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Danny Trejo's Heat Role Was Based On A Different Trejo

There was a time when it was almost unthinkable to have Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in the same film together. Moviegoers got them sharing the poster but not the actual screen in "The Godfather Part II." Then, Michael Mann gave the world what everyone always wanted in "Heat." The filmmaker turned a real heist into Hollywood history. Pitting the two against each other from opposite sides of the law set up a nail-biting experience that thankfully spotlighted a host of incredible supporting stars. Among the big names like Jon Voight, Ashley Judd, and Val Kilmer, though, was an unmistakable character actor who was only just making a mark in Hollywood, Danny Trejo.

The man who went from prison inmate to action star played Neil's (De Niro) wheelman, who eventually is put in a terrible predicament of betraying his partner to protect his family. Though he might not have had as much screen time compared to some of the other major players in Mann's masterpiece, he stood out just like he would in different supporting roles in the years that followed. His presence was and still is undeniable, even down to his name, which in the film actually doubles as his character. He's listed as "Trejo" in the credits. As revealed in an explanation from the man himself, Mann wasn't simply using Danny's surname. Rather, it was a nod to Trejo's lineage that Mann had already encountered years before.

Michael Mann gave the nod to Trejo's family tree in Heat

According to Trejo, in an interview with GQ, Trejo the character was actually named after one of his relatives whom Mann had crossed paths with previously. "Michael Mann did a film in Folsom prison, it's called 'The Jericho Mile,' and he made friends with my uncle, my Uncle Gilbert," explained Trejo. "So when I showed up on the set of 'Heat,' it was funny because when he saw me, he goes, 'Hey, Gilbert,' and I said, 'No, no, it's me, Danny,' but he kept mistaking me for Gilbert."

As filming continued, the issue wasn't just happening behind the camera but on the page, too. Mann changed Trejo's name three times in the script until finally settling on the best choice. "He came up to me and said, 'You know what, Danny, every time I look at you, I think of your Uncle Gilbert. Is it okay if I just called you Gilbert Trejo in the movie?'" 

Danny Trejo agreed, much to the gratitude of his family, who took the creative change to heart. "My whole family cried because Gilbert had died, you know, he'd OD'd and died since before then." In the end, it was the immovable memory of one Trejo that helped pave the legacy of another. "So," he said, "if you note, my name in the movie is Gilbert Trejo."