PLAYBACK is a Variety / iHeartRadio podcast bringing you conversations with the talents behind many of today’s hottest films. New episodes air every Thursday.
Sequels to movies like “Sicario” are pretty rare, so it’s a gift for an actor like Benicio Del Toro to get a chance at expanding on a character such as Alejandro, the cold and broken hitman from Denis Villeneuve’s 2015 thriller. His performance in “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” is just as penetrating as his laureled work last time, and it’s part of a major moment for the actor, who also recently starred in massive blockbusters “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and “Avengers: Infinity War.”
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“When we got the word they were planning to do a sequel, I was skeptical,” Del Toro says of the new film. “When I got Taylor [Sheridan]’s script, it was original, unpredictable and truthful. As I was reading it there were a lot of ‘oh s—‘ moments. The character evolves and this journey brings humanity back to the character. I thought that was an interesting way to make a character change. And it seemed believable. It’s also a throwback to the movies I grew up liking.”
Del Toro’s cinematic awakening came in the 1970s, when American cinema wasn’t afraid to showcase characters defined by their frailty, or themes about “the futility of effort,” as he puts it.
“I didn’t think about being an actor until I was in college. The first couple of days my first year, that’s when I first signed up for an acting class,” Del Toro says. “But growing up, my dad loved John Wayne movies. We saw a lot of westerns, Clint Eastwood movies. Later on, Eddie Murphy was someone that I really ran to see his films. But I remember seeing a movie called ‘At Close Range,’ Christopher Walken and Sean Penn. I remember watching Sean Penn in that movie and going, ‘That’s what I want to do.'”
Del Toro describes himself as an introvert, in contrast to his “Soldado” co-star Josh Brolin, who is the life of the set between “cut” and “action.” It’s an interesting quality given the eccentricity of many of the characters Del Toro has portrayed, from Fenster in “The Usual Suspects” to Dr. Gonzo in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” to his ongoing appearances as The Collector in Marvel Studios releases (most recently seen in “Avengers: Infinity War”).
“I’m shy to an extent,” Del Toro says. “One of the things I liked about acting when I first started was when I got up on the stage I had an excuse, that really, it’s not me. So I could explore. It’s some kind of shell of some sort. It’s complicated because I think you draw from your life and personal experiences. That’s the first thing you go to, like, ‘What would I do if I was in that position?’ So you bring who you are. It’s the combination of it being an out-of-body experience and being truthful to who you are. It’s a contradiction.”
Speaking of The Collector, what’s been the most surprising aspect of being a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
“Having a ride in Disneyland, my man,” Del Toro says. “That’s far out. I still don’t believe it!”
For more, including talk of how being a part of the “Star Wars” series is “the dream of the inner child” and what winning an Oscar for “Traffic” meant for his career, listen to the latest episode of “Playback” via the streaming link above.
|Benecio Del Toro photographed exclusively for the Variety Playback Podcast
Dan Doperalski for Variety