Without a doubt Benicio del Toro is one of the best actors in Hollywood, and it happens to be also a proud Latino. The Oscar winning actor was born in Santurce, Puerto Rico in 1967 to lawyer parents, and moved to Pennsylvania when he was 12. In 2000 he played a police officer in Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic, for which he won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe and a Bafta. He has also starred in The Usual Suspects, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Che. In his latest film, Sicario he plays Alejandro, a former prosecutor turned CIA collaborator.
Q: Do you have a buddy that you love so much that you would actually be willing to share a woman with?
BENICIO: I think people do it. I think it’s possible. I don’t know if I could do it. I don’t know. I haven’t had the opportunity. I think the crucial thing is that they love her hard core. Because you can share it for sexual reasons but to really love that person, it could be. It’s just I don’t know. I’ve never been in a situation like that. I don’t know anyone who is in a situation like that. Two males, it’s called poly…
BENICIO: Yeah. I know girls – two women or more with one man or something but I don’t know personally two straight guys. But then again, you know, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid kind of like hinted on that too – the love for some person. It could be. I just don’t know if it would happen exactly at the same time like that. You could be best friends with a guy.
Q: But with your Latin blood you must be super jealous.
BENICIO: I think it’s human nature. It’s not Latin. I don’t think it’s necessarily Latin. It might grow into becoming Latin because of society. I think you take any baby and, “This is mine.” I don’t know but maybe it’s a Latin thing.
Q: Are you proud of your heritage?
BENICIO: But Of course. I’m from Puerto Rico and I feel Spanish, Latino. It’s my culture, my identity, I do speak Spanish and I embrace who I am. I feel responsible, there’s no doubt. I would be lying to you if I didn’t feel responsible as a Latino. First of all, I want do the best that I can do, not just as a Latino but also as a human being. And then after that you have to be responsible to give some point of view on the character if it’s Latino. I’ve done movies where I’ve played the bad guy and he’s Latino; I’ve played a character that is not the bad guy that is Latino. You just try to do the best that you can as an actor, but I think that there is more opportunity now, and there are more Latinos in Hollywood and in the U.S. There is a change, but it’s evolving in a different way, and I don’t know if anyone can predict it or exactly say where it’s going. I think it’s going in the right direction but I don’t know the pattern or how it’s going to go there. It’s a little bit different than the Italian or the African American experience on film—how they changed those stereotypes. I thought that at some point it was going to follow that African American or Italian route, and then it kind of went in a different direction. Then there are Latin American filmmakers who come from Latin American countries with other ideas and new ideas, so it’s just different.
Q: How do you feel the portrayal of the drug wars between two countries in this particular movie?
BENICIO: I think one of the great things about this film and is that it gives everyone their own responsibility. This is not Mexico is doing everything wrong or they’re so corrupt and crazy and they kill everyone. This is about both sides of the border. That’s really clear on the film. There is corruption everywhere and there are high ranked officers on both sides of the border being part of the scams. That’s there. That’s clear. And it also says in a way I think this film that the savagery that maybe the cartels have because of circumstances in the border is start happening with Americans. I think in the movie saying – and be reminiscent of the violence that we’re seeing in some place in Mexico. So the movie is saying, it could come here and it’s not anyone’s fault. It’s just the strategy of dealing with the drug wars I think needs to be reinvented.
Q: How did you guys prepare for these roles? I’m assuming you aren’t hanging out with Mexican cartel gangsters. I could be wrong, maybe you were. I have no idea.
BENICIO: I’ve met many people over the years. I’ve been involved in many movies that deal with this topic – Traffic, there is a mini-series I did in ’91 called The Drug Wars that was based on a true story about a DEA agent called Kiki Camarena that got killed in Mexico. I’ve been involved. I’ve many people on both sides. For this movie, I didn’t do that research thing because you could open the newspapers, see stuff about it.
Q: I’m curious, especially when you were starting out, how often did you go out for roles that didn’t specify race? Color blind casting, basically?
BENICIO: That’s a tough question in a way. Being Latino in Hollywood kinda limits your window of opportunity. It’s not Hollywood’s fault necessarily, it’s just there’s not those stories that explore the Latino life in the U.S., but I think it’s changing a little bit for the better. There’s a lot more opportunity now, more channels and movies, and I think there’s more filmmakers that are from Latino origin and are bringing that into stories that turn into movies here in the U.S. But it still limits you if you’re a Latino or Latina. It’s just gonna be a little bit more limited than if you’re not. When I first came to LA, I was asked to change my name…
Q: What did they want you to change it to?
BENICIO: Well, "Start with Benny." [laughs] “We’ll make up the last name.” But, I just said “No, I’m not gonna change my name.” It’s a struggle, but I had a teacher when I started acting who said, “You gotta be three times better in order to get a job.” And that might be true, but I don’t let it bog me down.
Q: When you do these twisted characters, how do you like to get rid of them at the end of the day or at the end of the shoot? How difficult is that for you? I’ve seen you do a few of them. They were fantastic to watch on screen.
BENICIO: I don’t know. Yeah, it’s a long shower. A shower would help. A shower helps a lot and brushing your teeth. I’ve been doing it for a long time. When I was younger, I studied acting and I studied the Stella Adler and the method thing. I would be like much more hardcore. I would take it home. As you grow older, you start pacing yourself with that. Now I’m pretty good at letting it go. There is tension all through the movie because you want to be able to do it. For me, there is tension doing it but I let it go. I’m not on the set walking around “I’m the bad guy” or anything like that. I like to have a laugh on the set honestly. I really like after a take to be able to have a laugh especially when I’m doing this character. Maybe one of the solutions is have a good laugh with the actor usually or the director.
Q: You both were saying before that you’re familiar with the world because you’re reading it in the newspapers everyday. I don’t think it’s as in your face in the US and outside of Mexico as it is there. It’s almost like you got to search out the information here to find out about it. Do you think the film is going to help bring the situation to a wider audience internationally?
BENICIO: It goes up and down. There might be something that happens and then boom, they’re talking about drugs for a while and then decisive for the election and then sort of the whole thing goes down. And then there’s another problem, immigration or whatever.
Q: But when you go to Mexico and then you start looking at the Mexican papers, you see every day what’s going on, you see it on the news every night; who was killed, what happened, this and that. It’s very different.
BENICIO: It could happen here too. I mean it’s happening right now. Someone is killing someone on crack or whatever or for something. It’s happening in some state right now. If you open the pages… someone – it happens here too in a different way. It’s a big country.