“If you can keep your head in place when everyone around you has lost it and blames you. / If you can continue to believe in yourself when everyone doubts you, / but you also accept that they have doubts ”. It is the beginning of the poem ‘If…’ by Rudyard Kipling. A classic of British literature, from the Victorian era, which the actor Benicio, the bull (San Germán, Puerto Rico, 1967) treasures as one of his bedside readings. It is the poem that he would give his 20-year-old self to read when he started his career in the film industry. “He talks about success and failure being practically the same,” explains the actor. I think it’s interesting to fail: you will never be successful if you don’t fail ”.
An idea that he quickly internalized despite the fact that it cannot be said that Benicio del Toro, Beno for those closest to him, has really known failure. Only success. He was 22 years old when he landed his first big role, as a second villain in Timothy Dalton’s James Bond, ‘License to Kill’ (1975). After a few years at the University of San Diego studying Business Studies, he had only recently made the decision, by default, to be an actor. “I chose interpretation because I couldn’t play the guitar, I couldn’t play the piano, I couldn’t play soccer… I played basketball, but I was never going to be able to make a living from it, “he explains.
He would like “to have played the guitar like Eric Clapton or Carlos Santana”, but he started late. The theater classes were also late, at 18, but a teacher encouraged him by saying that “it was the best age.” He did not think about it any more. “All I knew is that this was what I wanted to do, that it didn’t really matter if I didn’t get a part. I thought: ‘If I don’t get anywhere and everything I end up doing is mime in a park, that will be fine with me.’ That was my mentality ”. Such a thing never happened, and the demonstration of his talent as a mime was left in the imitations he made of his father since he was a child. “When I see myself in movies, I still see my father. It’s incredible ”, the actor has confessed on occasion.
His father, his “old man”, as he calls him, has been a fundamental person in his life, and the one he resembles in “restlessness and activity.” A lawyer, like his mother, Benicio del Toro grew up with both of them and his older brother, Gustavo, in the Santurce neighborhood of San Juan, Puerto Rico. His mother died when he was nine years old, and when he was 15, the three of them moved to Pennsylvania, where he devoted himself mainly to basketball. His height, almost 1.90 meters, was a good ally, but after twisting his ankle he did not return to the field. Was that a failure? Nor does he see it that way. He is not one of those who regrets what he has done or not done.
Even so, Benicio del Toro insists on his closeness to the idea of failure. Sometimes in performances or movies that didn’t get the response you expected. Like when critics blew up Terry Gilliam’s ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ (1998). Today is a cult movie, but you still remember the reaction at the premiere. “It was a great effort on my part, on everyone’s part. I gained a lot of weight, and I did it by myself, without coaches. I did it in eight weeks. There were critics who didn’t even mention me ”, he remembered a couple of years ago. Without rancor, he knows how to “lick wounds”, but he does like to have a “healthy memory”.
In reality, in general, the idea of failure is experienced through his characters. “I like stories that include the futility of effort. Literature that deals with these issues attracts me. Even in music there are songs about this: the boy who goes after the girl, but does not get her. I like that boy. The boy who gets the girl is easy, ”he says.
THE BAD GUY
That is why he has always ended up embodying complex characters, people who do not always have the best ending. From ‘License to kill’ to the recent great ‘Guardians of the Galaxies’ (2014) or ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ (2017). From his debut in ‘Miami Vice’ (1987) to ‘The Usual Suspects’ (1995). From ‘Sin City’ (2005) to ‘Salvajes’ (2012). The characters that have followed Del Toro, if they weren’t villains, were at least of dubious morals and actions. Similar to the character who now takes up, as the absolute protagonist, after the success of the first part, in the sequel Sicario: ‘The day of the soldier’.
“I started playing bad guys almost from the day I decided to be an actor,” he justifies. I don’t know, it may have to do with the shape of my head, but it happened right away. The first thing I did, even in theater, was play the bad guy. But they are juicy roles, almost always. Playing the bad guy you have more freedom to experiment and go further than if you are the good guy. I think the good guys have their limits set, in a way ”.
Another world that has haunted him in fiction is that of drugs, the war of the cartels. The easy answer is to think about what the industry pigeonholed him as a Latin actor and because of that enigmatic lookbecause, he always jokes, he owes his parents. “The old woman and the old man gave it to me in a crazy night or day,” he says. And it takes away value or effort. “The look has to do with the thought expressed there or sometimes, simply, with the sun shining on my face and you don’t even see me. I know it confuses people… ”.
However, Benicio del Toro explains why he has made so many films about drug trafficking in a different way: Gangster films came out of Prohibition, drugs are today the great illegal world trade. The war is real. “It is a problem that began more than 40 years ago and has not yet been solved, and it will continue to do so. So we will see more stories dealing with the subject in one way or another ”, he says.
Of course, it has given him great joys in his career. From the nomination for ’21 grams’ (2003) to the Oscar that he won for ‘Traffic’ (2001), the film that catapulted him and with which he began his professional relationship with Steven Soderbergh, for whom, later, he would play another character who will go in the first lines of his obituary: Ernesto Guevara in the diptych on the figure of ‘El Che: El Argentino’ and ‘Guerrilla’. And despite everything, just the opposite of what you would think, These characters have allowed him to break the molds and barriers for all the Latino actors who have come after him.
“If you can dream without being dominated by dreams; / if you can think and not make your thoughts your only goal; / if you can meet success and failure, / and treat those two impostors in the same way. / If you can bear to hear the truth that you have spoken, / misrepresented by villains to deceive fools. ” Other verses from the same poem ‘Si…’, which we gloss at the beginning of this article; other verses that draw his career.
THE GREAT PRODUCTIONS
After years focused on independent cinema, Benicio del Toro has found refuge in recent years in large productions and quite comical roles, in the Marvel or Star Wars franchises; or even this new ‘Sicario’ – second installment of the original ‘Sicario’ from 2015, also with Josh Brolin’s company. The actor, on the one hand, justifies it because of his paternity. In 2011 he had his daughter, Delilah, with Kimberly Stewart, the daughter of rocker Rod Stewart.. “I may be more interested in doing things my daughter might enjoy, but it’s not that I don’t want to play the bad guy because I’m a father,” he says.
The exceptions to this reinvention towards the ‘blockbuster’ of recent years have been, for example, ‘Puro vicio’ (2014), directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, or ‘A perfect day’ (2015), by Fernando León de Aranoa, the first film of Spanish production that he shot with his premiered Spanish nationality (Awarded to him and Ricky Martin, both Puerto Ricans, by their Spanish ancestors). And also his next assault on television with the miniseries ‘Escape to Dannemora’ –eight chapters, accompanied by Paul Dano and Patricia Arquette–. He just lacks time to regain a passion and hobby, which he discovered when his mother signed him up for classes when he was only five years old. If I was less busy, if I didn’t keep hooking hit after hit, if… I’d go back to painting.
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Being the bad guy in the movie makes you go further