Benicio Del Toro on Chris Pratt, Pablo Escobar and Star Wars (ish)
You play legendary drug lord Pablo Escobar in your new film. He had almost a Robin Hood-like reputation – did you buy into it?
It’s a sad story – he was a talented man. He was really smart, and he took the wrong street. He became a monster. He built clinics and a neighbourhood for poor people. He took the money he was making – he was making a fortune – and gave it to people in need in what was then a third-world country. So those people looked at him like Robin Hood, which is understandable, I think. He paid attention to people that, perhaps for centuries, nobody paid attention to. But in the meantime, he was hurting millions of people, stealing their souls in order to make money. There’s a contradiction right there.
Were you wary of glamorising such a person?
We definitely weren’t trying to. Look at the gangster movies – Scarface is entertaining, but I don’t know if I want to hang out with Tony Montana.
You’re from Puerto Rico – is it hard to nail a Colombian accent?
I thought it was important to be true to the character – if I’m playing a Colombian, I’ll sure do my best not to sound like a Puerto Rican. I may not sound very Colombian, but I’ll definitely not sound Puerto Rican, which is fine by me. All we can do is try.
Is it tough to get moralistic over the drug trade when moralising demonises the supply side, but not the demand?
There’s supply and there’s demand – you can’t blame it blindly and say people on this side are not taking responsibility and buying this stuff to party on a Friday night. The reality is that the US is an enormous market for drugs, and it’s not going anywhere. There should be more recognition of shared responsibility – it takes two to tango. The supply and demand hasn’t changed in the past 30 years – with all the information and everything we know, the demand for drugs hasn’t changed. Isn’t that crazy?
You work alongside Hunger Games’ Josh Hutcherson in the film – did you take him under your wing?
I knew him already, actually – he was in a short film I directed a few years ago. It was for an anthology film called 7 Days In Havana. I like him a lot – it was easy to come by that sense of trust you need when you’re working with an actor.
Back in 2012, you told ShortList you’d like do more directing. How’s that going?
I’d like to try it very much – but you have to clear time for doing a movie, that’s the tricky thing. You have to put all your eggs in one movie – I want to really plan it before I do, I don’t want to do it just to say I directed something. I think about it and sometimes I get motivated, but then I’ll get interested in something else and it all just slides. That’s just my process. I’ll break on through eventually.
You’ve also worked with some pretty amazing directors – do you look at them to pinch ideas?
I’ve gone to the best film school in the world: Bryan Singer, Oliver Stone, Terrence Malick, Terry Gilliam, Steven Soderbergh, Billy Friedkin – the list is endless. It’s amazing. I’ve worked with them very closely, and argued with and kicked and scratched and loved them and hated them, and become friends with them. I watch them very carefully. I think sometimes they think I’m being creepy – I’m watching them like a hawk.
You’ve also been linked to playing a villain in a new Star Wars film – care to break your confidentiality clause?
I’m looking forward to being part of that experience, but I can’t comment at this point. My people are talking to the Star Wars people, as they say. I think they’d shoot me if I said anything more.
How about Marvel – would you go back and play the Collector again, after Guardians Of The Galaxy?
I would love to play that character again – I understand there’s a script, but I don’t know what’s in it. Fingers crossed. I think I was just starting to get it together on that one when we were done – I was only there for a few days.
Is Chris Pratt just as awesome behind the scenes as he is onscreen?
I knew he was a cool guy, then when I saw the film I was blown away. I just thought he was the new Harrison Ford. He’s great – he’s got that balance of charm and wit, and he’s the nicest guy. He deserves that’s happened to him so much.
How different is it, working on a film like Escobar: Paradise Lost to Guardians Of The Galaxy?
I approach it the same way, but when there’s so much money on the line, you have a lot of judges sitting by the side. There might be a little more of a feeling of second guessing, which I try not to do, but those two films really were no different in how I would approach them. Both directors would listen to my ideas and concerns, and we would try to find solutions.
Finally, you’re a big music fan – and everybody has an opinion on Kanye West. What’s yours?
I like him, but I’m still listening to James Brown, man. I’m listening to Funky Drummer over and over these days. Check it out – it’s been sampled on a lot of other records. It’s a great song.
Escobar: Paradise Lost is at UK cinemas from 21 August, and on Blu-ray and DVD from 21 September