Benicio Del Toro made his first film appearance as Duke, The Dog Faced Boy, in 1988’s Big Top Pee Wee. That gig might not have suggested what was to come in the next quarter century; Del Toro continually has surprised and thrilled audiences with an acting talent second to none. Winning the Supporting Actor Oscar for 2000’s Traffic and getting another nomination for 21 Grams, the actor should be in Oscar’s line again for his riveting turn in the drug-cartel drama Sicario, in which he plays Alejandro, a mysterious hit man who may or may not be on the side of the good guys. Del Toro has played variations of this kind of role in many films (Savages, Escobar: Paradise Lost) but he’s never before gone so deep by saying so little. It might be his best work yet.
I’ve seen you in many movies dealing with drugs from a number of different angles, but I’ve never seen you play a character like this.
I got the script and I thought it was original in its content but I also thought structurally it was very interesting. We follow the Emily Blunt character for the entire film and then suddenly, we go into the world of Alejandro for the last third. I wasn’t sure it could work. Then I met Denis Villeneuve, the director. His enthusiasm was great, as was his vision and his sensibility to that world. I’ve done many, many movies that take place in that world. So I know a little bit of what’s going on. I’ve made friends with the DEA.
The script wasn’t exactly what you wound up filming, in terms of your character?
They kind of put that weight on me, that I cut the dialogue. Halfway through the film there was a scene where we’re going into Juarez and we’re about to cross the border. In that scene, Alejandro had this monologue where he explained to Emily’s character his backstory—what happened to him and his family and basically his motivation. In my life experience I’ve met people who have had tragic moments like that, that mark them forever. My experience is that they don’t open up their story to you in the first 24 hours they know you. So (Villeneuve) then gave those lines to Josh (Brolin), a smaller version of it, and Josh did a terrific job.
Denis Villeneuve has called you his muse. That’s quite a compliment.
He probably said that about all the other actors in the film, because what I notice about him, and I think this is a quality of what I consider a good director, or the best that I’ve worked with—they have this thing; they get really talented people around them and they get that talent to give them 110%. He just has that thing where he’s pulling the strings and you don’t see how he’s pulling the strings. He’s a motivator. I think that’s really what puts him there.
Let me ask you about that dinner scene at the end. Was it written differently?
There was a version where I let the kids and the wife go. Denis and myself were very keen on the version that you see now, but the studio was concerned about it. So in order for the studio to allow us to do the scene that is in the film, we shot the other scene. I think when they screened the movie, when they did the report cards and all, people reacted to the scene that’s in the film now.
Benicio Del Toro was having a moment. Just days after the release of his latest film, “Sicario,” a dark drug war thriller from Oscar-nominated director Denis Villeneuve, news broke of a possible sequel.
Meanwhile, sci-fi fans blew up Twitter after reports that Del Toro would portray a new villain in “Star Wars: Episode VIII” and reprise his character the Collector in “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2.”
In “Sicario” (Spanish for “hit man”), Del Toro is the titular character, a man poisoned and empowered by 20 years of drug war barbarism. He plays opposite Emily Blunt and Josh Brolin, who are American operatives desperate to beat back the murderous cartels from the U.S.-Mexico border.
It’s familiar territory for Del Toro, 48, who’s made his name on drug war characters. In a 1990 Emmy-winning TV miniseries, he played real-life undercover DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, and 10 years later won an Oscar for his turn as a conflicted Mexican cop in Steven Soderbergh’s “Traffic.”
Earlier this fall, in a compact room at the Sunset Marquis, Del Toro shared his meandering thoughts with The Envelope, musing how his portrayals tracked the evolution of the drug war. Soft-spoken and modest, the actor at one point quipped, “Sometimes I think I dreamed this stuff.”
You have a lot of experience in this genre as an actor. What drew you back into this world?
I think I’ve played almost every angle in the drug war world. I don’t remember all my movies, but I don’t think I’ve played that character driven by revenge in any of them. [Director Denis] Villeneuve was enthusiastic. He had a vision. [Venerated cinematographer] Roger Deakins is one of the reasons I’d decided to do the film too. Josh Brolin and Emily Blunt, I’ve known for a long time. They’re motivators in a way because I don’t care what anybody says as soon as you get in front of a camera, working with a director you consider good, you’re going to try to impress them. You just do a little more work where you concentrate a little bit harder [with] a little bit more discipline.
Didn’t you shoot two different versions of one particularly violent scene?
Yeah. I felt like my guy was an eye for eye. Or an eye for an eyelid. Denis felt like that too. So his decision to wipe the table, in my opinion, was the way to go. The studio was concerned. And I understand that. And he understood that. He compromised. Why don’t we do both versions? We did ours first. Make sure we got that one right. But we did it fast.
And your version made it?
It was the scene that scored the highest [with test audiences]. It was a scene that shocked them and probably put the film into a different angle…. I think people are jerked by the darkness [of this film]. It’s part of what this movie is trying to do and I understand people might not like these movies because they’re too violent or whatever, but that’s what [the drug war] is.
What have you learned after all these years depicting the drug crisis?
I did a TV miniseries called [“Drug Wars: The Camarena Story”], which was about a DEA agent … who went to Mexico and was killed. It was just the beginning of the Mexican side of the drug wars. From 2000, when I shot “Traffic,” to 2015, I’ve made friends in my personal life with DEA agents, people that are on the front lines of this war. The maneuvers of how the drugs are being shipped, it’s changed drastically.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the production of drugs has not diminished and the consumption of drugs has not diminished. One bit. But the violence has hit all-time highs.
I just read that for the first time ever Mexico is allowing extradition for some 12 or 13 drug dealers into the United States…. I’m not running for office, OK? I don’t want to get political, but I do believe there might be a way to work with both governments. The people need to get involved in this too. The Mexican government can’t do anything about the violence. It has evolved into something else.
SANTA MONICA, CA (November 17, 2015) – Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow), Oscar® winner Benicio Del Toro (Best Supporting Actor, Traffic, 2000), Oscar® nominee Josh Brolin (Best Supporting Actor, Milk, 2008), and Victor Garber (Titanic) star in the must-see drug war thriller Sicario, arriving on Digital HD December 29 from Lionsgate Home Entertainment. Rotten Tomatoes Certified Fresh, the film will also be available on Blu-ray Combo Pack (plus DVD and Digital HD), DVD (plus Digital) and On Demand January 5. An official selection of the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, the edge-of-your-seat action-packed story follows a covert group of crime fighters on a treacherous cross-border operation to take down a Mexican drug kingpin.
From the director of Prisoners comes this taut, critically acclaimed thriller filled with pulse-pounding suspense, shot by twelve-time Oscar®-nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins. After an idealistic FBI agent (Blunt) is recruited by a government task-force official (Brolin) to pursue a drug lord, she begins a perilous mission that forces her to question everything she believes—and pits her against a shadowy consultant (Del Toro) with a dangerous agenda.
The Sicario Blu-ray and Digital HD releases include in-depth behind-the-scenes interviews with Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro and a look at the visual design of the film with director Denis Villeneuve. Also included is a look behind the creation of the score with Oscar®-nominated composer Jóhann Jóhannsson (Best Original Score, The Theory of Everything, 2014); and a discussion about writer Taylor Sheridan’s research for the script. The Blu-ray is encoded in Dolby TrueHD and features a Dolby Atmos® soundtrack, which delivers captivating sound that places and moves audio anywhere in the room, including overhead, to bring entertainment alive all around the audience. The Sicario Blu-ray Combo Pack and DVD will be available for the suggested retail price of $39.99 and $29.95, respectively.
BLU-RAY/DIGITAL HD SPECIAL FEATURES*
“Stepping into Darkness: The Visual Design of Sicario” Featurette
“Blunt, Brolin & Benicio: Portraying the Characters of Sicario” Featurette
“Battle Zone: The Origins of Sicario” Featurette
“A Pulse from the Desert: The Score of Sicario” Featurette
Among the 54 films screening during this year’s showcase, Dec. 1–20 at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in Silver Spring, Md., are ‘Youth,’ ‘The Lady in the Van,’ and ‘Son of Saul.’
The 28th AFI European Union Film Showcase will open with “A Perfect Day”—director Fernando Leon de Aranoa’s darkly comic portrait of aid workers attempting to provide clean water during the aftermath of the Balkan War, starring Benicio del Toro, Tim Robbins, Olga Kurylenko, and Melanie Thierry—and close with “The Treasure,” a deadpan comedy of manners and Cannes Prizewinner from “Police, Adjective” and “12:08 East of Bucharest” director Corneliu Porumboiu.
The other 52 films from 28 countries to screen during the event, which runs from Dec. 1- 20 at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in Silver Spring, Md., include official Oscar submissions (“A War,” “Son of Saul”), possible contenders (“Youth,” “The Lady in the Van,” “45 Years”), and festival favorites (Palme d’Or winner “Dheepan,” “Tale of Tales,” “Mia Madre”).
A Perfect Day – Opening Night: Tue, Dec. 1, 7:15 p.m. with reception, tickets $20/$18 AFI Members (Also screening Sat, Dec. 5, 3:05 p.m.)
I have updated the gallery with 35 High Quality photos of Benicio and Emily Blunt attending the HFPA And InStyle Golden Globe Party last night.