November 2003
21 Grams: An Interview with Benecio Del Toro

Interviewed by Wilson Morales

21 GRAMS An Interview with Benecio Del Toro

Still taking on good roles when they come, Benecio Del Toro is doing it again. Earlier this year, he was energetic as the fugitive running from Tommy Lee Jones in “The Hunted” and now he gives another commanding performance as a man who tries to rectify his mistakes in “21 Grams. Also starring in the film are Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, and Melissa Leo. In speaking with, Benecio talks about his character and what’s upcoming for him.

What was the appeal of taking this role?

BDT: The director. That’s the first thing that came my way. Then there was Sean Penn being involved in it. Naomi Watts being considered and then the script; and also, it’s a character driven piece. Actors kill for parts like this. Just got lucky and would like to thank the people for this opportunity.

What did you like about the character?

BDT: We wanted to show the contradictions, but at the same time we wanted to make him a simple guy. Show the contradiction of being hard core and almost noble for the fact that he doesn’t deserve to enjoy another day when that father (in the film) can enjoy another day. There’s something noble about him. He does the right thing most of the time; just a little too slow or too fast. But he turns himself in. The guy’s going through a depression. That’s the bottom line. There’s this thing called the survival guilt. People suffer from that. It’s a disease.

Did you get a chance to talk to people or read about people coming from that experience?

BDT: No. I read about it. I didn’t get a chance to talk to anyone about it. It happens to a lot of soldiers who came back from Vietnam. There’s a lot of it written about soldiers who came back from Vietnam or WWII. It can get to a point where you see hallucinations. So it’s a disease. That’s what my character is going through.


When you were talking to the director about this, did you talk a lot about it beforehand or did he have you rehearse it much? What was the process?

BDT: Yeah, we did talk about it. The director and I did talk about it. He was really into the fact of the faith. That he’s abandoning the faith. That the faith is in the diction, and I was more into this guy just having a depression. So we went 50-50 with it.

Had you seen “Amores Perros”?

BDT: Yeah. It did pretty good.

Was that the enticement of working with him?

BDT: Well, it’s a first step. It’s like a girl when you see her, and she’s pretty. You know

Was it special to work with Alejandro (Innaritu, the director)?

BDT: Directors are all similar in many ways. This film is special in its own way. I do like his subjects and what he tries to do. Literature. We do have that in common. He likes realism and he likes to make it real. Sometimes what’s real for him is not necessary real for me or vice-or-versa, but we both want that. It’s easy to work with people that will understand what you’re trying to accomplish.

It’s fascinating the way the story unfolds and I was wondering if you have seen the finished product?

BDT: The script was very much like that. It was already chopped up like that. When I first saw the movie, the first 35 minutes, I was like, “Ugh”, but in a good way. It just pulls you in. I don’t know if this story was told in a linear fashion if it would have the same pull. It could but I don’t know if it would. The fact that there’s a side of you that knows that’s this is a dark movie, there’s also another side that’s putting this thing together, and it’s making you get involved. It’s making you think not only about the soul, and the mission, but also about the plot.

Alejandro likes the move around with the camera. Were you able to focus with the cameras moving around you?

BDT: I don’t know. It’s easier because you have a little more freedom with the cameras moving and you can bump into it a little bit more. There’s freedom when there’s space. When the camera is not moving, you have to get from here to there. When it’s moving, the Director of Photography will put you in a position where you don’t have to be concern because the frame comes to you. There’s an element of freedom that I like.

You mentioned that you and Alejandro read some of the same things. Can you tell me some of the things that you have been reading or you read that have influenced you in some of the creative decisions you’ve made?

BDT: There’s book about William Faulkner – The Light in August. A terrific book that sort of falls within this structure.

Read anything recently and why?

BDT: I just finished, and I never read it before, The Maltese Falcon. Great book. I don’t know why now. I read all kinds of stuff. Better now than later. I didn’t do my reading in college or high school. I’m still catching up.

Can you talk about working with Sean Penn?

BDT: He’s extremely professional. He’s a pleasure to work with. I might be the wrong person to ask because I liked Sean Penn before I decided to be an actor. Even before I wanted to be an actor, I like him for his sense of, I think individualism or reality. So I’ve always liked him.

Did you two talk about the characters or did you and he work independently?

BDT: I know my character and he knows his character. I might have a problem with some of his lines and say to him, “Would you mind if I take this off?” That means a line of his goes off, and he’ll say to me after thinking about it, “You know what, that works for me. If it’s good for you, it’s good for me.” That kind of stuff.

Are there other directors you would like to work with? Do you go after them or do you wait for them to come to you?

BDT: I’m more like the guy who likes to get invited to parties, I don’t like to invite myself.

Can you describe the relationship between your character and Melissa Leo’s character, who plays your wife in the film? Is there any love there or left between them?

BDT: I think he’s incapable at that point. He’s stuck to the thought of guilt and pain. He’s got a disease and I don’t think the wife can help him. The wife is going, “Snap out of it, snap out of it!” Try doing that to a crackhead. I wish it could be as easy as that, but the wife is not capable as the tools. She’s thinking about herself too, but it’s very realistic. I don’t think she’s doing it to be malicious. She wants him home. There’s definitely love in there. They’re handicapped. They’re human beings and cannot see right through it. They’re very real and that’s how life is. We all have problems.

You seem to have a good grasp on the flawed characters.

BDT: Of course, it’s called life. I think if we were all perfect it would be a different thing.

Your character hangs on to life to survive. What do you hang onto to survive?

BDT: I don’t know. I hang onto my wallet. (Laughs) I hang onto to the things I love.

Are you going to do the 3 Stooges or Che Gueverra?

BDT: I’d like to do them all. One is a studio film. One is a little bit easier to be done. The 3 Stooges is easier to get the money for. The Che film is a little more complicated to get the money. It’s a bit of a greedy story. The 3 Stooges was a funny TV show. I like the Farrelly Brothers a lot. They’re suckerpunchers.

Are you going to direct “The Run Diaries”?

BDT: I would like to, but I need a script. I’m working on a script. If I get a script, I can really think about directing, but I need the script. I loved the story. I loved the book. Loved the writer, but you need a script for a movie.