Playboy interview

November 2009

Stephen Rebello

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In 2004 the Internet went white-hot with rumors that Benicio Del Toro had shared an erotic encounter with Scarlett Johansson in an elevator at L.A.'s oasis of the cool, crazy and clandestine, the Chateau Marmont. Johansson has denied the story many times with a typically snappy dismissal. The not-snappy but more interesting Del Toro, who is 17 years older than Johansson, stumbled around his words. He said, "Did I ever have sex in an elevator with Scarlett Johansson after an awards show? I kind of, like, you know…well, I don't know. Let's leave that to somebody's imagination. Let's not promote it. I'm sure it's happened before. It might not be the last time either."

The only intriguing aspect of the brouhaha -- which Del Toro now flatly denies in this interview -- was its fleeting spotlight on the private life of the highly reticent Del Toro. His on-screen fearlessness and charisma earned him the 2001 best supporting actor Oscar for Traffic , a 2004 Oscar nomination for 21 Grams and the 2008 Cannes best actor award for Che , but his personal life is more shaded, fiercely guarded and usually off limits -- but not, apparently, because of a finger-wagging studio boss or controlling publicist. It seems this is who Del Toro is. And who he is has been working very nicely for him. His 1995 breakout as the mumbling ex-con in The Usual Suspects , for instance, had critics and journalists wondering where the hulking Brando-esque enigma had been slouching. Right under their nose, it turns out. Del Toro had inched his way up in such miniseries as Drug Wars: The Camarena Story and on the big screen playing heavy-lidded and offbeat characters in Big Top Pee-wee and Sean Penn's The Indian Runner .

It seems inevitable that Del Toro would earn fame for playing outsiders. A native of Santurce, Puerto Rico, he has an older brother, and his parents were both lawyers. When Del Toro was nine, his mother, who had introduced him to poetry and painting, died of hepatitis at the age of 33. When he was 13 his now-remarried father relocated him and his brother to Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, where Del Toro, shy and speaking little English, dealt with culture shock while attending boarding school and high school.

Upon graduation he attended the University of California, San Diego, where he majored in business. He showed such promise performing in student stage productions, however, that he ditched college for New York to study at the Circle in the Square Theatre School and the Stella Adler Studio of Acting. In the late 1980s he moved to Los Angeles and slowly worked his way up to co-starring roles with Alicia Silverstone in Excess Baggage and in the Jack Nicholson drama The Pledge . He earned a rep for scary dedication to his art-burning his arm with cigarettes and packing on 40 pounds for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas -- and turned up on the lists of the world's most beautiful people and eligible bachelors. He even dated such beauties as Silverstone, Claire Forlani, Heather Graham, Valeria Golino and Chiara Mastroianni without becoming a tabloid fixture or nightlife casualty.

The ever-unpredictable Del Toro, 42, is staying true to himself by co-starring with Daniel Day-Lewis in director Martin Scorsese's Silence , a drama about missionaries in 17th century Japan. And this February he stars in a remake of the 1940s chiller The Wolf Man , co-starring Anthony Hopkins.

We sent contributing editor Stephen Rebello (who most recently interviewed Clive Owen for Playboy ) to speak with Del Toro in Los Angeles. He reports, "You don't figure on Del Toro's being straight line or average in any way, and he isn't. He meets questions with pauses, ellipses. He shifts in his seat and squints constantly. But his eccentricity isn't an interview dodge. After spending time with him, it's clear he's warm and generous hearted, with a mile-wide streak of movie geek."

PLAYBOY: As star and co-producer of a remake of the classic 1940s horror movie 'The Wolf Man', what can you tell the Internet fanboys who have raised red flags about the film's four rescheduled release dates, its various reshoots and rumors of lots of CGI effects being added to punch it up?

DEL TORO: I'm sure there will be some CGI stuff for the werewolf-transformation scenes and all those other effects but not as much as the film could have had. The wolfman walks upright, as Lon Chaney Jr.'s wolfman does, but when he runs to gather real speed, he goes down on all fours. At this point I've seen only a rough version. We did some reshoots, so I have only an idea of what it's going to be like. But it's The Wolfman . Have fun with it. It's not Hamlet or anything.

PLAYBOY: When it was first announced you would play a werewolf, many media types said the casting was inevitable.

DEL TORO: I do get the tortured-soul roles. I'd like to play a romantic lead, but I don't necessarily get those offers coming my way. It's not like I've got a chip on my shoulder about it, though, because I've been lucky to have filmmakers and casting directors help me just find a freaking job, as well as let me explore good stories and characters. I can't complain if studio guys see me as the dark force. Whether it is because of skin color, thought, action, it doesn't matter.

PLAYBOY: Because you've made your mark in offbeat, risky movies that don't necessarily translate into big box office, some studio guys may see you as an idiosyncratic actor, the way people saw Johnny Depp and Robert Downey Jr. before 'Pirates of the Caribbean' and 'Iron Man'. Would you like to have a blockbuster on your résumé?

DEL TORO: To be in a position like that is definitely advantageous, especially if you use it right, as Johnny Depp did. The original is Jack Nicholson, of course, because he did the franchise thing but kept making independent movies with young directors. At the end of the day the goal is to do movies you want to see yourself.

PLAYBOY: Women especially seem to dig you in those tortured-soul roles, but you've also been suggested to star in a Three Stooges movie, with you playing the Moe character. Sean Penn was originally mentioned as Larry but dropped out and might be replaced by Paul Giamatti. Jim Carrey was an early front-runner as Curly. Have you ever met a woman who likes the Stooges?

DEL TORO: No. The Stooges are violent, always banging each other, and I think we can start with that as a reason women don't like them. Curly was the one who made me laugh most as a kid. Not only the things he did but even the sounds he made were funny. I don't know where the Stooges movie project is right now. Sean needed to take a break, and without him it's a different configuration. That original cast was too good.

PLAYBOY: Did anything about your childhood, such as losing your mother at an early age, predispose you to seek dark roles?

DEL TORO: At that age you accept things as fact. It takes time to deal with that hole, that pain, that abyss or whatever. I didn't get there in one straight shot. To tap into that loss for your work or your life, you have to face it and then get to a point where you've dealt with it. You never get over it. That pain is a motivator for many things. For me as an actor it can be a motivation for scenes in which I have to cry. But I think about things about my mom for other situations that aren't necessarily emotional.

PLAYBOY: What do you think happens after we die?

DEL TORO: I don't have any idea. I've got wishful thinking, though. There's a heaven, and it's a place where you can just… catch up. My wishful thinking doesn't necessarily mean you have to follow a particular religion. Heaven is a place for everybody and everything. But like I said, I don't know. Maybe heaven is just silence. You know, sometimes silence is not bad.

PLAYBOY: What if you're wrong?

DEL TORO: Here's the deal. All we know as the human race is what we know as of this month in 2009. Take the big bang theory of the origin of the universe. The big bang theory is like Star Wars , because it starts on Episode IV. But Episodes I through III are up for grabs. Until we as a planet or a people get all the information on Episode I and beyond, I don't feel totally naive having wishful thinking about heaven or anything else. If we at some point get to know what's in Episode I, then I may have to change my answer. But until then, whatever you say about heaven or the hereafter, I say, "Let it rip."

PLAYBOY: Growing up, when did you first figure out you didn't exactly send women running in the other direction?

DEL TORO: You know what? I don't know if I feel that to this day. For every girl you send away, another one sends you away. There's no escape without a scrape.

PLAYBOY: Nice reference to a great 1980s song by the Cars. So when were you first attracted to girls?

DEL TORO: I remember liking girls in prekindergarten in Puerto Rico, when I was only three or four. It goes all the way back. I wasn't a 1.000 hitter or anything -- I don't think anyone is -- but I had a girlfriend all through high school, so that was kind of cool. I was part of a couple, and I was having fun.

PLAYBOY: It sounds as if you've had a lot more fun since you hit Hollywood, considering your enviable track record of romantic involvements with Alicia Silverstone, Heather Graham, Claire Forlani and Sara Foster, among others. Is monogamy possible, especially in Hollywood?

DEL TORO: I don't think you're talking to the right person.

PLAYBOY: Fair enough, but what's your opinion?

DEL TORO: If you want a short answer, I'd have to say I don't know. But it's a good question. For monogamy to happen in a relationship, it has to be organic. I don't know what makes it organic, though.

PLAYBOY: Are you in a relationship?

DEL TORO: I'm seeing someone now. We're starting to hang out.

PLAYBOY: Does the fact that you've reportedly dated fellow actors make relationships especially challenging?

DEL TORO: It's difficult, definitely. I can't say it's impossible, because it has proven to be possible. You need a sense of maturity to handle that, and I don't know if I have it.

PLAYBOY: You and Halle Berry had emotionally intimate scenes in 'Things We Lost in the Fire'. A lot of people find it hard to look past how gorgeous she is. Did you?

DEL TORO: She was completely absorbed by her role, so you had to respect that. I think she was quoted as saying I was fun on the set. Maybe I wanted to relax the situation by joking around as a way to get over that. Maybe I was nervous and that was one of the ways to deflect that other tension. I liked working with her. She's very serious about her work. She comes prepared. She's not where she is by being just a sexy, beautiful woman.

PLAYBOY: Aside from joking around with a beautiful co-star, how else do you handle the sexual tension that may arise?

DEL TORO: Take a cold shower.

PLAYBOY: Are you saying it's unwise to have anything but a working relationship with a co-star?

DEL TORO: When I work with an actress, I see a collaborator. If you're working with attractive women on a movie set or in an office, it gets complicated if you start mixing that up. It happens a lot, or it can happen. But it's difficult to come away from a film set in a relationship and sustain it, then go separate ways.

PLAYBOY: You and Scarlett Johansson didn't co-star in a movie but were the focus of a lot of media attention for your alleged 2004 tryst in an elevator at the Chateau Marmont hotel in Los Angeles. What started the controversy?

DEL TORO: It was taken from a quote in which she was asked what the weirdest thing or rumor she had heard about herself was. They took only the first section of the quote -- the part about the weirdest thing -- and that's what started it. People around me laughed about it. People close to me were, like, "Oh my God." So there was a little element of embarrassment. But it was maybe more embarrassing for her.

PLAYBOY: So there was no truth to the infamous elevator story?

DEL TORO: No. It's pretty tight in there, and it's not that long of a ride.

PLAYBOY: When your father moved with you and your older brother from Puerto Rico to Pennsylvania when you were 13, were you still a virgin?

DEL TORO: I was about 13 when I lost my virginity, and that first experience was totally a nervous situation. It was in a house with someone I had known only a little bit. She was slightly older, and she'd done it before. It was good she and I weren't losing our virginity at the same time. We didn't want to get all overloaded.

PLAYBOY: Despite the nerves, did things work out in the homestretch?

DEL TORO: I wasn't exactly a natural, but it was good, yeah. I had wanted it to happen for a while. There was a bit of a courtship with this older girl, but it didn't continue with her because shortly after that I left for the States.

PLAYBOY: What was it like for you to transition from life in Puerto Rico to life in the U.S.?

DEL TORO: It was tough. I was mostly on my own. I couldn't communicate that well. I spoke mostly Spanish. I had some family around, but I also looked into myself. I began to paint. Playing sports, basketball especially, was the bridge that helped keep me from becoming completely lonely. I played on the basketball team, so I had a small group of friends. Sports gave me a universal language. That's the essence of sports, in a way.

PLAYBOY: Lon Chaney Jr., star of the original 'Wolf Man', at first avoided acting so as not to compete with his silent-film superstar father, Lon Chaney, whose films include 'The Phantom of the Opera'. Both your parents were successful lawyers. Is that why you avoided law?

DEL TORO: For a while it was like that. My father and my godmother, who was very present during my upbringing, were both unhappy when the acting thing started. At the time I couldn't see myself reading legal books and learning all that stuff. When I graduated from high school I didn't know what I wanted to do, but I knew being a lawyer wasn't it, even though I now enjoy talking with my family about legal cases. There's a lot of, not necessarily acting, but interpretation, storytelling and logic to law I can now see are kind of cool.

PLAYBOY: After graduating high school in Pennsylvania you studied business at the University of California, San Diego. Were you trying to show your family you were going to do something responsible?

DEL TORO: I didn't study business seriously because I was taking an acting class at UCSD and realized acting wasn't hit-or-miss and that there was a logic to it. I didn't know anything about acting at the time. I watched TV. I liked Eddie Murphy and Richard Gere movies when I was in high school.

PLAYBOY: Lots of guys gravitate toward acting because of the fine-looking women. Did you?

DEL TORO: Well, that was kind of fun too, and it only added to it. There were a lot of girls in my class, and the ratio was definitely to my advantage.

PLAYBOY: What kind of early jobs did you have before acting paid off?

DEL TORO: My first job was delivering newspapers in Puerto Rico. I also had summer jobs but nothing that prepares you for anything. After high school I didn't stay in college long because I decided to become an actor and break out from school. I was in New York for a bit, but it was tough living there. I came to L.A. and got a scholarship through Stella Adler. Part of the scholarship required that I help build a theater on the corner of Vine and Hollywood. It's now a subway entrance.

PLAYBOY: Can acting be taught?

DEL TORO: I had a chance to study and work with all three of the big ones -- Lee Strasberg, Sanford Meisner, Stella Adler -- and the one I stayed with the longest was Stella. With teachers like Arthur Mendoza at Stella Adler Studio of Acting West there was a seriousness and intensity to the work that was fundamental. If you were late, there was a sense you had disrespected the class. That was good for me. There were techniques and exercises that forced you to open yourself.

PLAYBOY: Every actor struggles to land jobs once he or she starts auditioning for TV and movie roles. Did you encounter additional resistance because of your ethnicity?

DEL TORO: Inevitably Hollywood has become more universal and worldly in some ways, hiring directors from different ethnic backgrounds. There are more roles than ever for ethnics. When I started out as a working actor I was always told X, Y and Z about why they didn't hire me.

PLAYBOY: When you won the Oscar for 'Traffic', the media pointed out again and again that you were the first Puerto Rican actor to earn that award since José Ferrer for 'Cyrano de Bergerac' -- a non-Puerto Rican role -- and Rita Moreno for 'West Side Story'. If 'West Side Story' influenced how certain generations view Puerto Ricans, is that a good or a bad thing?

DEL TORO: It's a great movie, and I don't look at it like, "Oh my God, what a disaster of stereotypes." Of course it has stereotypes, but I don't think it's a film other Puerto Ricans feel is typically stereotypical either. If it makes people see things a certain way, I wouldn't put it on the movie. It's like blaming crime on rock and roll. I don't think my generation or the younger generation looks at Puerto Ricans like that.

PLAYBOY: Have you ever been racially profiled?

DEL TORO: Yeah, I've been profiled for being Puerto Rican, for having a different kind of last name or for looking a different way. It's happened to me in Italy, England, here at home, and it has even happened in Puerto Rico. But that doesn't mean I think all Italian, British, American and Puerto Rican people or cops are like that.

PLAYBOY: What happened?

DEL TORO: One time flying from London, they picked over my suitcase in Puerto Rico and went through it. Another time I was driving, my hair was long, I had on a leather jacket, I was blasting tunes, and I got pulled over. And the policeman said, "Is this your car?" and he ran me on his computer. I've had experiences with good policemen too. Sometimes things can get out of hand in those situations, though. The worst thing -- and any policeman will tell you -- is a bad policeman.

PLAYBOY: Did the incident between Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates and the Cambridge, Massachusetts police help or hurt the conversation about racial profiling?

DEL TORO: We know things can happen because of the color of your skin. I'm against that. My [paternal] grandfather was a policeman, and I know a little about the paranoia and stress policemen are under working at night -- what they have to deal with and what they see. Add to that whatever's going on in their personal lives. I wouldn't fight with a cop. You don't win. If it happens to me, I comply.

PLAYBOY: You've often been cast as an outsider. The character Chaney plays in the original 1941 'Wolf Man' is also an outsider and an especially sympathetic one. Did that make the project more appealing to you?

DEL TORO: I always loved the Universal horror movies of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, and I remember meeting Francis Ford Coppola for a role in Dracula , but I never necessarily thought about remaking a horror movie. In the 1970s I had a classic scary black-and-white poster of Chaney as the wolfman on the wall of my room. I don't have the original poster anymore, but I found a copy in San Francisco, bought it right away and hung it in my house. My manager, Rick Yorn, saw it, and we talked about a remake. He suggested we go to Universal and propose the idea.

PLAYBOY: What was your earliest connection with old horror movies?

DEL TORO: The first time I saw The Wolf Man was in Puerto Rico on a home projector and an eight-millimeter movie from this company called Castle Films. It had Bride of Frankenstein -- which is a masterpiece -- Frankenstein , Mighty Joe Young . They were eight-minute versions of those movies, with all the monster stuff put right in there. As a kid that was our version of VHS. I later saw the whole Wolf Man on TV and watched Dracula with Bela Lugosi, who put the fear in me. I got panicky and remember going to the bathroom as it was on and just staying there awhile. But my movie was Creature From the Black Lagoon .

PLAYBOY: Why that one?

DEL TORO: It seemed as though Wolf Man and Frankenstein were taking place more in the north country, but the Creature From the Black Lagoon could have been happening in Puerto Rico because of the heat, the water, the tropical atmosphere. I have an original poster for Creature From the Black Lagoon in my house.

PLAYBOY: Did you simply dig these movies, or did they get to you at some other level?

DEL TORO: I liked Batman and Spider-Man and those guys, but monsters were bigger, and I enjoyed them more, the way I enjoyed dinosaurs. Now if I go to someone's house for a party and I don't know anyone, and they have a poster of King Kong , it makes me feel at home. It's an opener. I'm at ease. Even today, if I see a picture of Boris Karloff, it's like, "There's my uncle." I was always in love with those monsters. They're misunderstood. Why are people coming at them with torches? Why are they shooting at them? The idea was to make The Wolfman as a throwback to the monster movies that were my first contact with film and to make it faithful to the original 1941 version about a decent man who is cursed.

PLAYBOY: Speaking of cursed, didn't you lose the original director on 'The Wolfman' when you were about to begin filming?

DEL TORO: The movie did have a bump in the making of it. When we started it was going to be directed by Mark Romanek, who directed One Hour Photo . I was involved in his vision, which included making my character a more grayish guy -- not the good guy he is in the original movie. In some ways we introduced elements of The Curse of the Werewolf , which starred Oliver Reed in the 1960s. Mark and I believed we would collaborate to the end, but when the new director, Joe Johnston, came on, he took it in another direction, making the character a good guy.

PLAYBOY: Did you move easily in that new direction?

DEL TORO: I may have been fighting it. At some point you have to say, "Well, this is what we've got. Let's make that better." It's probably fine to make my character a good guy who happens to have bad luck, as in the original film. The idea of being truthful to the original movie remained, setting it in 1800s England, not modernizing it with cell phones, staying true to the folklore, the silver bullet, the makeup. There are some differences, but the essence of it is a true remake of the original.

PLAYBOY: Oscar-winning special effects makeup artist Rick Baker has said, referring to altering your normal features to those of a wolfman, "Where do you go from there? He's practically there as it is."

DEL TORO: It took around four hours putting it all on -- the makeup and the body suit -- when we started. He really knows what he's doing. He's incredible, and his team got better doing it over and over, so it got faster. But the b*tch is not putting it on; the b*tch is taking it off, because by then everybody is going home, and they're done, but you're not. Wearing that suit, you have to exaggerate every movement. It was a workout having that thing on for, like, 12 hours. It was hot. A couple of times we had to change my shirt five, six, seven times. Every time you want to talk you have to take off the teeth, but if you're wearing [prosthetic] hands, you can't do that without throwing up a sign for someone to come over and help you. To deal with all of it, you've got to be mentally prepared in a Zen way. It made me think of how tough it must have been back in the day for actors like Boris Karloff. I have so much respect for what he went through to play The Mummy and Frankenstein and what Lon Chaney had to do for The Wolf Man and, oh my God, what Lon Chaney Sr. did for The Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame .

PLAYBOY: You're known for seriously researching and preparing for your roles. We've heard you even listen to specific music to capture a spirt and mood. What music helped you become a lycanthrope?

DEL TORO: I didn't make a playlist thinking, Oh, let me get some specific songs for The Wolfman . My experience making that movie and a lot of other movies gets marked by the CDs I buy at the time or that I buy earlier and finally get around to listening to. For sitting in the makeup chair a really long time we played Nick Cave's album Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! all the time, and also Fleet Foxes. We filmed in England, so I thought it would be good to revisit the Who's Quadrophenia , and it was like listening to something brand-new, it's so great. I played a lot of Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago too. That one's a great soundtrack for life, so intense and melancholic -- not that I know what that means. [ laughs ]

PLAYBOY: Aside from being a big music fan, you've been known to haunt a DVD store or two to look for classic films from the 1950s and earlier. Other than CDs and DVDs, what else makes you whip out the credit card?

DEL TORO: I like photography and bought a digital camera, so I spent money on that. I recently got a new pair of running sneakers because I feel as though now I have to get up and actually do it. With DVDs I often want a movie that deals with the subject of a film I'm about to do. Other times I want it just for my collection. If you're a lawyer, you have to know cases; if you're making movies, you have to know movies. I like movies. It's my job, but it's also my passion.

PLAYBOY: You're obviously not one of those actors who have trouble getting behind a movie that's made in black and white.

DEL TORO: I remember watching Citizen Kane the first time, and I was, like, "Well, that's okay, I guess." It took me years to fully realize what a masterpiece it is. When I started watching silent movies, the music bugged me, but then I realized the music was part of the mood. You start learning. When I started listening to jazz, it all sounded the same. I never thought I would get to a point where I could tell the difference between a piece by Charles Mingus and one by Thelonious Monk. Little by little you develop that taste.

PLAYBOY: Have you ever experienced a piece of music, a movie, a book or a painting in which you'd like to live?

DEL TORO: That happens when I see photographs like Walker Evans's of Mississippi in 1936, where I want to take that corner, make a left and keep walking. I don't get that feeling as much with films, but then there's Midnight Cowboy , Papillon -- you want to just throw yourself in there. Even in your dreams you go there. I don't know if there's a name for it, but I call it the ghost -- that ghost pulls you in and makes you want to travel through time to someplace else.

PLAYBOY: Do you hang art on your walls, or do you prefer them blank?

DEL TORO: I've been putting things up on my walls since I was a kid, including pictures of basketball players such as Dr. J and Bill Walton. Then it was music. If a poster came inside an album -- boom! -- it went up on my wall, like that great Milton Glaser artwork of Bob Dylan in Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits . I still have that. Another poster I had up came in The Concert for Bangladesh ; it was a photo shot from behind Dylan and George Harrison. As time goes by there can be so many things on a wall that you're not even paying attention to them, so I like to keep things minimal too. Music, art, photography, they're all part of movies to me.

PLAYBOY: What do you mean?

DEL TORO: When you make films, all the arts come crashing into it. And life comes into it, the things that happen to us every day. That's why actors fall into painting, photography or something else in the arts. I'm still into painting, which I started a long time ago. If you begin learning about movies and their history, you realize movies include all the arts.

PLAYBOY: What do you do between movie projects?

DEL TORO: I've been talking to a friend about going to see the white shark. I tried surfing. It's a tough sport, and if you don't put in the time to learn it, you can't pick it up. I'm always doing something. I like to read. I'm trying to write a story. Would I go and drive a fast car? It's not at the top of my list, and maybe if I was in one of those races, I'd be puking by the third lap.

PLAYBOY: Some actors won't seek psychological counseling because they worry it may mess with their work.

DEL TORO: I haven't gone, at least not routinely. I respect it, but it has nothing to do with acting.

PLAYBOY: How do you keep your ego in check in the face of fame, praise, perks, women?

DEL TORO: I don't believe what I read, I don't believe what I hear, and I believe only half of what I see. [ laughs ] That's Lou Reed, I think, with a little Marvin Gaye. It helps that when I started getting attention for my acting, I was already in my 30s. I had gone through the actor's ringer of auditioning, being told you're too this, you're not enough that, then getting known. I see all this attention as just some sort of mirage. You're up now, down tomorrow. I've always looked at acting as a combination of work and building something. I don't think what I do is any different from making a suit.

PLAYBOY: Tailors don't do magazine interviews or get photographed by the paparazzi, and people don't idolize, stalk or nominate them for Oscars.

DEL TORO: What I'm saying is I'm affected up to a point. Looking at movies as a job keeps it in check for me. When a movie comes out, people may say good or bad things, but I don't dwell on that. But sometimes I feel as though I have to defend a film people are attacking.

PLAYBOY: 'Che' was obviously a labor of love. You helped develop it for years. You co-produced and starred in it, and the filming was apparently so tough that director Steven Soderbergh said he'd wake up months later and think, "At least I'm not doing that today." How did you feel when the movie didn't connect with audiences the way you had hoped?

DEL TORO: It was not a success per se here in the States. It was successful in Spain, Japan and to an extent France. Some people will find it on video, and some people will never find it. The same thing happened with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas , a movie I liked very much. It found its own audience. I'm not getting bogged down by the fact that Che was difficult to make. Everybody involved gave it 100 percent. Yeah, you get, "Damn, I wish everybody could walk out of the theater floating," but the work is the work.

PLAYBOY: How enthused are you about co-starring with Daniel Day-Lewis in Martin Scorsese's movie version of 'Silence', Shusaku Endo's novel about two Jesuit priests facing violent resistance when they try to bring Christianity to 17th century Japan ?

DEL TORO: Working with Scorsese will be like going to film school. I've met with him about it, and it'll be great.

PLAYBOY: How satisfied are you right now with your career?

DEL TORO: I'm satisfied to an extent and unsatisfied in other ways. Actors as a rule don't have much control, and I've gotten to a place where I have a little more control and can be more than just an actor. I want to do more -- produce more and, down the line, direct.

PLAYBOY: You came close to directing the movie version of 'The Rum Diary' by Hunter S. Thompson, but Johnny Depp is starring in the movie version directed by Bruce Robinson.

DEL TORO: I don't think I'm ready to direct right this minute, but I definitely want to try it. That could be a long-term goal. Things don't always happen in the order you want them to, but if you don't set goals, they sometimes don't happen.

PLAYBOY: What's the nicest thing people can say about you?

DEL TORO: He surprised me.






















(as published by )


"Me gustan los esp í ritus atormentados"
November 2009

Por Stephen Rebello

Fotografías de MIZUNO

Una charla exclusiva con un actor de moda que estuvo a punto de ser abogado, pero que para fortuna de nosotros, recapacitó.

Benicio del Toro es una estrella de cine que, sin embargo, continúa apostando a las producciones independientes. No tiene empacho en reconocer su gusto tanto por las mujeres hermosas, como por la música. Sabe que El Hombre Lobo, la película que estrenará próximamente y que es un remake de la original filmada en los 40, no es una película de arte, sino una de entretenimiento, pero eso no quita que le demandara un gran trabajo físico. Nuestro editor en Estados Unidos, Stephen Rebello, entrevistó a Benicio en Los Ángeles y descubrió que es un gran tipo.

PLAYBOY : Como estrella y productor del remake del clásico de terror de 1940, El Hombre Lobo, ¿qué  podrías decir para acallar los temores de los fans que se sienten amenazados por los constantes cambios en la fecha de estreno y el rumor de que se han añadido más efectos especiales de última hora para impulsar la película?

DEL TORO : Habrá muchos efectos en la transformación del Hombre Lobo, pero no más de los que la película necesita. El Hombre Lobo camina erguido, como lo hizo el de Lon Chaney Jr., pero cuando corre, lo hace en cuatro patas para tomar mayor velocidad. Hasta este momento lo único que he visto son demos, aunque sí, hemos vuelto a filmar algunas partes. Pero al final se trata de El Hombre Lobo, caray, sólo diviértanse. No es Hamlet ni nada por el estilo.

PLAYBOY : Cuando se anunció que tú harías al Hombre Lobo, hubo periodistas que dijeron que no podía ser de otra manera.

DEL TORO : Creo que les gusto para interpretar espíritus atormentados. Me gustaría hacer un protagonista de corte romántico, pero ese tipo de papeles no aparecen en mi panorama. No me llaman para hacerlos, sencillamente. No es que se trate de presionar un botón en mi hombro. Siempre he contado con directores que me han ayudado a tener este trabajo tan extraño y maravilloso, en el que exploro grandes personajes e historias. No me puedo quejar si los directores de castings me ven como a un tipo oscuro, ya sea por mi carácter o mi tono de piel, no importa.

PLAYBOY : Has dejado una escuela, quizá sin pretenderlo. Te involucras en películas arriesgadas, que no necesariamente se convertirán en fenómenos de taquilla, y por lo mismo eres visto como un actor de principios. Te ven como a Johnny Depp o a Roberto Downey Jr., antes de que hicieran Piratas del Caribe o Iron Man. ¿Te gustaría tener un blockbuster en tu currículum?

DEL TORO : Resultaría muy ventajoso, sobre todo si se aplica como lo ha hecho Johnny Depp. El mejor ejemplo es Jack Nicholson. Se ha convertido en una franquicia, pero continúa realizando películas independientes con directores jóvenes. Al final del día, de lo que se trata es de hacer las películas en las que te gustaría verte a ti mismo.

PLAYBOY : A las mujeres les gusta verte en este tipo de espíritus torturados, pero ahora se dice que protagonizarás Los Tres Chiflados con Sean Penn y Jim Carrey. ¿Has conocido a una mujer a la que le gusten Los Tres Chiflados?

DEL TORO : No. Los Tres Chiflados son violentos, todo el tiempo se están golpeando entre ellos, y ésa podría ser la primera razón por la cual a las mujeres no les gustan. Curly era el que más me hacía reír cuando yo era niño. No sólo por lo que hacía, sino por los sonidos que producía, me parecía sumamente divertido. No sé qué pasó con la película. Sean necesitaba un poco de tiempo y, sin él, la verdad ya no es lo mismo. El elenco original era excelente.

PLAYBOY : ¿Algo en tu infancia, como el haber perdido a tu madre siendo muy joven, te predispuso a buscar papeles tan oscuros?

DEL TORO : Hay una edad en la que no puedes aceptar ese tipo de cosas como un hecho. Son tiempos en los que se tiene que lidiar con un hoyo, un gran dolor, un abismo o lo que sea. Llega un momento en que tienes que lidiar con ese tipo de experiencias para realizar tu trabajo y cuando eso sucede, te das cuenta que lo has superado. No te vuelve a tirar, porque el dolor es una motivación para llevar a cabo cosas. Para mí, como actor, el dolor me ayuda cuando se trata de escenas en las que tengo que llorar. Pero también pienso en mi madre en situaciones que no son tan emocionales como ésta.

PLAYBOY : ¿Qué crees que haya después de la muerte?

DEL TORO : No tengo la más remota idea. Hay un cielo, que al final es un lugar en donde... caes. No tiene que ver con religión, creo. El Cielo es un lugar para todos y para todo. Pero como dije, no sé. Quizá el Cielo no sea más que silencio. Ya sabes, hay veces que el silencio no está tan mal.

PLAYBOY : Hablemos de crecimiento. ¿Cuándo te diste cuenta que no debías ir por la vida despachando mujeres?

DEL TORO : ¿Sabes qué? No sé si he llegado a ese punto. Por cada chica que despachas, hay una que te manda a volar a ti. No hay escape sin rasparse.

PLAYBOY : Gran referencia a una canción de The Cars, de 1980. ¿Cuándo comenzaste a sentirte atraído por las mujeres?

DEL TORO : Tengo recuerdos de coquetear con mujeres cuando iba en el Kinder en Puerto Rico, cuando apenas tenía tres o cuatro años. No es que no se me fuera una viva, yo creo que nadie es así, pero tuve una novia durante toda la secundaria y eso fue fabuloso. Tenía una pareja y me divertía.

PLAYBOY : Parece, sin embargo, que comenzaste a divertirte más cuando llegaste a Hollywood, tomando en cuenta tu lista de romances, desde Alicia Silverstone, Heather Graham, Claire Forlani y Sara Foster, entre otros. ¿Se puede ser monógamo en Hollywood?

DEL TORO : No creo que le preguntes a la persona adecuada.

PLAYBOY : Puede ser, ¿pero qué opinas al respecto?

DEL TORO : Si quieres una respuesta corta, te diré que no lo sé. Pero es una buena pregunta. Para que haya monogamia en una relación, tiene que darse de manera orgánica, pero no sé cómo lograrlo, por cierto.

PLAYBOY : ¿El hecho de que hayas salido con algunas de tus compañeras actrices convierte tus relaciones en un reto?

DEL TORO : Lo hace más difícil, sin duda. No puedo decir que se vuelve imposible, porque está probado que puede ser posible. Necesitas cierto grado de madurez que no sé si ya posea.

PLAYBOY : Halle Berry y tú tuvieron escenas íntimas en Things we lost in the fire. A mucha gente le costaría trabajo ignorar lo hermosa que es ella. ¿Te pasó a ti?

DEL TORO : Ella se metió tanto en su papel, que había que respetarla. Me parece que ella dijo en alguna entrevista que soy un tipo divertido. Quizá hice muchas bromas para relajar el ambiente. Tal vez estaba tan nervioso que ésa fue la manera en que pude liberar lo que sentía. Me gustó trabajar con ella, es una chica muy profesional. Tiene una gran preparación además, no ha llegado al lugar donde está sólo por ser sexy.

PLAYBOY : Además de hacer bromas, ¿de qué otra forma puedes enfrentar la tensión sexual que se crea con una coestrella hermosa?

DEL TORO : Dándome inmediatamente un regaderazo helado.

PLAYBOY : ¿Dirías que no es muy inteligente tener algo más que una relación de trabajo con tu coprotagonista?

DEL TORO : Cuando trabajo con una actriz, la veo como mi colaboradora. Cuando trabajas con una mujer atractiva en un set de filmación o en una oficina, se vuelve complicado cuando mezclas la parte personal. Puede suceder y sucede muy a menudo. Pero es más complicado cuando la filmación termina, las cosas ya no pueden continuar porque cada uno sigue por caminos separados.

PLAYBOY : Cuando tu padre, tu hermano mayor y tú se mudaron de Puerto Rico a Pennsylvania, cuando tenías 13 años, ¿aún eras virgen?

DEL TORO : Perdí mi virginidad a los 13 y fue una situación muy estresante. Fue en una casa, con alguien a quien apenas conocía. Ella lo había hecho antes y estuvo mejor, porque no me hubiera agradado que la situación nos rebasara a los dos.

PLAYBOY : Quitando los nervios, ¿funcionó todo bien?

DEL TORO : No fue del todo natural, pero todo marchó bien, sí. Yo tenía muchas ganas de que sucediera. Había algo especial con la chica, pero no continuamos porque poco después yo me mudé a Estados Unidos.

PLAYBOY : Lon Chaney Jr., la estrella de El Hombre Lobo original, al principio rechazó la actuación para no competir con su padre, la estrella de cine silente Lon Chaney, protagonista de El Fantasma de la Ópera. Tus padres fueron unos exitosos abogados, ¿por eso rechazaste la carrera de leyes?

DEL TORO : Por un tiempo así fue. Mi padre y mi madrina, que estuvieron muy presentes cuando se dio mi despertar, estaban muy descontentos con todo este asunto de la actuación. Yo no podía verme a mí mismo leyendo libros de leyes y aprendiendo todo ese asunto. Cuando salí de la preparatoria no sabía qué hacer con mi vida, pero sabía que no quería ser abogado, aunque disfrutara de discutir situaciones legales con mi familia. Hay un montón de cosas, no necesariamente la actuación, pero sí la interpretación, contar historias o aplicación de la lógica que tienen relación con la ley, que me agradan.

PLAYBOY : Después de terminar la Preparatoria en Pennsylvania estudiaste negocios en la Universidad de San Diego, California, ¿fue para demostrarle a tu familia que harías algo responsable con tu vida?

DEL TORO : En realidad nunca tomé en serio la carrera de negocios porque al mismo tiempo estuve haciendo un curso de actuación en la Universidad de California, y entendí que la actuación era muchísimo más que un asunto de suerte y que existía todo un método detrás. No sabía nada de actuación en ese entonces más allá de ver la tele. Me gustaban las películas de Eddie Murphy y Richard Gere cuando estaba en la escuela.

PLAYBOY : A muchos hombres les interesa la actuación por la cantidad de mujeres bonitas que hay en ella, ¿fue tu caso?

DEL TORO : Es divertido, claro, pero no es más que un plus. Había muchas chicas hermosas en mi clase y mis raíces latinas definitivamente significaban una gran ventaja.

PLAYBOY : ¿En qué trabajaste antes de que la actuación se volviera rentable?

DEL TORO : Mi primer trabajo fue entregando periódicos en Puerto Rico. También tuve trabajos de verano de esos que no te sirven para nada en la vida. Después de la preparatoria tomé la decisión de convertirme en actor y, por lo mismo, no me quedé mucho tiempo en la escuela después de clases. Estuve en Nueva York un tiempo, pero era muy duro vivir ahí. Me vine a Los Ángeles y obtuve una beca a través de Stella Adler. Parte de la beca especificaba que debía ayudar a construir un teatro en la esquina de Vine y Hollywood. Ahora es una entrada al metro.

PLAYBOY : ¿La actuación puede llegar a ser dura?

DEL TORO : Tuve la oportunidad de trabajar y estudiar con tres de los grandes, Lee Strasberg, Stanford Meisner y Stella Adler, y con quien más tiempo me quedé fue con Stella. Con maestros como Arthur Mendoza en el Stella Adler Studio of Acting West había una seriedad y una intensidad en el trabajo que resultó fundamental. Si llegabas tarde, había un sentimiento generalizado de que le estabas faltando el respeto a la clase. Eso me vino bien. Había ejercicios y técnicas que te hacían volverte mucho más abierto.

PLAYBOY : ¿Has sido estereotipado por tus raíces étnicas?

DEL TORO : Sí, por ser puertorriqueño, por tener un apellido distinto o por lucir distinto. Me ha sucedido en Alemania, en Inglaterra, aquí en casa e incluso en Puerto Rico. Pero eso no significa que yo piense que todo el mundo en esos países tiene esa forma de pensar.

PLAYBOY : ¿Qué ha pasado?

DEL TORO : Una vez que volé  de Inglaterra a Puerto Rico, en Inglaterra registraron mi maleta. Una vez venía conduciendo mi auto, pero traía el cabello largo, una chaqueta de cuero y la música muy alta. Una patrulla me detuvo y el oficial me preguntó: “¿éste es su auto?” y me buscó en su base de datos. He tenido buenas experiencias con policías también, pero hay veces que todo se sale de control. Lo peor que hay en el mundo –y cualquier policía te lo diría –es un un mal policía.

PLAYBOY : ¿Sucedió que perdiste al director de El Hombre Lobo un poco antes de comenzar a filmar?

DEL TORO : La película tuvo un tropiezo al principio. Cuando comenzamos, originalmente sería dirigida por Mark Romanek, que dirigió One Hour Photo. Estuve envuelto en su visión, que incluía hacer de mi personaje un tipo mucho más gris, no el buen tipo que salió en la película original. En muchos momentos incluimos elementos de The Curse of the Werewolf, que estelarizó Oliver Reed en 1960. Mark y yo estábamos convencidos de que llegaríamos juntos hasta el final, pero entonces llegó Joe Johnston, el nuevo director, que tomó otra dirección e hizo de mi personaje un tipo buena onda.

PLAYBOY : El artista de maquillaje ganador del Oscar, Rick Baker, dijo a propósito de tu caracterización: “¿Adónde irás después? Sales (en la película) tal como eres”.

DEL TORO : Me tomaba casi cuatro horas colocarme todo, desde el maquillaje hasta el disfraz. Él sabe lo que hace, es genial, su equipo fue agarrando práctica y cada vez me caracterizaban más rápido. Pero lo complicado no era colocarme todo aquel asunto encima, lo que me rompía las pelotas era quitármelo. Cuando todo mundo había terminado y se iba a casa, yo no. Además, con ese traje encima tenía que exagerar mis movimientos. Era un trabajo extra llevar aquel disfraz encima por 12 horas diarias. Hacía calor, en un par de ocasiones me tuve que cambiar de camiseta seis o siete veces. Cuando quería hablar me tenía que quitar las prótesis de los dientes, pero si tenía prótesis en las manos esto resultaba imposible hasta que llamaba a alguien más para que me ayudara. Para lidiar con todo eso, tienes que prepararte en un estilo de meditación Zen. Todo ello me hizo pensar en lo duro que debió ser para los actores de antaño, como Boris Karloff. Lo admiro porque lo que hizo para filmar La Momia y Frankenstein y lo que Lon Chaney hizo para El Hombre Lobo y, oh, cielos, lo que su padre Lon Chaney Sr. hizo en El Fantasma de la Ópera y El Jorobado de Nuestra Señora de París.

PLAYBOY : Eres famoso por tomar muy en serio la interpretación de tus papeles y se dice que te gusta escuchar música específica para entrar en un mood. ¿Qué música te ayudó a convertirte en licántropo?

DEL TORO : Nunca hago una lista de canciones en específico. Más bien lo que sucede es que mi experiencia con determinada película queda marcada por los discos que compro durante su filmación o los que compré un poco antes, pero los escucho ahí. Por ejemplo, el tiempo que estuve sentado en la silla de maquillaje escuché a Nick Cave con su Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! y también Fleet Foxes. Filmamos en Inglaterra, así que me pareció una buena idea revisitar la ópera rock Quadrophenia, de The Who. También es fabuloso escuchar cosas nuevas, así que puse bastante de Bon Iver, de For Emma, Forever ago. Es una gran banda sonora para la vida, intensa y melancólica, mira si lo sabré yo (risas).

PLAYBOY : ¿Qué haces cuando no estás filmando?

DEL TORO : Le decía a un amigo que me gustaría ir a ver tiburones blancos. También he intentado surfear. Es un deporte bastante rudo, y si no le dedicas tiempo terminas por dejarlo. Pero siempre estoy haciendo cosas. Leo bastante. Intento escribir una historia. ¿Conducir un automóvil de carreras? No está en mi lista, y si corriera, seguro vomitaría en la tercera curva.

PLAYBOY : ¿Qué es lo más dulce que la gente dice de ti?

DEL TORO : Que la sorprendo.











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