Benicio del Toro

“You need to love what you do”

Interview: Rüdiger Sturm
Photo: Getty Images

Benicio del Toro experiences a humanitarian crisis in Perfect Day. Privately, the Oscar winner has gone through his own fair share of drama and pain, whether it was on his mother’s deathbed or in the trench warfare that is Hollywood 

THE RED BULLETIN: In A Perfect Day you play an aid worker who ends up in a chaotic conflict zone. Have you ever been in that kind of situation as a Hollywood actor? 

BENICIO DEL TORO: I don’t live in a war zone, but I did grow up in Puerto Rico, where there had been a military rebellion against the USA not long before I was born. I did some work for Doctors Without Borders a while back, and I met a lot of aid workers to prepare for this film. I’m not coming into this without knowing what they do and what they go through. I have the utmost respect for them. 

Has your life ever been in danger? 

No, but I have seen dead bodies before. One of them was my mother. She died when I was nine. That was a very defining moment in my life, and I still haven’t fully recovered from it. But those are things I don’t want to talk about. 

Can Hollywood be compared to a conflict zone? 

Definitely. It can be pretty extreme at times. An actors life is simply brutal. When I first started in the business, all I recieved was rejection. I was either too Latin or not Latin enough, too tall, too short. Whatever fault they wanted to find in me, they found it. 

Why did you not just give up then and there? 

I didn’t know what else to do. At the end of the day it is a question of attitude. You need to understand that this is all part of the game. Agents tell you you’re not good enough all the time. This applies to almost all of my colleagues as well. Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don’t, and sometimes it takes years. But if you love acting then it shouldn’t matter. I wanted to do this so much, it didn’t matter where. I would have been happy miming at Sea World if that was what it came to. You just need to be ready to make that sacrifice for the thing you love. Just enjoy what you do, whether it be theatre or the movies, or whatever.  

And this knowledge is enough to help you survive? 

There’s no big secret to reveal. If you love what you do, then you will find satisfaction in it. Apart from that, I try not to believe what I read about me. You just have to keep yourself grounded and I never forget that there is also a life to be lived outside of filmmaking. I see that everytime I hold my daughter in my arms. 

“When I first started in the business, all I recieved was rejection”
Benicio del Toro

You have been on the receiving end of some pretty nasty criticism – Cult author Hunter S. Thompson claimed that you were not the right person for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas for example… 

Yeah I didn’t react very well to that. But he ended up liking the way I portrayed the roll, and bought me a suit as a way of apologizing. We became friends after that. 

Do you get violent? How would you react in times of war?

I think a person can adapt to any situation. That means, if someone sends you into war and it is your life or your enemies, then you will do what you have to do to survive. Naturally I wouldn’t want to go to war and I wouldn’t wish war on anyone, but some of them have been valid – the 2nd World War for example. 

And what do you do now in your Hollywood battles? 

I take them as they come and try to relax. I definitely don’t resort to violence. 

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