Benicio Del Toro, co-star of the "Sin City" Movie!
Known for his dark intensity and idiosyncratic performances, Benicio Del Toro became one of Hollywood's more unique actors. His looks suggesting a hidden background as Wednesday Addams' hunky older brother, he first became known to film audiences in 1995 with his breakthrough performance in The Usual Suspects. Born in Santurce, Puerto Rico, in 1967, Del Toro was the son of lawyers. His mother died when he was nine, and, four years later, his father moved the family to Mercersberg, PA, where they lived on a farm. While attending the University of California at San Diego, where he was working toward a business degree, Del Toro took an acting class and was soon hooked. He appeared in a number of student productions, one of which led to a stint performing at a drama festival at New York's Lafayette Theatre. Del Toro decided to remain in New York to study acting at the Circle in the Square Acting School and won a scholarship to the Stella Adler Conservatory.
A move to Los Angeles, where he studied at the Actors Circle Theatre, led to Del Toro's first television roles, which included a guest spot on Miami Vice and an appearance as a drug dealer on the miniseries Drug Wars: The Camarena Story (1990). The actor also began showing up in feature films, perhaps most notably as Duke the Dog-Faced Boy in Big Top Pee-Wee (1988). Despite fairly steady work, Del Toro was still virtually unknown when he was cast as the eccentric criminal Fenster in Bryan Singer's The Usual Suspects. His slurred, otherworldly performance earned widespread praise, an Independent Spirit Award, and, coupled with the film's great success, Del Toro was soon thrust into the limelight that had hitherto eluded him. The actor followed up The Usual Suspects with a supporting role as the titular artist's best friend in Julian Schnabel's Basquiat (1996). Despite intriguing subject matter and a stellar cast, the film was something of a critical and commercial disappointment, although Del Toro's work did earn him a second Independent Spirit Award. Having thus put his trademark on offbeat character acting -- something that was also helped by his role as a gangster in Abel Ferrara's The Funeral (1996) -- Del Toro played a romantic lead opposite Alicia Silverstone in Excess Baggage (1997). A botched caper comedy that cast the actor as a bumbling car thief, the film, unfortunately, turned out to be an indisputable turkey.
Not nearly as disastrous, though courting an intensely mixed critical reception, was Del Toro's next film, Terry Gilliam's much anticipated 1998 adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. A drug-addled, hallucinatory odyssey, it starred Del Toro as Dr. Gonzo, protagonist Raoul Duke's (Johnny Depp basically playing Thompson) partner in crime. Del Toro earned strong notices for his portrayal of the portly, freewheeling, Samoan lawyer (based on real-life Thompson cohort Oscar Acosta), and his performance was widely touted as one of the best aspects of the film. Del Torogained further notice when he won several awards -- including the Best Supporting Actor Golden Globe and Oscar -- for his role as a Mexican cop entangled in the international drug-trade war in Steven Soderbergh's Traffic (2000). The next year, Del Toro played a retarded man wrongly accused of murder in director Sean Penn's sad tale of obsession, The Pledge, and earned his second Academy Award nomination for his performance in21 Grams in 2003. Del Toro made his directorial debut in 2004, reuniting with Depp for an adaptation of another Hunter Thompson book, The Rum Diaries. He was also cast to star in Che, Terrence Malick's biopic about Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, the production of which was postponed in 2004.
Benicio Del Toro Tells Broccolis Clive Owen Should Be Bond
Oscar-winning actor lobbies for his 'Sin City' co-star. Clive Owen is keeping so tight-lipped about his possible casting as the next James Bond that he won't even divulge whether he likes his martini shaken or stirred. His "Sin City" co-star Benicio Del Toro, however, is trying to help the smooth-talking Brit obtain his License to Kill.
"That's right," Del Toro said of Owen being his choice for Bond, "and I made the phone call. I told him I made the phone call."
Del Toro, the Oscar-winning star who started out in Hollywood with a small part in the Timothy Dalton Bond movie "License to Kill," said that he still has a direct line to the Broccoli family, which has owned the rights to 007 for decades. He said he's urged Barbara Broccoli, the producer of the upcoming "Casino Royale," to cast Owen.
"I would definitely put the word in for him. He's just a very good actor, Clive Owen, and a good man," Del Toro said.
With "Die Another Day" star Pierce Brosnan not involved in the upcoming film, the Broccoli family has been busy lately as they look at possible Bonds while denying a list of rumors longer than Q's inventory of gadgets. Owen has been mentioned as a potential Brosnan successor ever since he sported a tux in 1998's "Croupier," but he's consistently declined opportunities to lobby for the role publicly.
"You know, anything that I do ... it's never been official," Owen squirmed. "There's never been any approach. There have just been things written in various publications, but there's no ... you know, it's not substantiated in any way at all."
Regardless, Del Toro says Owen has the right stuff to follow in the footsteps of legendary secret agents like Sean Connery and Roger Moore. "He's the obvious one, man," the actor insists. "He's got that get-down macho thing. And I think the ladies like him a lot. And you need to have that there in a Bond movie."
Owen said he appreciates his friend's intervention on his behalf, but maybe Barbara Broccoli should be looking for the first Puerto Rican James Bond instead. "I think Benicio should do it," Owen laughed. "I'm going to have to make a phone call for him."
Is Clive really the answer? Check out our feature "Saving Agent Bond" for 007 ways that the Bond camp can revivie the film world's longest running franchise.
Benicio Del Toro: Deal with it
You might have thought that Benicio Del Toro had no chance in Hollywood: that paunch, that slouch, that mumble. And yet...
Benicio Del Toro was born in Puerto Rico, the smallest and most densely packed crucible in the history of the world. We are all in there somewhere, where once Amerindians had their being: Spanish, African, French, Scots, Irish, German, Chinese, Italian, Lebanese, Cuban - all these separate ethnicities mixed, merged, melded and matched by the simple expedient of maritime mobility to create the romantic and specifically American ideal of the big melting pot of humanity. And if the Puerto Rican exemplar extended itself across the globe and the whole world interbred with cosmopolitan abandon for a thousand years, the ultimate human male would look like Benicio Del Toro and we would all contain multitudes.
Del Toro is a big man, 6ft 4ins and suitably hefty. It's not till you look into his face that you get the full impact of his physical legacy. He looks like an angel. Unfathomably, ethereally, androgynously beautiful. A dark Lucifer, with wild black hair that seems to hold a lot of pale dust; soft, feminine lips and lidless eyes with irises the colour of mother-of-pearl. You expect him to tell you to fear not, and in a way he does. He keeps very quiet, lets you get used to it. He doesn't look like this in the movies, of course. I must have seen eight of them and I have not recognised him from one to another, doubtless because it's usually his job to self-select some kind of psychotic thug from his infinite blood-well and sock it to you so hot and strong you don't even think of him as an actor. In this passive situation, where he's sitting on an anonymous sofa in a rented room while wearing an expression of courteous apprehension, his internal ghosts can send megawatts through your solar plexus if you're not careful. Better to look away, I find. Keep it straight and narrow.
Del Toro is in London with a new film about to open. He is, he says, a snob about who he works with, so when the opportunity to throw in his lot with the Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu arose he didn't think twice. However, he thinks that since I have seen 21 Grams, which goes on general release early next month, I must be entitled to my own opinion. I take his point. Iñárritu is a director much given to the old butterfly-wing theory of the continual influential intersection of human lives as exemplified by his Amores Perros, which was rather wonderful if you don't mind reading subtitles and watching dogs tear out each others' throat.
21 Grams is Iñárritu's first English language film, but it must be said that little is gained by the translation. It is as though he has wilfully invented ways of being inarticulate. So we have a man (Sean Penn) with heart disease who has a heart transplant, courtesy of a Jesus freak (Del Toro) who accidentally mows down a man and his two daughters in his van. So far so good, except it takes days after viewing the film to work this out, because Iñárritu has buggered up the time sequence in the name of cinematic artistry, flitting indiscriminately from yesterday to next Tuesday 12-month with the Friday before last in between. For the first half, I thought I was watching a film about a man with a doppelgänger in the next town, which was a terrible pity as you can't help noticing that all the actors are valiantly turning in bravura performances. The 21 Grams of the title, I managed to grasp through the mists of obfuscation, is apparently the weight a body loses when it dies, from which we might infer it is the precise weight of the human soul. Or a small bar of chocolate, come to that. I don't care.
About his own part in this tumbling mosaic of "gritty realism", Del Toro is somewhat reticent, retreating into the monosyllabic mumbling expected of him since his first monosyllabic mumbling role in The Usual Suspects nearly a decade ago. It reminds me of a short, rather desperate piece of American reportage from that period, where an earnest showbiz writer had carefully garnered a small handful of half-finished Del Toro responses to his questions and was preparing to call it a quiet day when the natural successor to Brando and James Dean suddenly threw out a gratuitous remark.
"I'm going," he said, "to Hawaii."
"You're going to Hawaii?" said the reporter encouragingly, sensing a scoop.
Del Toro stabbed an index finger towards his hair. "I'm going," he repeated, articulating as though to an idiot, "white."
I have yet to get my ear in as he sums up 21 Grams. "'Bout hope," he says, "'bout faith. 'Bout redemption."
It's about, I say, one of those terrifying, born-again, evangelising, militantly stupid nutters who seriously believes God has nothing better to do with Himself all day than plot his personal welfare. "You frightened of Frankenstein's monster?" he says, more as an accusation than a question. But the bronchitic rattle that goes with it is companionable, a chuckle almost. His character is not a boogie man, he says. "Wasn't his fault," he goes on by way of explanation. "You're just afraid of someone going through a depression. That's all that's going on. When you have a depression you even frighten yourself. It's a disease. Nothing to do with God. The guy wants certainty and he wants it now. Some people turn to cocaine, some people turn to psychiatrists, to speed, to religion, to killing... "
There is an enormous ring on his finger, a huge lump of silver hewn into some kind of awful face with its mouth open. A decorative knuckle duster. There's a bracelet to go with it, equally cumbersome, with a horseshoe hanging off it. These adornments conflict with the sobriety of his dark suit and, especially, with the delicate, fine kid of his obviously handcrafted shoes. I have an uneasy feeling that I'm being thrown curve balls. The tension, however, has another cause. Del Toro is valiantly having a stab at who God is and has reached the bit about Jesus just being the guy who... when someone from the film company looks in to say he has been unable to track down the brand of cigarettes requested by their shining, award-laden star.
"Jesus is the guy who..." he goes on, then stops. "God. Oh, God, he didn't have to go that far, it's only down the street," and cracks up. I slap down a couple of packets so far invisible for politeness and he says, hey, I see you've come double-barrelled, and helps himself. Relaxed, the suit and jewellery somehow go together; entirely benign projections of a singular man's idea of what he wants to look like.
He wonders some more about who God is. I don't know if he thinks like a Method actor because he was trained to be one or if he was drawn to the training because he thinks from the inside out. Anyway, he says he "thinks about stuff" and sometimes it sends him into a spin and then he freezes and does nothing. What is there to do, he says - kill time? We are nothing. Nothing. Someone lives to be 100, some kid dies at the age of 10. When you look at the big spectrum, what's the difference? They're both nothing. He was brought up on some old Spanish maxim that told him he must live like he's going to live 100 years and he's going to die tomorrow. "I was brought up with some heavy stuff," he promises.
As far back as he can remember, which is way, way back to being very small in Puerto Rico and in full recognition of the Roman Catholic concept that our adult selves are made before we are seven years old, he was preoccupied with death. "I was an agitated kid," he says. "My mother was always sick." Every Sunday, at least once, and on saint's days, he went to church with his mother. He remembers liking the air conditioning. He remembers being obliged to sit still. He remembers a day when, in his innocence, he took money from the offertory plate, putting it in his pocket and being caught and reprimanded. He remembers an all-pervading fear. "Like you hear the word God and you know it goes back to the most ultimate thing, and the priest knows everything, too. They put the fear into you." He remembers hoping. Hoping his mother wouldn't die. Having faith. "I still have that," he says, "Faith and hope, still burning. Not faith in God; faith in something. Something bigger than you and me. It could be humanity. Or the universe. It's not personal."
He rather savours this one, the idea of the impersonality of the universe. "I believe in everything and nothing." That's another old Spanish maxim, apparently. But he doesn't leave it there. "I don't know what God is and I don't even know who I am. Hey, I'm 36 years' old, going on 37, and I don't know who I am!" He has a little brood. Sighs. Whispers something to himself. I think it was "Ash Wednesday". Then he makes a decision. "Look," he says commandingly, "I'm playing the game, I'm playing the game. I believe if you don't believe in something, you can just fuck off. There'd be no morals. If I didn't believe in anything, I'd spit on everybody; I'd do as I please all the time... there'd be no respect... "
The small Benicio hoped for his first nine years and then his mother died. And now he's still hoping. Because, he says, she died, but not really. "Besides," he says, "now, right now, everybody you know is dead. And everybody you've ever known. They're not sitting here talking to you, they're not writing you a letter, they're not calling you on the phone. Everybody is dead now, except you. And me. Sometimes I sit down and think about this stuff." He points to my tape recorder. "There's a lot of crap in there," he says.
I assure him this is often the case and ask how he managed his grief when his mother finally died. His answer is that his dad had a great approach to the whole thing. He took the nine-year-old to one side and told him to look it straight in the face. All business-like and manly, he was; that's life, he said, that's the way it goes, what you do now is go on with your life. So why, I wonder, if that was so admirably appropriate, did he become such a furtive child? This makes him laugh a lot. He toys with the word furtive as though he's never heard it before. He likes it. It is, he says, a good word. Fuuuur-tive. Cigarettes arrive. They are not the right brand, but better than mine. "Now," Del Toro says, "we have comfort."
"Look," he says, inhaling more tar than I could give him, "it's good to have secrets here and there. We have to be furtive because we want control. Because we can't control death. We wish we could, we thank God for penicillin and great inventions and the idea of everlasting life, but we know it's going to happen. So we go about trying to control whatever we can. It's a game. You can't control any of it. All you can do is make choices. Shakespeare said something along those lines - life gives you these cards, you cut a hand, you pick up your cards and you play them."
Where, I ask, does Shakespeare write about cutting a hand? "Laugh all you want," he replies dangerously. "I'm not an intellectual, I'm just a human being and I've read a few things and I'm putting it in my own words. I've read Dostoevsky, so who gives a fuck? You can call it what you like; you can call it wood, window, God, Mohammed, McDonald's, 7/11, whatever it is, life, nature, hurricanes, you can't control any of it. But you've got to pretend you can."
Doubtless the boy Benicio maintained the Puerto Rican equivalent of a stiff upper lip in his bereavement. When his father remarried within a year of his mother's death, however, he seems to have let down his guard. He was not happy. In other words, he was failing to "go on with his life" in a manner conducive to harmonious family life. His father, a lawyer by profession and therefore a man well versed in the art of interpreting rules to suit his case, felt that his son should be kept occupied, given responsibility, given no space in which to feel discontented. To this effect, he put him in charge of a piggery he owned. That'd learn him. Up at the crack of dawn mucking out sties, go to school, back to the pigs, bedtime. But pigs, as we know, are the philosophers of the farmyard. Wonderfully thoughtful chaps. In their company, Benicio honed his natural ability to brood and simmer and create vengeful fantasies of the day he would take his old man down a peg or two.
Eventually they sent him to a boarding school in Pennsylvania, where his all-American middle-class peer group had a tendency to regard Puerto Ricans as some kind of subspecies. Unsurprisingly, education was never a burning issue for Del Toro. He liked basketball and he liked to paint. And that was about it. If he ever thought about himself as a grown-up man, a static vision implanted itself in his mind: an image of a big man in a white T-shirt with blue work-pants and big, brown working boots, carrying a spanner. It amuses him enormously to realise that his vision was of his father, not as a lawyer, obviously, but as a man who refused to call in a mechanic when his car broke down. His father was a fixer. And if he couldn't fix it, he wouldn't buy a new one. "Buy your own television," he'd say when his ministrations failed with the old one.
By the time Del Toro went to college, the man with the spanner had faded and no one had taken his place. He can't for the life of him think why, but he opted for business studies, vaguely hoping a fellow in a collar and tie might cut the mustard. But his heart wasn't in it. He drifted into an acting class when he was 19 and, as he puts it now, "It was like one minute I knew nothing and the next I knew something." There was, above all, a logic to it. "At first, you just play pretend. Later, you take on a character - it's not necessarily you, but there's a logic there. It's not just the lines you have to say, but the choices you make in your interpretation, the difference you can make to meaning."
Having found his vocation with such alacrity, there was nothing for it but to keep it under his hat. He could hardly go to his dad and say, guess what, I'm going to be a film star. It would not have been considered man's work. For one thing, there is no cinema culture in Puerto Rico: Latin-American music, yes, boxing, yes. They went to the movies, they watched videos, his dad was fond of John Wayne westerns, but a respectable Puerto Rican patriarch did not raise his son to be anything so effete as an actor. Hence Del Toro studied under Stella Adler, one of the legends of the Method, cracking on that his college fees were being spent on making a businessman of him. His father wasn't best pleased when he found out. There were non-speaking periods while father and son displayed their stubbornness one to another, until inevitably it was the older man who backed down, success, as it were, being a great leveller. Today, Del Toro is pleased to say how alike they are, he and his old man. "He'll always have something to say. He doesn't know a thing about movies, but it doesn't stop him."
Lacking the innate physical vapidity essential for the American movie hero, Del Toro found himself to be employable in Hollywood only as a sort of bit-part baddie. So far as he was concerned, his bit-part baddie would be the centre of the plot, if not the universe. The Method does that for you. "Hollywood gives Method actors a bad rap," he says. "You say you're a Method actor and they tell you to get psychiatric help."
Apparently, directors don't like it when you argue with them. Particularly, I imagine, if all they want you to do is look sinister, mumble a few ill-chosen lines and get off the set. Method, he says, is only common sense. In those early days, it was a mystery to him why so many directors were averse to that commodity. He casts about for an example of the problem. "Look," he says, "I'm in a car and I'm going to crash into a wall at 60 miles an hour and I have to get out of the car and walk into the next scene. So I put on a seat belt because I know it's the only way I'd survive. And the director says no, the sort of guy you are doesn't follow the rules, he wouldn't wear a seat belt. So I say, then we'd better hit the wall at 10 miles an hour if you want me to get out of the car. And even then I'd hit my head and there'd be blood, so we'd better get me some blood... just common sense, you see. But they don't like it. They have their preconceived ideas so there's conflict."
And so he went on with his movie career. The better the director, he discovered, the more willing he would be to debate issues of reality and character authenticity with a man in a supporting role. The supporting roles therefore became more expanded, more respectable, and Del Toro became more noticeable. And more indefatigable. Bit parts grew into supporting roles, and he got down and dirty with the best: Friedkin, Soderbergh, Iñárritu, Sean Penn, Terry Gilliam. He knew who was who. When Gilliam invited him to play Dr Gonzo in the film version of Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, he not only knew who Gilliam was, he was a fan of the writer, Hunter S Thompson, and an avid adherent of gonzo. He knew what gonzo meant; what it meant in the 1970s, what it meant in 1998 when the film was mooted, what it means today and what it always will mean. Gonzo is so big, it's an adjective. "Gonzo," Del Toro narrows his eyes, "Gonzo means you don't fuckin' suck to nuthin'." He leaves an eloquent pause. "Like, suck what? Eh?"
He prepared himself, in his usual meticulous fashion, for the definitive Gonzo. By the simple expedient of eating 14 doughnuts a day, he put 40 unappealing pounds on his beautiful body and, less simply, applied himself to observing the self-absorbed conflictions of junkie behaviour. His performance had the unsettling effect (for one thing) of making his co-star Johnny Depp look like a comic cardboard-cutout caricature of a drunk. Indeed, so ruthlessly realistic was he, rumour has it that when called upon to burn his own arm with a cigarette, he insisted on burning his own arm with a cigarette for real.
There was nothing Gilliam or anyone else could do about it, except, of course, to remove the awful scene from the final cut. "Yes," he says with languid disinterest, "I did burn myself. While I'm here, I must ask Terry to send me some of that footage."
Fear And Loathing was an unmitigated failure for all concerned. But most particularly for Del Toro. The funny thing was, he says, Hunter S Thompson had warned him what would happen. He'd watched him work, seen the movie and told him he wouldn't work again for a long, long time. And he was right. While the 20th century became the 21st century, he couldn't get so much as a sniff at an audition. People thought he'd gone off his chump. They thought he was a hopeless drunk. A hopeless, fat, junkie-drunk. They thought he was gonzo. That's where Method gets you.
They let him back in again to play the Mexican gangster-turned-cop in Soderbergh's Traffic, doubtless under the impression that he'd be a natural for the part, meaning he would have only to play himself. However, speaking American with a Puerto Rican-Spanish accent was not good enough for Del Toro. He hired a Mexican voice coach and obsessed himself with the task of perfecting the accent until he could have stood up in a ditch in The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre and said, "We don't need no stinkin' badges", and nobody would have noticed the difference. At all events, he won an Oscar for best supporting actor and, to the best of my knowledge, Soderbergh is still speaking to him. He can do just as he likes now. The American film industry believes in its own mythology and a man with an Oscar is an actor at a premium, even if he does upstage their leading men.
It was while he was preparing for a role back in 1996 - in Abel Ferrara's The Funeral - that he discovered another facet of the Method. This friend of his had taken him to a bar in Queens where all the macho guys were supposed to hang out and it was like walking on to the set of Goodfellas. All the men were imitating either De Niro or Joe Pesci. "Life was actually imitating the movies," he says, like it was the first time he'd ever realised such a thing. "These guys were acting being men." At the time, all he could think to do was get hold of a video of the 1932 original version of Scarface and imitate Paul Muni. He's thought about it since and he's concluded that it's what we're all doing, all the time; imitating someone else's behaviour in the desperate hope that it will make us colourfully real. He turns around to check whether there is anyone else in the room and says, "What women don't understand is... " and lights another fag and pours himself some stone-cold coffee. I get the strong impression he is thinking his way into another film.
"What women don't know," he says, "is all a man gets from the moment he's born is rejection. So, any time he gets the breath of a chance, he's going to take advantage." Having opened this Pandora's box, he rummages around in it, fishing out various plaintive evidences of the plight of the rampant male in this female-oriented vale of tears. There's a girl sitting in the driving seat of life and the guys are filing past her, offering themselves to her and she's sizing them up and going no, no, no, no, no, yes. Then, more graphically, he conjures up a young man and a young woman, aged, say, 25, equally attractive, standing in this very room. And we say to them, go out into the street and there will be 10 attractive young men and 10 attractive young women and you have to approach all 10 of your sexual counterparts and request sexual intercourse (or, in the Del Toro parlance, utter the immortal phrase, "Wanna fuck?") and see what happens. Right? We know the answer, don't we? The guy will get lucky maybe twice, if that. She, on the other hand, will score 10 out of 10. QED.
And then comes his conclusion to this imaginary experiment in psychosexual behaviour. "It's not fair. The woman always wins." So this is why men behave badly. This is the cause of all the friction between the ladies and the gentlemen. This is why the guy who gets lucky can't wait to get his leg over elsewhere. "We're a union here," he explains. "We've come a long way from the old days when a man would just hit a woman over the head, fuck her, chuck her out, eat a cow and go back and do it all again."
I try not to laugh. My solemnity is rewarded with a literary reference. Del Toro is very fond of the work of Charles Bukowski, the beat-generation novelist, short-story writer and poet. He takes my notebook and writes down the titles of three Bukowski titles he thinks I might enjoy, and he recalls a quote from the great man: "Bukowski said, 'I've never raped a girl in the street because I've never seen another man do it.'" If I'm right, and Del Toro is preparing for another role, I predict a very bleak film is in the offing.
Benicio Del Toro: 21 Grams
“ I've had my own depressions, where you just don't want to get up from bed ”
Having won a Best Actor Oscar for his performance in Traffic, Benicio Del Toro received another nomination thanks to his powerful work opposite Sean Penn and Naomi Watts in 21 Grams. There was a time, though, following the disastrous performance of Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, when the actor found himself shunned in certain quarters in Hollywood. How things change...
People have compared 21 Grams to Traffic. Are there similarities between their directors, Alejandro González Iñárritu and Steven Soderbergh?
Well, one is Mexican. But I would say what I see more are the similarities, the way they collaborate and their focus on the piece, how they listen to you and the encouragement they give. They both love actors, which is great. The difference is Soderbergh has done I don't know how many films, and Alejandro, this is his second film. Second films are difficult for directors, I think, and this one is fantastic.
Your character is a religious fanatic. How did you get inside his mind-set?
I just see someone who's going into a depression. Simple as that. He's gotten straight because of religion, and if that's how you get straight, good for you. When he goes into a depression, he starts rejecting religion. What I tried to do is someone going into survival guilt. That's a real psychiatric phenomenon. So I read a little bit about that and I talked to some people. I also used my own experience. I've had my own depressions, where you just don't want to get up from bed.
Have you changed since winning an Oscar for Traffic?
I'm the same person. It changes the fact that people might be able to bank on you a little bit more. And when you're doing a film, they might be able to listen to you a little bit more. But every movie you start from zero. Just because I won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, it doesn't mean everything I touch will turn to gold, you know?
Your transformation in Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas was so dramatic that some people thought you'd actually gone off the rails. How badly did that perception affect your career?
I think that some people in Hollywood wouldn't even consider me for a project because they thought I had become an alcoholic, or something like that. So it's a good reminder. If you always win and you're always successful, you don't understand what success is. I kind of trust people that have lost. I think that experience made me a little bit more stronger or more grounded in some ways, so that when Traffic happened, I didn't just float it. I said, "That's great but I've been in the doghouse and I might end up in the doghouse pretty soon again."
Benicio Del Toro: Traffic
How would you describe your character?
He's not a romantic lead, but the guy has a romantic vision. There are a number of stories in "Traffic", and I'm in one of them. The plot takes my character through different stages of what it takes to do the right thing, if it's possible.
The subject matter - that of the drug trade - is handled very seriously.
The whole approach is serious. It's a bookmark of our times, especially here in America with the problem of drugs. Only time will tell, really, but I think it's going to be an important film. It has a message without saying it, and that's the beauty of it. You can feel it. It's important to educate kids and parents of what it is to be on the 'demand' side. Whatever we're doing to stop wars, without the education of what it is to be on this 'side' means nothing. If you just fight without educating people that drugs are no good - or that they are a symptom of something, like what's happening at home, or at school, or with the community - it means nothing. In that way "Traffic" is very successful. Then again, I've seen it once. I'd like to see it again. Time will tell, but I think it is an important film.
What's your role in Sean Penn's upcoming film, "The Pledge".
I have a little cameo in "The Pledge". I play a retarded guy who's the suspect of the crime. The story goes from there. Jack Nicholson is the character who believes I didn't do it, and he sets out to prove I didn't.
The Way of the Gun
I believe you encouraged Christopher McQuarrie, who you worked with on "The Usual Suspects", to write and direct this film?
I don't want to take all the credit, but we did sit down and talk about what we could do. We talked about the movies we liked and the movies that he was trying to emulate in some ways. I wanted to emulate Sam Peckinpah and Warren Oates, so I was there from the embryo. Chris wrote the thing in about six days. He wanted to do something less about the plot, unlike "The Usual Suspects". We wanted to do something where the weapons were held the right way. It took about five years to do it, and I'd love to work with him again.
You were both coming out of difficulties at the time, right?
He was coming from some turbulence with the movie he was trying to get made on Alexander the Great, and I was coming from a weird experience after "Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas" because of the lack of success. We were both like the characters from "The Way of the Gun". I think he was Parker, and I was Longbaugh.
Are you and Chris outlaws, like Parker and Longbaugh, to Hollywood?
I think we were feeling at the time that we wanted to do something more against what Hollywood puts out all the time. There are lots of outlaws and mavericks out there, but we had a romantic vision that we would do something different. Kinda like old school.
Benicio Del Toro: The Hunted
Born in Puerto Rico to lawyer parents in 1967, Benicio Del Toro is best known for three roles - the mumbling Fred Fenster in "The Usual Suspects"; the mumbling Franky Four Fingers in "Snatch"; and the Mexican cop Javier Rodriguez in "Traffic" (he may well have been mumbling, but our Spanish isn't good enough to tell). He won the best supporting actor Academy Award for the latter, delivering a 100% mumble-free acceptance speech. Now he's on the run from Tommy Lee Jones in "The Hunted".
How would you describe your character in "The Hunted"?
To me, he's like Frankenstein's monster in some ways. Someone created him and taught him to kill. Now he's trying to find somebody who'll listen to him, but he can't find anyone. So he finds himself out on his own and tries to survive.
What appealed to you about this film?
It's got a message to it. If you train someone to kill, how can you stop them from doing that? A lot of people say that's very difficult, to leave it behind. You know, people who've fought in wars, they keep those demons in the closet and then, one day, something happens.
What kind of research did you do for this role?
I do as much research as I need to, based on the script. And, of course, we did a lot of knife fighting training. I spent a lot of time in the gym practising the moves. I wanted the fighting to look as realistic as possible.
You did injure yourself during a fight scene, didn't you? You broke your wrist. How did that happen?
You know, it's the ones that look easy which are the ones that are going to get you hurt! I was diving to the ground in the forest, reaching for a knife and Tommy dived in too and he landed on top of me. We'd practiced it in the gym with mats on the floor many times, but when we got out into the middle of the forest, the land is different. I just fell awkwardly and Tommy fell on top of me.
The Hunted: An Interview with Benecio Del Toro
Latino actors are starting make some ground on the leading role level. While they were never away, the roles just didn’t come their way. Jennifer Lopez started making some noise and she gets nothing short of a lead role. Selma Hayek just recently got an Oscar nomination for her lead role in Frida. Now it’s time for the guys. Two years after winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Traffic, Benecio Del Toro finally has a lead role. In an interview with blackfilm.com, Benecio talks about his role in The Hunted and how he loves it when he doesn’t get acting parts.
WM: Is it always a challenge playing a different role?
BDT: It’s weird, but this movie is different because it’s a chase. There is so much fighting and of course there’s not going to be so much dialogue in the middle of a fight unless you’re Muhammed Ali. But otherwise, for this movie, I think it’s the right choice. It’s a challenge in a way, but it’s also fun.
WM: Was there a point in the film where you knew that dialogue wasn’t necessary for a key scene?
BDT: Basically the whole film. In some sections, there was little dialogue. But Billy (William Friedkin) was very much into reducing the dialogue when he felt it was redundant. He wanted it to be different. It’s a lot of action.
WM: What was it that grabbed you to take this role?
BDT: The first thing was the director and the physicality of it was interesting.
WM: I had read somewhere that one point you broke your wrist during filming. Can you talk about that?
BDT: It’s not in the film, but it was one of the scenes where I’m practicing with the knife and I fell on Tommy Lee Jones and he fell, and I fell on top him and my wrist was trapped somehow and broke. When you work with Tommy, bring a gun.
WM: Tommy Lee Jones had mentioned that he learned a lot more about killing people than he wanted to know and that the aspects of killing were a little upsetting. How do you feel about the aspects of killing people?
BDT: Yeah, I agree. I’m with him in some ways.
WM: Do you believe in killing for survival?
BDT: That’s not necessary the military. You have to kill to survive. People have been doing it forever. I eat meat, and I eat fish. If I were on a deserted island I would need that to survive.
WM: What do you think about war and about Puerto Ricans being involved in it?
BDT: I don’t think war is a solution to what’s going on right now. There have been some wars that been necessary in some ways. I think WWII was an important war. If the situation right now was like WWII, I’m sure you would be all for it. I believe in war but I’m not clear with what’s going on now.
WM: Could you imagine yourself in the military?
BDT: I don’t think I could be a foot soldier. I don’t know if I could take orders too good. I’m a little lazy.
WM: How does (Director) Friedkin change your day?
BDT: He’s old school in a way that a basketball coach expects a 120% percent from everyone. He might get emotional like Coach Bobby Knight. He’s like a military guy, not in a bad way.
WM: Growing up, did you have a fear of some horror films and who did you enjoy watching on screen?
BDT: Yeah, many. When I was a kid it was Bela Lugosi films, or Boris Karloff films. Then later on, it was Richard Gere and Eddie Murphy. When I was in my teens, they were the big stars in the 80s. Robert De Niro was also a favorite.
WM: What turns this guy from a killing machine to a rogue killing machine?
BDT: Well, in war, he’s trained to kill and what turns him into a rogue killing machine could be the fact that he’s desensitized to killing.
WM: Did you enjoy yourself doing this film?
BDT: I enjoyed it. To be honest with you, I rather not be working. When you work, there are all sorts of deadlines and pressures. I like to do one thing and take my time to do the other one. I’m not like always working on a film; I’m working in my head. If I don’t get a job, I go “Thank you, God”, they’ll deal with it. I think the work really starts when you get the job. I used to have auditions and go to the auditions and walk in and then they would say, “You didn’t get it”, and many times I would go, “Thank God”, because I don’t know what I would have done with that role. When I got the part, that’s when I would know when the work begins. When some people get parts, they feel they can now relax, but for me it was always the opposite. Sometimes before I do a movie or before I act out a scene, I may not sleep well the night before. If I don’t know what the scene is about, I might get all worked up.
WM: What do you on your spare time?
BDT: I read and listen to music. I also paint but I haven’t done that in a while. I listen to all types of music. I have been in Memphis recently so I’ve been listening to some blues like Muddy Waters, and some early Elvis.
WM: It’s been a long time since you were a romantic lead in a film. Would you consider playing that sort of role again?
BDT: It depends on the part. There are a lot of good actresses out there. I would do something like that. I did a film years ago with Alicia Silverstone. It wasn’t too successful I guess, but I liked it. I enjoyed it. The film was “Excess Baggage”.
WM: How have your choices changed since you won the Oscar?
BDT: The formula is pretty much the same. I try to judge my movie based on the story. It’s not always like that, but it’s based on the story and the people on it. Hopefully, it would be great if it was in that order. But it doesn’t always work out that way.