Benicio Del Toro

Benicio Del Toro in Savages

Benicio Del Toro in “Savages”

In the wake of the success of “Traffic,” the Academy Award winning film that brought Steven Soderbergh his Best Director Oscar and Benicio Del Toro the statuette for Best Supporting Actor, Del Toro claims people thought it was his acting debut. In fact, Benicio Del Toro appeared in nearly 25 projects before the release of “Traffic” in 2000 – including the memorable, mumbling Fred Fenster in “The Usual Suspects.” In addition, he portrayed Robert Davi’s henchman in the Timothy Dalton Bond outing “Licence to Kill,” Duke the Dog-Faced Boy in “Big Top Pee-Wee,” and Miguel in “The Indian Runner,” written and directed by Sean Penn. In other words, Benicio Del Toro was in it for the long haul, paid his dues, and finally earned recognition as one of Hollywood’s hardest working actors.

Born in Puerto Rico to two lawyers in 1967, Benicio’s mother died of hepatitis when he was nine. A few years later, his father moved Benicio and his older brother Gustavo to Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, a tiny town near the state capital of Harrisburg. Pursuing a business degree at the University of California San Diego, Benicio gradually veered towards acting, studying at conservatories in both New York and Los Angeles. His first role was on “Miami Vice” in the episode “Everybody’s in Showbiz” in 1987. More small roles eventually gave way to growing supporting roles such as in “China Moon” and “Swimming with Sharks.”

It was in 1995, however, when Benicio’s acting mannerisms and characterizations meshed perfectly on screen. In “The Usual Suspects,” Benicio’s Fenster stood out among the ensemble cast spearheaded by Kevin Spacey, and proved Benicio’s commanding screen presence. Still, Benicio’s overall filmography did not showcase his talents. Things like “The Fan” and “Excess Baggage” ensued. But in 2000, Benicio’s breakout year, the roles finally suited the actor. Guy Ritchie’s “Snatch” and “The Way of the Gun” served as a prelude to “Traffic.” And with the Oscar in his back pocket, Benicio followed with another Sean Penn film, “The Pledge,” the thriller “The Hunted,” and the drama “21 Grams” – the second feature from “Babel” director Alejandro Gonzalez-Inarritu.

In the mid to late 2000s, Benicio selected his projects carefully, in part because a broken wrist sustained during “The Hunted” filming slowed him a bit (read our interview with Benicio on the production). He also took time to prep for the filming of two back-to-back Che Guevara films helmed by Soderbergh, with Benicio assuming the role of Che. With Benicio also producing, filming began in 2006 with both films part of 2008’s impressive list of releases – “The Argentine” follows Che in 1956, and “Guerrilla” picks up in 1964. Benicio Del Toro is an actor who never stopped believing in himself, and slowly but assuredly his name appeared on some of the more interesting films of the last 15 years.

Bullz-Eye Features

Interview with Bencicio Del Toro
Here he discusses “The Hunted.”

Benicio on the Screen

Starting as Pito on a 1987 episode of “Miami Vice,” Benicio graduated to a 007 film, 1989’s “Licence to Kill.” He’s worked with Sean Penn on “The Indian Runner,” “The Pledge,” and “21 Grams,” plays Manny Rodrigo in “Fearless,” and steals the show as Fred Fenster in “The Usual Suspects.” Other notable roles include “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” “Snatch,” Steven Soderbergh’s “Traffic” (for which he won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor) and two-part biopic about Che Guevara, “Sin City,” and the new Oliver Stone film “Savages.”

Benicio Says

On acting and baseball:
“I don’t know if you know much about baseball, but baseball is the game of failure. You deal with failure – strike, strike, strike – all the time. Acting is like that. You have to have a very thick skin in a way – your hair is too dark, you’re too ugly for the part, your audition wasn’t good.”

On fame:
“Without realizing it, you can enter a vicious circle and think that you really are a superhero. That’s the moment when you get yourself in real trouble.”