When Sicario screened at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this year, Jordan Ruimy described the film as “a whole other beast, relying heavily on atmosphere, a pulse pounding score and Roger Deakins’ beautifully gritty photography.” He couldn’t be more accurate in his description. Benicio Del Toro gives another outstanding performance in the film, winning him rave reviews and Best Supporting Actor buzz.
Del Toro has played everything from a Bond villain to the crazed lawyer sidekick in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas to the social revolutionist, Che Guevera. I sat down with him last week in LA to find out more about his latest role and to see if he would reveal anything about his upcoming role in the new Star Wars movie.
Awards Daily: Sicario might just be my favorite film of the year.
Benicio Del Toro: That’s cool.
AD: You’ve played the henchman, the drug baron ,the cop and won an Oscar for that. Oh, you also played a Bond baddie. Now, in Sicario you play someone out for revenge. What attracted you to this role?
BDT: That hitman I haven’t played. The guy whose main drive is revenge and that character is something I haven’t done. I’ve done many movies that take place in the drug wars, but I’ve never really played that character before. His main motivation is an eye for an eye. These characters are in Shakespeare, they’re classic. I got the opportunity to play that character, and that’s one of the reasons I said yes because it was original even though I’ve been in that drug wars world before. The script was original in its content, it was believable to me, even though it was fiction. I also thought the structure was original, the fact that we follow Emily Blunt’s character all through the third act and then we change POV’s. I thought that was a gamble. I didn’t know if that would work.
AD: And it totally did.
BDT: It did, but it goes to show you that there’s no model for how movies can work. There’s no book on rules. This movie breaks the rules on that. It’s ballsy to break out of Emily’s character and go into this character. You’re like, “Oh, that’s why the movie’s called Sicario,” because halfway through it you’re like why is it called Sicario?
Then you get the idea. When I read it, I wasn’t sure it would work, and it did. It’s a testament to both the writer and the director. It just broke out and did something not normal.
AD: It was fun seeing you reunited with Emily, last time you were on-screen you were her lover, this time you’re holding a gun to her head.
BDT: Right? Last time I was drooling over her. This time I’m holding a gun to her, and she’s great to work with.
AD: Emily Blunt said of Villeneuve “He’s like a quiet assassin. He lures you in with this smile and this lovely humor, and suddenly you’re in fucking Mexico, speeding down the street.” Would you agree?
BDT: He’s a master of pulling the strings that’s for sure. My description? Hmm it’s a little different. Somehow he gets you to give 110%, but he’s very responsible with the effort that you give him when he puts the film together. There’s something about him that is like he’s pulling the strings. I think that’s been my experience with the best directors I’ve worked with who are similar in that way, they might be completely different in their personalities and their looks but there’s something about orchestrating, getting you to relax before the BANG! Somehow that makes you excited to be part of it and makes you want to work a little harder. Denis does that in every department from hair and make up, wardrobe and the editor.
AD: How did you pin the role of Alejandro down?
BTD: Well, how do you play a hit man? I remember a story I read about a samurai who was given the order to assassinate an evil lord and track them down. The samurai had the evil lord right there, the samurai had the evil lord right there and the samurai pulls out his sword, just as he’s about to strike, the evil lord spat at him. This caused an emotion of anger in the samurai and he put down his sword and walked away. He could not have feelings if he was gonna kill, whether it’s anger or compassion. So, I remembered that story and that’s the premise of Alejandro, he had to be like that. The feelings had to be compartmentalized, that was the first thing and then you hope you don’t look like a fool. That was the essence of it; to be a hit man, to be a successful one, which I think Alejandro is, you have to be able to compartmentalize your feelings about the job, and your emotions about yourself. You have to be completely organized. So, that was my foundation of going about playing this character.
AD: What would you say has been your most complicated role to play?
BDT: They’re all complicated to some extent, but I think Che Guevara one was complicated, not only because he actually lived, but the effort behind that movie. You had to be careful how you play him. Every role was complicated, the Sicario role is one where less is more and that’s tricky. You gotta work on the silence, you just have to make sure you’re listening really well. At least that’s really hard for me. [Laughing].
AD: Sicario shot in New Mexico?
BDT: It shot in New Mexico, Mexico City and Veracruz, Mexico. We shot in Mexico City for a good seven days.
AD: Traffic shot there too.
BDT: It went a lot through the border. Arizona, El Paso and New Mexico. It was really interesting going to El Paso when Traffic was happening and now. The change of El Paso was incredible, it’s one of the safest cities in the country right now. In fifteen years it changed for the better in a way. I couldn’t believe it, the construction and the new buildings. It changed a lot. If I’m not mistaken, it’s the safest city in the country, but it wasn’t back in the day. My experience when I was there, I didn’t recognize it. It was interesting to be there in 2000 and 2015.
AD: What secret can you tell me about Star Wars ?
BDT: I don’t much about it except I’m doing it. I’ve had a couple of meetings with Brian Johnson and I’ve had some meetings with him. Where are you from? London?
BDT: So, we’re shooting in London.
AD: Were you always a fan of the franchise?
BDT: The first one, Chapter IV. That was one of the movies; Jaws, Rocky, Animal House, Grease and Trading Places. It was one of those movies that I remember exactly where I was and I liked everything about it. As I grew older, I didn’t see the others so much. I’m looking forward to Episode VII. We’re shooting in the UK. I love London.
Awards Daily: Zoe Saldana said she looks forward to seeing you on Guardian’s 2. Are you doing Guardians of the Galaxy 2?
BDT: I haven’t been called in. [laughs] That’s very nice of Zoe. I’m looking forward to seeing her, I know she better be in it. I know I’d love to play that character again. [laughs] I don’t know if I’m going to be in the next one.
AD: We’ll see.
BDT: We’ll see. That’s not a bad problem to have, to be wanted to be part of the Marvel universe.
Sicario is in wide release