun, and not taking anything seriously. Robert Rodriguez worked with him on “Machete” and saw another side of Danny. Even as menacing as he is, Danny is an incredible father too. All of his past, how it happened before he had kids. It’s interesting when we interviewed his kids. They all said like, “We didn’t know that side of our dad, the criminal side, the drugs, and the violence.” Even to us, we’re like, “What? That’s not you.” He’s like, “Well, yeah. This is long before you guys were born.” Adopting to comedies and kids’ films works perfectly because he is a big teddy bear that’s always joking.
He knows that his life could have been ended when he was 28 years old, facing the gas chamber. He never looks at acting as most actors do. His view is every day he’s on a movie set, or doing something is a blessing.
He doesn’t ever say, “Well, I’m not going to do this movie.” Because of his background and because of his approach. Danny could do a hundred indie films, and then he’ll still get the big one. It doesn’t affect his career the way that other actors do. People love to see that he’s working, so it doesn’t matter what genre of films he jumps to, people support him. To his fans, they love the fact that he doesn’t care, and he doesn’t have an ego about it.
Can you please talk about the title?
In Danny’s first movie role; he was cast as inmate #1. He was hired to train Eric Roberts as a boxer on “Runaway Train” and to box with him in the movie; he was credited with “Inmate #1.” He was then usually, gangster #1, guy with tattoo #1, or prisoner #1.
Yes, I learned from the movie that “Runaway Train,” was his first film and that he trained Eric Roberts how to box. A few months ago, I interviewed Eric Roberts, which is so crazy. There are many parts of the documentary that stood out for me, but the prison life depiction in San Quintin was so realistic and raw. Yes, he’s extremely comical, but then he can get genuine, very fast because he’s lived it. It’s almost, to me, like it happened yesterday; he’s such a good storyteller. Could you talk about those scenes? I would think it’d be tough to relive all that.
We were so gifted with somebody like Danny and the director, Brett Harvey. We realized this in our first couple of meetings with Danny. Danny has been 53 years sober now. So ever since he got out of prison, he’s been sober. Part of the recovery process is always being open and honest about everything. Danny made that promise when he was facing execution to God that he will always give back.
He is always going back to prisons, and that’s tough for inmates. We didn’t realize that, to begin with. Many inmates will never go, even if they’re free men, they don’t want to go back there. They spent years there, and they have no desire to go back there, but Danny always puts himself there.
I really credit Brett to the questioning; he’s so good at pulling the weighty questions to get those emotional responses and really getting you comfortable. A combination of Danny being so comfortable who he is now and that his path has helped him to be who he is today, and then Brett really knowing and connecting with Danny in a way that it pulled the best out of him to where we would get these moments. We just let Danny go. We’d get a few questions to cue him up, and then you could see him starting to go into that mindset and relive it.
What is your process?
Brett has me interview for the eye line, but he’s also operating one of the cameras. I follow the questions he wrote, and I maintain good eye line, but then Brett would squeeze my shoulder, step on my foot, or do something when he doesn’t want me to do anything other than keep eye contact. He says, “Look, keep going in a place”, he’ll squeeze my shoulder and say, “Let him go. Let him do his thing.”
Robert Rodriguez gave us one of the best compliments. He sent a text to our team and said, “Guys, that was one of the most professional interviews I’ve ever done. I can tell how much the director knew really cared about telling Danny’s story correctly, and I can’t wait until this film is released.”
Yes, I think that’s an excellent complement for the film as that’s what I look for in documentaries. How do the filmmakers portray the person? Also, is the film going to help someone? Is this going to be an urgent call for action? Is this going to change someone’s life? This movie could change someone’s life easily.
For years, Danny has been cast as the bad guy that dies. He’s been killed in more movies and by more big stars than probably any actor in Hollywood.
[In a Q&A session with Danny and director Brett Harvey the night of the opening, July 7, 2020 I viewed the Zoom call, and Danny spoke about his death scenes. He said that he holds the record for the most times being killed in a film, 65. He also said that his favorite death scene is when Robert DeNiro in “Heat” kills him.]
What is your favorite scene in the movie?
I love all the humor because a lot of people don’t know that side of Danny; most people know Danny is that menacing, bad guy. I love the scenes of the humor. I love when he starts talking about how guys like Eddie Bunker said to him, “You stick with this, with your look, and learn how to work this industry, that’ll be chump change.” That was one of the many. I also love the moment when Danny calls Robert Rodriguez, and he’s like, “Hey, I’m in Dallas, Texas, and I’m doing a movie with Mickey Rourke”, and Robert said, “Well, that’s awesome, man. What’s the movie called?” Danny said he didn’t know; he was just happy to be working. Those scenes show everyone how grateful Danny is to be working on any movie, so long as he’s working.
Sarah Knight Adamson© June 10, 2020