Benicio Del Toro emerged in the mid-'90s as one of the most watchable and charismatic character actors to come along in years. A favorite of film buffs, Del Toro gained mainstream public attention as the conflicted but basically honest Mexican cop in Steven Soderbergh's Traffic (2000). Born in Puerto Rico on February 19, 1967, Benicio is the son of lawyer parents Gustavo and Fausta Sanchez Del Toro. His mother died when he was young, and his father moved the family to a farm in Pennsylvania. A basketball player with an interest in acting, he decided to follow the family way and study business at the University of California in San Diego. A class in acting resulted in his being bitten by the acting bug, and he subsequently dropped out and began studying with legendary acting teacher Stella Adler in Los Angeles and at the Circle in the Square Acting School in New York City. Telling his parents that he was taking courses in business, Del Toro hid his new studies from his family for a little while. During the late 1980s he made a few TV appearances, most notably in an episode of "Miami Vice" (1984) and in the NBC miniseries "Drug Wars: The Camarena Story" (1990). Del Toro's big-screen career got off to a slower start, however--his first role was Duke the Dog-Faced Boy in Big Top Pee-wee (1988). Things looked better, however, when he landed the role of Dario, the vicious henchman in the James Bond film Licence to Kill (1989). Surprising his co-stars, Del Toro was, at 21, the youngest actor ever to portray a Bond villain. The potential break, however, was spoiled as the picture turned out to be one of the most disappointing Bond films ever; it was lost amid bigger summer competition.
Benicio gave creditable performances in many overlooked films for the next few years, such as The Indian Runner (1991), Christopher Columbus: The Discovery (1992) and Money for Nothing (1993). His roles in Fearless (1993) and China Moon (1994) gained him more critical notices, and 1995 proved to be the first "Year of Benicio" as he gave a memorable performance in Swimming with Sharks (1994) before taking critics and film buffs by storm as the mumbling, mysterious gangster in The Usual Suspects (1995), directed by Bryan Singer. Del Toro won an Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting actor for the role in the Oscar-winning film. Staying true to his independent roots, he next gave a charismatic turn as cold-blooded gangster Gaspare in The Funeral (1996) directed by Abel Ferrara. He also appeared as Benny Dalmau in Basquiat (1996), directed by artist friend Julian Schnabel. That year also marked his first truly commercial film, as he played cocky Spanish baseball star Juan Primo in The Fan (1996), which starred Robert De Niro. Del Toro took his first leading man role in Excess Baggage (1997), starring and produced by Alicia Silverstone. Hand-picked by Silverstone, Del Toro's performance was pretty much the only thing critics praised about the film, and showed the level of consciousness he was beginning to have in the minds of film fans. In 1998 he took a leading role with Johnny Depp in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), directed by the legendary Terry Gilliam. Gaining 40 pounds for the role of Dr. Gonzo, the drug-addicted lawyer to sports writer Raoul Duke, Benicio immersed himself totally in the role. Using his method acting training so far as to burn himself with cigarettes for a scene, it was a trying time for Del Toro. The harsh critical reviews proved tough on him, as he felt he had given his all for the role and been dismissed. Many saw the crazed, psychotic performance as a confirmation of the rumors and overall weirdness that people seemed to place on Del Toro. Taking a short break after the ordeal, 2000 proved to be the second "Year of Benicio". He first appeared in The Way of the Gun (2000), directed by friend and "The Usual Suspects" writer Christopher McQuarrie. Then he went to work for actor's director Steven Soderbergh in Traffic (2000). A complex and graphic film, it nonetheless became a widespread hit and Oscar winner. Del Toro's Javier Rodriguez, a conflicted Mexican cop, functions as the movie's real heart amid an all-star ensemble cast, and many praised it as the year's best performance, a sentiment validated by a Screen Actor's Guild Award for "Best Actor". He also gave a notable performance in Snatch. (2000) directed by Guy Ritchie, which was released several weeks later, and The Pledge (2001) directed by Sean Penn. Possessing sleepy good looks reminiscent of James Dean or Marlon Brando, Del Toro has often jokingly been referred to as the "Spanish Brad Pitt". With his newfound celebrity, Del Toro has become a sort of heartthrob, being voted one of People's "50 Most Beautiful People" as well as "Most Eligible Bachelors". A favorite of film fans for years for his diverse and "cool guy" gangster roles, he is now becoming a mainstream favorite respected for his acting skills and choices. So far very careful in his choices and who he works with, Del Toro can boast an impressive resume of films with some of the most influential and respected people in the film business.
Slurred, mumbling voice and odd mannerisms
Frequently portrays dark, tragic characters.
Deep, raspy voice.
Frequently plays moral characters in harsh environments
Dark circles under his eyes.
Son of Gustavo Del Toro and Fausta Sanchez-Del Toro, and Godson of Sarah Torres (all lawyers).
Passionate about oil painting.
Sent to boarding school in Pennsylvania when he was 13.
Has one brother, Gustavo, who is two years older and is a physician in the US.
Mother died when he was nine.
Family urged him to become a lawyer because they felt there was no future in acting.
Studied at the Stella Adler Conservatory of Acting on a scholarship.
Attended the University of California - San Diego (UCSD)
Burned himself with cigarettes repeatedly for the elevator scene in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) because the real 'Oscar Zeta Acosta' did as well. The shots of the burn were cut.
Reportedly turned down the role of Frida Kahlo's husband Diego Rivera in Frida (2002) because of the weight gain that would be required, despite that earlier, for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), he had gained 40 pounds for his character.
Attended Mercersburg Academy (graduated in 1985). He was a basketball star and artist there, but not an actor.
He badly injured his wrist during a stunt fight during the filming of William Friedkin's The Hunted (2003). He fell on his wrist as he dove for a knife and actor Tommy Lee Jones fell on top of him. He was injured so badly that he was out of work for months, even though the film was virtually completed. He required 3 hours of therapy daily and reportedly there is a question whether he will regain full use of the wrist.
"Del Toro" means "of the bull" in Spanish.
Won the 2003 Audience Award for Best Actor at the Venice International Film Festival for his role in 21 Grams (2003).
Benny Dalmau's last name (his character in Basquiat (1996)) came from Raymond Dalmau, a Puerto Rican basketball player in the 70s and early 80s. Raymond Dalmau wore the shirt Benicio wears in the film when he was in the Puerto Rican National Selection.
From 1988 to 1992 he was in a relationship with Valeria Golino.
Before moving to Pennsylvania, was a student at Academia del Perpetuo Socorro in Miramar, Puerto Rico.
Because of his pay-or-play deal, he was paid $5 million for American Gangster (2007). the film was due to start shooting in October 2004 - with Denzel Washington co-starring - but Universal Pictures postponed it because of budgetary concerns. The film eventually got the green light in 2006, with Ridley Scott replacing Antoine Fuqua as director.
Is one of five Oscar winners - for Best Supporting Actor in Traffic (2000) - to play a character that spoke mostly in a foreign language. Most of his dialog was in Spanish. The other are Sophia Loren, Robert De Niro, Roberto Benigni and Marion Cotillard.
He was considered for the lead character of "Eddie Kagle" in "Angel on My Shoulder" (2005), a role that was played by Paul Muni in Angel on My Shoulder (1946). Producers not only wanted him for his his amazing talent, but also for his close resemblance to Muni.
Youngest person ever to portray a villain in a James Bond-movie: "Dario" in Licence to Kill (1989).
He was originally cast as Darth Maul in Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999). After the majority of the character's lines were removed from the script by George Lucas, Benicio left the project.
He and his ex-girlfriend Claire Forlani both been in movies featuring Ryan Phillippe: Claire in Antitrust (2001) and Benicio in The Way of the Gun (2000). They have also both been in movies with Brad Pitt: Claire in Meet Joe Black (1998) and Benicio in Snatch. (2000). Claire and Benicio acted together in Basquiat (1996).
Was an extra in a Madonna video (La Isla Bonita).
His neighbor is Rade Serbedzija.
His father owned the property across the street from his childhood home and turned it into a full-size basketball court so he and his brother Gustavo could practice and play with their friends. The property has since been built into a condominium.
Lives in Los Angeles.
Vocalist Macy Gray is one of his fans. They were born the same year.
Is of Puerto Rican ancestry.
Benicio and Kimberly Stewart are expecting their first child [April 11, 2011].
Fan of Fulham Football Club (English Premier League soccer club). Fellow fans include Elizabeth Hurley, Lily Allen, Pierce Brosnan, Hugh Grant, Hugh Laurie, Daniel Radcliffe, Andrew Johnston and the late Michael Jackson.
Father, with Kimberly Stewart, of a girl, Delilah Genoveva Stewart Del Toro, born on August 21, 2011 in Los Angeles. Delilah weighed in at 8 lbs. 9 oz.
He is one of three Academy-Award winning actors to play a Bond villain. The other two are Christopher Walken and Javier Bardem. Benicio is the only one not to play a main villain and to play a villain before winning his Oscar.
Before I was ever in high school, I had dark circles under my eyes. The rumor was I was a junkie. I have dark circles under my eyes, deal with it.
My career went into the hole after Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998). People might have seen what they saw on screen and subconsciously, people in the business might have taken what they saw literally. I think people thought, 'He got fat. He got weird. His mumbling increased tenfold.' I was trying to do an interpretation of a masterpiece of a book, and that's what the character was - an animal!
I like anything that's three-dimensional, anything I can believe in -even if it's fantastic, surreal or from another planet.
I like to keep growing. I haven't gotten anywhere, as far as I'm concerned.
I'd like to do completely different roles - a romantic lead, for example. I'd like to be dressed up in a suit and get the girl at the end of the movie.
I see The Usual Suspects (1995) as the time where I was, quote unquote, discovered. It took me six, seven years to get to that place. And it was not easy. You're fighting with people who doubt you and your choice of career. There are a lot of doubts - and you have to stay focused with what you want. I never put a time limit on me being successful or not. I just cared about the work as an actor. But it wasn't easy because there were a lot of ups and downs. I don't know if you know much about baseball, but baseball is the game of failure. You deal with failure - strike, strike, strike - all the time. Acting is like that. You have to have a very thick skin in a way - your hair is too dark, you're too ugly for the part, your audition wasn't good.
I do get more recognized now. If I go to dinner, people look at me more now and whisper. But as an actor I would be no one without the people who come and see me. So it would be ridiculous for it to bother me. It just bothers me when I'm intoxicated.
My goal as an actor has always been to reach a level where I can find a lot of interesting work, and I think I'm at that point now. The Oscar has given me a lot of recognition, but I think Traffic (2000) alone would have done a lot for me. It's the kind of role you die for because a lot of people are going to focus on your work. It gives you a very high profile.
I used to play basketball and I was pretty competitive, but I was never a bad loser. I never got angry. For me it was always about doing my best and devoting myself to a challenge. Sometimes that will cut it, other times it won't. But I'm someone who remains faithful to my dreams. That's how I looked at acting, even though I knew it would be tough going at first. I didn't think about the money, I've always lived simply. I just need my books and I can get by.
I like to take things very slowly. When you start to become a movie star it's easy to believe that you are Superman. That can fool you. That's why I prefer not to pay much attention to fame. The truth is that I don't give it much thought. I don't suffer. I don't hang my photographs on the wall. Without realizing it, you can enter a vicious circle and think that you really are a superhero. That's the moment when you get yourself in real trouble.
It's funny, but when I arrived in California to start college I was much more interested in becoming a surfer and cruise along in life from one beach to the next. I didn't plan out any huge career for myself. Now that I see that I have this career and it's worked out for me, it still feels like I'm surfing, only that it's on a different level. I feel very free and that's all that I've ever wanted out of life.
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