It's a sunny autumn day in New York, and waiting in the lobby of the luxurious Mercer Hotel in Soho is Benicio del Toro, who has come as part of a junket to promote Che, a two-film series directed by Steven Soderbergh about symbol of the 60s revolutionary spirit. Del Toro helped him achieve it by giving it his all, earning the Best Actor award at the Cannes Festival in May and becoming the first Puerto Rican to receive the prestigious distinction. It comes after an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for Traffic, countless additional awards for the same movie and a nomination for the golden statuette for his work with Mexican Alejandro González Iñárritu in 21 Grams. At 41, the son of Puerto Rican lawyers is at one of the highlights of his career. In April, he will be featured in movies throughout the world as The Wolf Man, a new version of the 1941 classic that, at a cost of $85 million, could open the doors to money-making films for Del Toro. The actor no longer looks back, but rather, shares his dream of taking a first step as a feature film director and admits he wants to start a family.
Reader's Digest Selecciones: Would you say that this is the most difficult job in your career?
Benicio Del Toro: Yeah, definitely. Because of, number one, the research, two, the responsibility, three, it really happened. It's not as free as other roles that I've done. You can't invent.
RDS: When you were a kid, did you ever hear of Che? What was your introduction to him?
Del Toro: Actually, the first time that I heard his name was in a Rolling Stones song called 'Little Indian Girl' in '79. Then after that, I didn't hear his name again. The next time was in '88 when I was in Mexico. I went to a bookstore and I saw a book of his letters to his mom and dad and some family. That's when he captivated me.
RDS: He's such a cinematic character. Why do you think it's taken so long to do a big production film on him?
Del Toro: There are several movies about him: An Argentinean one, a Cuban one, an American one too, and an Italian movie. I guess it hadn't been done because it's really hard. You almost have to get out there, except for the bullets being real and the bombs being real. It was very hard. I think that they'll do another movie about Che but not really soon.
RDS: Just because of the physical demands?
Del Toro: No. For acting purposes, it was tough that he was a scholar and intellectual and an action man in the highest sense. So it's kind of a combination of an action man movie versus a very intellectual movie. Not only that: It was also the speed of how this movie was made. We had one or two takes per scene and we were doing an average of three to four pages a day. On another movie, three or four pages would take you two to three days. I knew that Steven was going to approach it in that way.
RDS: Did playing Guevara change you as a human being?
Del Toro: Well, it did change me, just like every character changes me. I learned more about the Cuban revolution, about Latin America in general and about the '60s. It does change you in the fact that you're concerned about the world around you a little bit more.
RDS: The Guevara story is very complex. It seems like a lot of the controversy in his life is skipped and the only controversy in the film is why he decided to go to Bolivia…
Del Toro: He decided to go. There's no doubt about it. No one knows what was the conversation was in those rooms with Fidel [Castro] and him. He couldn't go as a representative of Cuba because that would mean that Cuba was invading Bolivia and really bringing the heat from the States. But in the scenes from the UN there are elements of the controversy about the La Cabaña era, in which Che says the firing squads would go on. And also, when the delegates from Mexico, Venezuela and Costa Rica did get up and speak against him. Che was pro death penalty.
RDS: Are you worried that part of the Latin community might get mad that you chose to represent this character, who some consider an enemy?
Del Toro: It's a free country. It was never meant to piss them off. It was just a historical approach to a character.
To read the rest of Selecciones' interview with Benicio Del Toro, check out the latest issue of Selecciones magazine...on newsstands now!