Between Takes - Benicio Del Toro

Oscar winner on addiction, Che and werewolves...

HERE AND NOW

Tipped for an Oscar nod for his turn as a tormented junkie in Things We Lost In The Fire, Del Toro is currently shooting back-to-back Che Guevara projects Guerrilla and The Argentine for Steven Soderbergh and will then bare fangs as the titular beastie in the Wolf Man remake . No chance of a looming identity crisis, though: “I leave the characters behind, y’know?” he says. “You have to.”

How did you prepare for the cold turkey scenes in Things We Lost In The Fire?
Someone explained to me what it was like. They told me it was like the worse case of flu; it would last for three to five days and it would get to the point where you wanted to puke and you’d have nothing to puke. I thought, “I’ve had the flu…”

Did you watch many drug movies?
There’s one scene that I remember from The French Connection II with Gene Hackman. That was a classic cold turkey scene. I actually probably remodelled it and then added my research. I wanted to make it… not pretty.

There’s a tender scene in the film where Halle Berry’s character asks you to go into her bedroom to help her sleep…
Yeah. One of the reasons I like that scene is that now I can go around and tell anyone that I slept with Halle! [Laughs]

How was it?
It was pretty good! Nah, I barely got to first base, man. [Laughs] I didn’t make it. I got called out. I touched her earlobe and that was it.

Yet you’re renowned as a sex symbol. The ladies go mad for you…
It… it’s funny. It’s… fine. I’m doing fine with it. Y’know, it’s OK. I can’t complain! I don’t work at it, y’know? I guess I gotta just thank my mom and dad for it! It’s just been given to me – how I move or whatever!

So tell us about playing Che Guevara in the upcoming Soderbergh biopics. How did you study for the role(s)?
The first thing I did was to read what he wrote and listen to what he said. That was the foundation. Then I met people who knew him: his wife and survivors who were in Bolivia with him.

How have you found acting in Spanish?
It’s difficult. Especially with an Argentinian accent. Che was not only a guerrilla but a thinker – his Spanish is intellectual Spanish. So we do what we can. We try. But we don’t have much time; we average five or six scenes a day. It’s not a big budget movie. For two movies, it’s really small.

What does Che represent to you?
As a Latin American? He represents an idealism. He believed in something and he went for it. He’s a product of the ’60s. This is not an interpretation – we’re treating it as a historical piece, with serious intent, and we’re keeping very much in tune with the rhythm of the sequence of events.

You like to play outsiders, enigmas, people who are misunderstood. Do they choose you?
I guess maybe they do. Maybe I’m a little bit of an outsider myself. Or maybe I project myself as one. I don’t know. They’re fun to do though.

Doesn’t a part of you want to dress up in a tux and play someone totally new?
Yeah. If it’s a good movie and they want me, then I’d do a tuxedo screwball! I’d like to try it at least. I mean, as an actor you want to try different things, to explore.

Wolf Man is different for you. Is that the appeal?
I haven’t done a horror movie so it’ll be kinda cool. [Pause] Part of it is nostalgia. Those were the movies I loved as a kid; I always liked those monsters. Bela Lugosi as Dracula, Boris Karloff’s Monster… The Bride Of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man, King Kong, The Mummy… All those monsters have something; they’re all misunderstood.

Do you have any mates in the industry that you seek tips from? Sean Penn, perhaps, given you’ve worked together more than once?
Sean is a colleague, a friend, someone I admire. But he hasn’t called me lately with advice! I remember one of the first movies I did was a James Bond movie [Licence To Kill]. When we wrapped, I choked up. It becomes like a family, in a way. But you learn through the years that you have to move on, y’know? Everybody’s busy and we go our different ways.

Let’s go back to Things We Lost In The Fire. It teaches us that we shouldn’t be so materialistic – other things matter more. But is there an object that you’d be especially sad to lose?
My Golden Globe! [Laughs]

Anything else?
My Oscar!

Did winning those awards affect your career?
It changed the business side of things. Back in the day, if I had an idea for a movie, they’d say, “No – that’s not gonna work.” Now they at least sit down and let me explain what my idea is. My word might be taken when it comes to being in a movie and making decisions for my character. I might be taken a little bit more seriously because of, y’know… the hardware.