×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Benicio del Toro Talks About Playing One of the World’s Most Notorious Criminals

Del Toro Picks Up the San Sebastian's career-achievement Donostia Award

Benicio del Toro talked to Variety at the San Sebastián Festival about his performance in “Escobar: Paradise Lost” which now has him vying for a best actor Platino Award:

Looking relaxed and much leaner than his latest screen incarnation as the  heavyweight, disheveled drug lord, Pablo Escobar,  Benicio Del Toro arrived at the San Sebastian Film Festival on Friday to collect the festival’s Donostia Award for Lifetime Achievement in an upbeat, playful, mood.

“Well, it’s an honor,” Del Toro said of the Donostia Award, “because it’s the first time I’ve been given a career award and also because it comes from the San Sebastian Festival, which has for many years been the festival I have enjoyed the most.”

Born in Santurce, Puerto Rico, the son of lawyer parents, Del Toro grew up in Pennsylvania and made his way through New York and L.A. drama schools before landing bit parts on television.

“As a teenager, I never thought I’d get an award such as this,” said Del Toro.

“I dreamed of course, but dreaming is essential, in order to be an actor .To appear in front of a camera and tell a story is a pretty complicated process and it’s very difficult for any actor starting out .There’s a lot of rejection and you’ve got to have very thick skin, like a crocodile.”

Del Toro was also in San Sebastian to attend the European premier of “Escobar: Paradise Lost,” the directorial debut of Italian actor Andrea Di Stefano, that blends the true story of Colombia’s infamous drug king with a fictional Romeo and Juliet love story between a young Canadian surfer, played by “Hunger Games” Josh Hutcherson, and Escobar’s niece (Claudia Traisac), who become embroiled in the toxic empire of the all-powerful criminal before attempting to escape the cartel’s reign of terror.

Trailing positive notices from the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals, “Escobar: Paradise Lost” marks something of  a return to form for the actor. Ostensibly taking a supporting role as Pablo Escobar, Del Toro’s brooding intensity dominates and lends an essential gravitas to Di Stefano’s debut as director .

Colombia’s most notorious criminal died in a shoot out in 1993, but Escobar’s name still elicits shivers of fear or worshipful admiration for a man who once ran a multimillion-dollar drug cartel and brought terror along with cash to struggling Colombian communities.

After numerous documentaries and books about Escobar’s life, there has been a slew of recent Escobar projects including a 2012 Colombian miniseries and the upcoming “The Ballad of Pablo Escobar,” starring John Leguizamo in the title role. Why the fascination with a man behind so much violence?

“I did feel the pain that went through Colombia at that time” said Del Toro. “And anyone who reads about Escobar sometimes finds it difficult to understand. There were good and very bad sides to his life, and it’s true a lot of people got hurt by this man.”

The role seems almost tailor-made for Latin America’s highest profile star, the 48-year-old who won the best supporting actor Oscar for his role as a Mexican cop in Steven Soderbergh’s “Traffic” (2000) and the 2008 Cannes Best Actor Award for the two-part “Che,” playing Che Guevara, also directed by Soderbergh.

The future Oscar winner made his breakthrough as the mumbling, effete gangster Fred Fenster in Bryan Singer’s “The Usual Suspects” (1995), a performance, he says, inspired by Dustin Hoffman’s role as Mumbles in “Dick Tracy.” It heralded the offbeat chameleon quality of one of cinema’s most compelling character actors who also has an unerring ear for comedy.

Tall and dark with hair swept back from his distinctive granite jawed features, Del Toro reflected at San Sebastian on how Di Stefano’s semi-fictional movie allowed him to explore the dramatic ambiguities of Pablo Escobar .

“What attracted me was the script and the sensibility of Andrea,” said Del Toro. “The truth of Escobar’s life was that he helped many people, so to some he’s still a Robin Hood, but to the rest of the world he is a monster. I’ve been doing this job for a while, and it is better to approach this kind of subject kind of like a surgeon. I don’t want to become him, but examine and know him.”

Last seen in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” a sci-fi action film for Walt Disney Pictures/Marvel Enterprises, Del Toro is currently working on Denis Villeneuve’s “Sicario” and next year will appear in “Inherent Vice,” directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Does he make any distinction between real-life and fictional characters?

“I’ve played many real-life and fictional characters and it’s no more easy or difficult to do either,” Del Toro said. “Basically, you research and study the character, almost like a journalist, then a bell rings and you start the film. That’s when it all comes together, in shooting the scenes.”

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Film Republic Adds Further Sales for

    Film Republic Inks Further Deals for 'God of the Piano' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Sales agent Film Republic has closed further territory sales on “God of the Piano.” Film Movement previously picked up North American rights to the film, as reported exclusively by Variety. Mont Blanc Cinema has taken the rights for Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay. Limelight Distribution is looking after the Australian and New Zealand releases, Hualu [...]

  • ‘Bears Famous Invasion’s Lorenzo Mattotti Brings

    Lorenzo Mattotti on MIA Title ‘Bears Famous Invasion of Sicily’

    Illustrator Lorenzo Mattotti is no stranger to film festivals. The artist – a long-time New Yorker cover artist and onetime Lou Reed and Michelangelo Antonioni collaborator – has designed posters for past editions of Venice and Cannes, and has contributed to films that played in Toronto and Rome. This year, however, he experienced the festival [...]

  • Dreamworks Abominable

    'Abominable' Release in Malaysia to be Abandoned

    Plans to release the increasingly controversial Chinese-U.S. co-produced animation film “Abominable” in Malaysia have been dropped, after the distributor said that it would not be cut. The film includes a scene which depicts a map showing the South China Sea and the so called ‘nine dash line’ which China uses claim to most of the [...]

  • Hui He

    RAI Com Takes World Sales on Italy/China Doc About Star Soprano Hui He (EXCLUSIVE)

    Italy’s RAI Com has taken world sales on high-profile documentary “Hui He, the Soprano From the Silk Road,” which is about the personal and artistic journey of one of the world’s leading sopranos and also marks a milestone Italian-Chinese co-production. Hui He was born and trained as a singer in the Chinese city of Xi’an, [...]

  • Bruce Springsteen arrives for the New

    Bruce Springsteen Returns to NJ Hometown for Surprise 'Western Stars' Introduction

    Bruce Springsteen returned to his hometown of Freehold, New Jersey to offer a surprise introduction to the first public multiplex viewing of his concert/documentary film, “Western Stars.” Dressed simply in a brown jacket, Springsteen took a moment to say a few words at the AMC Freehold 14 movie theater on Saturday night. “We knew we [...]

  • Backstage in Puglia del film SPACCAPIETRE:

    'Gomorrah' Star Salvatore Esposito Set For De Serio Twins' 'The Stonebreaker'

    Salvatore Esposito, the Italian star who plays young mob boss Genny Savastano in Italy’s hit TV series “Gomorrah,” will soon be hitting the big screen toplining upcoming drama “The Stonebreaker” by twin directorial duo Gianluca and Massimiliano De Serio, who are known internationally for “Seven Acts of Mercy.” The De Serio twins are now in post on “Stonebreaker” [...]

  • Angelina Jolie is Maleficent in Disney’s

    Box Office: 'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil' Tops 'Joker,' 'Zombieland'

    “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” is on track to give Disney another first place finish after scoring $12.5 million in Friday’s domestic ticket sales. If estimates hold, the Angelina Jolie-led film should finish the weekend with about $38 million — well below earlier forecasts but enough to top holdover “Joker” and fellow newcomer “Zombieland: Double Tap.” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content