With more than 40 movie roles, Benicio del Toro is most widely known for winning an Oscar for his Best Supporting Actor role in the movie “Traffic.” According to the actor, the win allowed him to be able to choose roles more freely than earlier in his career.
In the days leading to the Academy Award nominations, there has been some buzz about a supporting actor nod for the Puerto Rican actor for his role in “Sicario.” There has also been a lot of speculation about what role the actor will play in “Star Wars VIII,” which will begin shooting this spring.
This is the second part of an hour-long interview with the actor, which has been edited for length and clarity. Read part one and part three of the interview.
BHB: We know you’ve turned down roles, like Diego Rivera in “Frida” and Khan in “Star Trek”. How do you go about choosing and rejecting roles?
BDT: I think I turned down Diego Rivera because I had [just] done “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”, and actually the character I played was named Oscar Acosta, he was a Mexican American from LA, but in the book he is written as a Samoan. He was a very good writer, he wrote a book called “The Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo,” that I recommend to you guys to read. But, that aside, I gained weight. And then I lost the weight. And then they came to me to say ‘play Diego Rivera.’ Well if you play Diego Rivera you have to gain weight. And I just couldn’t do that, back-to-back.
Usually you select a movie with the team that is involved, the director, the other actors, and then the script, if the story is original. When I read stuff I go, ‘Do I believe this, would that be possible?’ And sometimes I might feel that a movie can be original but I might have done something similar to that, and decide I don’t want to do it right now. And movies don’t wait for anybody.
And there are other movies that I’m involved with from the beginning. That’s different, those are movies that we put together.
BHB: What has been your favorite role that you played so far?
BDT: They are all kind of like favorites in a way. I’ve done many movies, but not one experience has been the same. Every experience has been completely different. And that’s kind of strange, and the experiences, you know, they mark you, and you learn.
I gravitate towards films [on which] you put a lot of effort and they go [silent gesture] when they come out, they don’t find an audience. “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” is one of them. The other reason I like that movie it’s because it’s based on a book. Also because I got a chance to meet Hunter S. Thompson, one of this country’s great writers of the last century.
Another movie that I did, in which I learned a lot, was “Che.” I got involved early on, was part of the research, and we traveled to Cuba. We worked very much like journalists, I interviewed almost everyone that knew [Che Guevara] in Cuba.
Those two I like, they were kind of the ugly ducklings.
BHB: There were reports that you burned yourself with cigarettes in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Is there anything special that you do to prepare yourself for other roles?
BDT: I burn myself with cigarettes [LAUGHS]. That story, it is a true story, I will explain to you later why
I did and how silly it was. But usually, how do you prepare? I read the script, I really try to understand what the writer is trying to say. And then I look at the character and I try to figure out if I believe that person. And I use my own life experiences and go from there.
And [about] “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” I was looking at pictures of Oscar “Zeta” Acosta, and I saw that he had a line on his wrist, like a scar. I went to Hunter Thompson, who was friends with him, and I asked him “what was that”? And he told me that he used to go to [restaurants] and, just to mess with the waitresses, he would light a cigarette and when they’d tell him [to] put it out, he’d go [sound] and he’d put it out. And in the movie I did it, and I got infected, and I got a needle like that in my butt, so I don’t do that anymore.
BHB: You learned your lesson.
BDT: You learn.
BHB: You read the script for the upcoming “Star Wars” movie and are set to film in early 2016. Can you tell us anything about your role or the movie?
BDT: You know how secretive they are. My experience is that movies do change. But it’s an interesting role. It takes place in space. There are some robots in there…. I don’t even know that much. I mean, I did read the script. I liked it. I liked it. I liked it and it’s one of those things I’m going to be able to see with my daughter.
I start shooting in March, we’re still months away from it. All I’m going to tell you is that they sent me the script to read on a tablet. Some guy knocks at my door and he stands there and goes, “I’m supposed to wait here until you finish reading the script. I’m gonna sit in my car, when you’re done I’ll be outside.” The guy is watching my house. Now I sit down, and I’m really a slow reader. I start reading the thing, you know, there’s names, R Two 27, he says “Beep beep beep…” and I’m getting all confused. So put it down, and I got get the phone, and I’m talking, and then I go back to the script. I forgot this guy was [waiting]. He sat there until like 7 o’clock at night. And I gave him the tablet back.
BHB: You say that when you get a character you ask yourself if this character is believable. Did you think the same thing about being The Collector in “Guardians of the Galaxy?”
BDT: First I found out about that guy The Collector, cause he’s not that famous of a character, so I had to go and do some Marvel [research]. I found out that he’s lived forever, that his wife died, I found out about him in that world, and then it had to be believable in that world. The other thing is you can’t die, so I liked that. I liked the idea, ok, you know what, that’s kinda cool, they can’t kill me. Cause I’ve done a lot of movies where they’ve whacked me.
My character in the film, he basically gives information of what the stone really means, that’s the purpose of that character, it’s like a Greek chorus, he explains to the audience what this thing is. I tried to make it interesting, so I don’t get bored. And hopefully it worked out.
BHB: Since your movies are typically for mature audiences, what got you to do the voice in ‘The Little Prince”. Was it because of your daughter?
BDT: I like that book. It’s a great book. I read it when I was younger. It’s kinda cool, to go to the recording studio, you just sit there and play. One thing about being a character is you have to be in touch with the kid in you. I’m a “kiddult,” a mixture of a kid and an adult. And you know what, in all the arts, you have to not be afraid of making a mistake. Cause they come. You can’t be afraid of making mistakes.
Above: Benicio del Toro has several face expressions as he ponders questions from Boyle Heights Beat youth reporters. All photos: WELA YMCA Youth Institute
In Part Three: Del Toro talks about winning the Oscar and being a father.
Read Part One of this interview here.