This much I know: Benicio Del Toro, actor

By Helen Barlow

A few words with actor Benicio Del Toro.
Benicio Del Toro. Photo / AP
Benicio Del Toro. Photo / AP

I try to stay under the radar now. I'm a father and that changes everything. (He's a dad to 5-year-old Delilah, the result of a brief encounter with Kimberley Stewart, Rod's daughter.) I think about her in a way that is not so much about her now, I'm thinking about the future of another human being who I'm in love with.

I was making Oliver Stone's movie Savages when she was being born and the next day I was hurting someone. I can't change too much but I might do stuff for kids. To do a musical would be kind of funky. I can't sing but we'll fake it, we'll act it, yeah.

Some of my favourite actors of all time played bad guys, from Bogart to Pacino.

I think they started casting me because of my eyes. My mum and dad deserve a lot of credit for that. Both of my parents were lawyers. When I was 13, after Mum died, we moved from Puerto Rico to Pennsylvania. It was a big change. I still feel that Puerto Rico is home but I feel at home in a lot of places.

My first love was sports. My dream was to play basketball in the NBA. I fell into acting almost accidentally during my freshman year at university in San Diego. I wanted to make my schedule easy, so I took an acting class. Initially my father didn't want me to become an actor. At the time I felt he was being small-minded but now that I'm a parent I understand him better. It's very difficult to make a career as an actor as there are so many variants that come into play. You have to have really thick skin, you've got to be flexible, you've got to be stubborn. It's weird. If you go to college and you study law you can become a lawyer. If you go to college and you study medicine you can become a doctor. But if you go to college and study acting, that doesn't mean you can make a living. So I've been lucky.

Being Latin in Hollywood puts you at a disadvantage. I fought the stereotype and I've also been able to use the stereotype to my advantage. I've forced my will into my characters or worked with those people who have created interesting Latin characters.

I don't pick characters based on whether I'm going to be a sex symbol or not. You can't play sexy. You pick roles that are interesting psychologically and emotionally involving. I don't look at it like, "Oh, that's cool, I get the girl" - though I don't mind that at all.

If you think too much about taking chances it'll freeze you. A Perfect Day is set in the Balkans in 1995 as the Bosnian conflict was winding down. I play an aid worker alongside Tim Robbins. I really wanted to work with Tim and he's surprisingly funny. I always like stories that deal with the futility of effort. I liked the challenge of balancing the humour and the darkness that encompasses that world. I think the humour is a self-defence mechanism, some armour to be able to cope.

I don't consider myself super-political and I haven't been involved in going into places that have been devastated by war. Before doing this movie I read a lot about it and I spoke to aid workers and people from Doctors Without Borders. We shot the film in the south of Spain near Granada and I spoke to Spanish fireman who had been aid workers.

The closest character to me was The Wolfman. I produced that movie and also Che, a project dear to my heart.

I gravitate towards films that require a lot of effort and it's disappointing if they don't find an audience. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was like that. But I loved making that movie because I had the chance to meet Hunter S. Thompson, one of America's great writers of the last century. And I got to work with Johnny Depp.

I don't know that I'd like to be a big star like Johnny. I'm okay where I'm at now. I don't need to be anywhere else.


A Perfect Day goes direct to DVD on November 10.

- Canvas

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