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Article, Interview, Sicario   ⋄ December 11, 2015

Attention, filmmakers: Benicio Del Toro is pretty much done with movies about drugs, with one possible exception. But you’re going to have to work out the exception by yourself.

“From the beginning of my career I’ve done things that have to do with the war on drugs,” says the 48-year-old, Puerto Rico-born actor, whose latest foray into the genre is Denis Villeneuve’s dark and gripping Sicario. “I think I’ve figured it out that I’ve played all the angles in the drug war except for one. I’ve done the guy who’s addicted to drugs, I’ve done the guy who sells drugs, I’ve done the henchman, I’ve done the capo, I’ve done the humble cop and I’ve done the cop bingeing on revenge, which is Sicario.”

He grinned. “There is another angle, and I’m not gonna say what it is. If someone can figure it out and write a good script and an original story, then I might do it. But otherwise, I think I’ve done it.”

He’s done lots more than just drug movies, though. Sure, Del Toro won his supporting-actor Oscar as a Mexican cop in Steven Soderbergh’s drug-war drama Traffic, but his signature roles also include the virtuoso mumbling he did in The Usual Suspects, his out-of-control attorney in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and his title role in Soderbergh’s ambitious two-part Che.

“I had fun doing The Usual Suspects, but the running joke on the set was that nobody knew what the movie was about,” he said, thinking back to his breakout performances. “Traffic was like, ‘OK, this is cool, but I don’t know what this movie is going to be like,’ and Steven is not really a person that you have long conversations with. I didn’t know the movie was going to be what it turned out to be. With Che, the journey of putting the film together was like a movie in itself. We had to go through hoops just to get to Cuba—and once we got to Cuba, they looked at us like, ‘What does Hollywood want to make a movie about Che for?’ And this one, I had fun doing it mostly because Josh [Brolin] and Emily [Blunt] are a hoot. They can make fun of me, like family, almost, because I’ve known them for so long.”

In Sicario, he plays the brutal, mysterious Alejandro, an officer from south of the border with murky motives and a chilling final scene. It was, he said, a way to utilize the contacts in drug enforcement that he’s met throughout his career, and stayed in touch with along the way. “The research for this one was loose,” he admitted. “It was more like making a phone call and saying, ‘Hey, can you give me the update of what’s going on in the war on drugs?’

“‘Well, we’ve been going at it for 30 years, but production has not diminished and consumption has not diminished.’

“‘OK, we’ll talk later, Bye.’”

Alejandro, he added, is a man who has come to realize that the war on drugs is essentially lost, and that the only way to take on the bad guys is to embrace their worst tactics. “Josh Brolin’s character and my character are part of a group, and this is their last gasp,” he said. “The feeling is, ‘We’re gonna break every rule, and we’re gonna fight fire with a lot of fire.’ I find it easy to believe the sentiment of the character.

“You know, not much has changed between 2000 and 2015 in the war on drugs, except maybe the violence has escalated in some places. This character isn’t based on anyone in particular, but I bet that if you talk to some people in the front lines of this war, they probably would feel like Alejandro does.”




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