While he liked movies when he was young, Benicio del Toro said his first love was sports. “I played basketball. That was my initial drive when I was a kid. I wanted to play in the NBA. That was my dream,” said del Toro. He said he fell into acting almost accidentally during his freshman year at UC San Diego.
“I’ll be honest, I wanted to make my schedule really easy, so I took an acting class, because how can you fail that?” he said. Later he moved to New York and got a scholarship to the Stella Adler Conservatory. Del Toro says these days he watches a lot of cartoons, an influence of his 4-year-old daughter, Delilah.
BHB: How did your life change after you got your Oscar?
BDT: My life didn’t change after I won the Oscar. I wouldn’t allow my life to change, but some things changed. When you’re an actor you don’t choose projects that much. After the Oscar I was able to choose a little bit, you know, put my hands on the steering wheel of destiny, of my own destiny. It just gave me a little more opportunity, but also a little more responsibility, as an actor, being Latino. But it didn’t change my life. I still go about the same way I worked before I won the Oscar.
BHB: There’s buzz of you receiving a third nomination for “Sicario.” How do you feel about that?
BDT: Great! It’s better than not. It’s good. It’s good for the movie. It’s exciting. You also have to work at it, and I’m not crazy about that. You have to go out, you have to meet people, and you’ve got to dress up, and put on the tuxedo, go here, go there. That’s changed a little bit from 2001 when I won the Oscar for “Traffic.” Now there are bloggers everywhere, everyone can do an interview, so there are more things to do on that journey.
If it happens, great, if not, it doesn’t change much, you know. We’ll keep our fingers crossed.
BHB: You appear to be a very private person. Is that why you are not on any social media?
BDT: Yeah, I’m still with The Flintstones. I really don’t know about the social media that much. I like my privacy, but I don’t do it because I want to be private, I’m just not a computer savvy person, I like a piece of paper and a pencil. Maybe it’s better that way and I don’t have to deal with too much. [Social media] has nothing to do with what I do. For some people it does, but I just do movies.
I don’t know, maybe I should look into this, cause you keep looking at me like… [makes a face]. Oh, lord, maybe I should look into it!
BHB: How has being a father changed you?
BDT: I just had with my daughter with me this morning and she wanted to come.
One thing that changed quickly was that for the first time after I had my daughter, whenever I looked at anyone, I immediately went, “that person was [once] a baby.” So immediately you can like anyone, even the person that’s honking at you. You know, “get out the way, get out the way.” You think, “that person was once a baby, like my daughter.” And you go, “ok, I’m not going to be angry.” So that’s one thing that happened right away.
It’s changed my life in many ways. There’s a person, a human, that came into my life, and she’s taken first place, and you go, like, wait a second, I had friends for 30 years, and suddenly, this little girl just walked in here and jumped the line, she’s number one. I also watch a lot of cartoons now. And musicals. It’s kinda fun.
BHB: What did you think of Donald Trump’s statements about Latinos?
BDT: Personally, I don’t think he’s a racist; personally, you have to judge him for what he said. I think he doesn’t understand. He hasn’t done his research, he’s a terrible journalist. The worst journalist there is.
Two things that are important about what he said. One, that when he makes a statement about Mexicans, he doesn’t only hurt Mexicans; he hurts every Hispanic in this country. And number two, I think that it’s important, for all of us, the only way to close him down, is to make sure you vote.
BHB: Did you participate in the recent campaign to stop Donald Trump from hosting SNL?
BDT: No, not because I wanted him to do it. I didn’t know he hosted “Saturday Night Live.” I didn’t see it. Did you see it?
BHB: Do you have any advice for young people interested in becoming an actor?
BDT: I would say to an [aspiring] actor, you can’t act without a story. The story is really the key to what makes movies. Actors cannot act alone. And without a story, actor cannot do anything. I think acting is a great profession, but it is difficult. You’ve got to really love it, number one. You’ve got to be ready to be rejected. You’re going to get rejected over and over and over again. But the key, I think, for someone young that wants to be in the movies is to try to convey that what makes movies happen is a story, and we all have a story. You have your story, I have my story, and everybody has their story. And that story can be as good as “Gone With the Wind.”
I was in Puerto Rico with a filmmaker that I really like, Oliver Stone, and we went to talk to some students at the University of Puerto Rico and I remember someone asked him about writing a story. And he said, you have to write that Puerto Rican story, whatever experience, your experience, like if it was the experience of the Queen of England. You have to write it like it’s that important.
I would say try the writing, because it’s what we need. We have plenty of actors. There’s really a lot of good Latin actors, right now. Make a list. Edward James Olmos, Andy Garcia, Antonio Banderas, Jennifer López, Salma Hayek, Demián Bichir. Plenty of good, good actors out there. What I would say is we’re lacking stories.
BHB: Do you ever get star struck?
BDT: Not long ago I was somewhere and I saw a basketball player that I used to love a lot when I was a kid, Kareem Abdul Jabar. It’s way before your time, but he was a big star and I saw him the other day and I went up to him and I shaked his hand. Yeah, I’m a fan, I’m still a fan, I’m a fan of whatever I like, so I do.
BHB: Why did you agree to be interviewed by Boyle Heights Beat?
BDT: I’ve lived in LA now for about 20 years and I’ve never had an opportunity to be part of something like this, so when the opportunity came, [I thought] it’s good to come and share the experiences of being able to follow a dream. I’m sure all you guys and girls have a dream, right? So, that was my initial reason to come and talk to you guys. And also, I might learn something, which is always good.
Photo above: Benicio del Toro spoke for over an hour to BHB youth reporters. All photos: WELA YMCA Youth Institute.
See a photo slide of Benicio del Toro during the interview: