Benicio Del Toro

Published September 14th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

Occupation: Actor, Director, Writer 

Date of Birth: February 19, 1967 

Place of Birth: Santurce, Puerto Rico 

Sign: Sun in Pisces, Moon in Gemini 

Education: Attended the University of California at San Diego; studied acting at the Circle in the Square Acting School and at the Stella Adler Conservatory 


 

RIGHT OF THE bat, Benicio Del Toro’s problems began as soon as he announced to his family that he wanted to pursue a career in acting. 

His parents did not take to the news very well. 

As Del Toro told one interviewer, "my family freaked when I told them I wanted to be an actor. It was like telling them I wanted to be an astronaut. On top of that, it was like saying that in order to be an astronaut, I was going to have to drive a cab in New York for five years. 

"The family probably felt that its worst fears had been realized when Del Toro won his first movie role, playing "Duke the Dog-Faced Boy," in the ill-contrived sequel to Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Big Top Pee-Wee. Undaunted by the execrable effort, Del Toro stuck it out, and over the course of the next several years, he paid the bills with a steady stream of supporting roles, both in films and on television, including several memorable portrayals of drug-dealing heavies. His career caught fire with the role of enunciation-challenged con man Fred Fenster in Bryan Singer's stunning ensemble crime drama The Usual Suspects in 1995, a performance for which he won an Independent Spirit Best Supporting Actor award; he won the same award the following year for his work in the critically lauded biopic Basquiat. With a résumé comprised in equal measures of mainstream fare and independent projects, Del Toro is uniquely positioned to become a draw both at the box office and on the film-festival circuit.  

Blessed with the exotic, sleepy-eyed good looks of "James Dean channeling Ricardo Montalban," as one critic called him, Del Toro was born to lawyer parents in Puerto Rico. Following the death of his mother, Del Toro's father moved the family to a farm in southern Pennsylvania. Although he developed a healthy interest in acting as a child, Del Toro made plans to enter the family business, his parents, his grandfather, his godmother, and his uncle had all been practicing attorneys at some point. Following high school, he enrolled at the University of California in San Diego to study business. An acting class taken during his freshman year rekindled his yen to perform, and the would-be lawyer dropped out of college and spent the next couple of years studying acting, both in New York, where he attended the noted Circle in the Square Acting School, and in Los Angeles, where he trained under famed acting guru Stella Adler. Like many of his peers, Del Toro got his start in the business doing guest-starring roles on television. He appeared in such short-lived series as Shell Game and O'Hara; in 1987, he showed up in an episode of Miami Vice, and in 1990, he logged his first major screen time, in the role of a sinister drug lord in the acclaimed NBC miniseries Drug Wars: The Kiki Camarena Story.  

While his TV career was off to a modestly successful start, Del Toro had a tougher go of it on the silver screen. He followed up his forgettable Pee-Wee debut with a role in the mediocre James Bond flick License To Kill in 1989. Two years later, he snagged a small part in Sean Penn’s warmly received directorial debut effort, The Indian Runner Del Toro received his next paycheck for his performance as a thoroughly despicable rapist in the laughably awful Christopher Columbus-as-swashbuckler debacle Christopher Columbus: The Discovery. In spite of such career dead-ends, the game young actor managed to stay afloat with convincing supporting performances and soon his persistence was finally rewarded in 1995: the year began with a small role alongside Kevin Spacey in the bitter-pill Hollywood satire Swimming With Sharks, in which Del Toro delivered the memorable line, "This is not a business, this is show business. Punching below the belt is not only all right, it's rewarded." The two then reteamed for The Usual Suspects, in which Del Toro stood out amid the sparkling ensemble cast with his hilariously unintelligible lines.  

In 1996, Del Toro parlayed his newfound celebrity into substantial roles in three films.  

Now living in Los Angeles, Del Toro maintains a low profile between movies, and has thus far managed to avoid becoming entangled in any celebrity romances. His screenwriting and directing debut short Submission, which starred a pre-celebrity Matthew McConaughey, premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 1995. The fledgling filmmaker would like to direct again at some point, but has said of himself, "I get quite embarrassed with my acting when I see it on the screen. I would imagine with a film that's my own, I'd be really embarrassed and have to leave the country." While he may not get behind the camera again anytime soon, he'll be spending plenty of time in front of it: a role as lawyer and Hunter S. Thompson confidante Oscar Acosta in the Terry Gilliam directed Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is in the can; and Del Toro is also slated to appear as the titular bullfighter in the biopic Manolete.  


 

Movies: 


 

2000 Way of the Gun 

1998 Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas 

1997 Excess Baggage 

1996 Cannes Man 

1996 Basquiat 

1996 The Fan 

1996 The Funeral 

1995 The Usual Suspects 

1994 Swimming With Sharks 

1994 China Moon 

1993 Golden Balls  

1993 Money for Nothing  

1993 Fearless 

1992 Christopher Columbus: The Discovery 

1991 The Indian Runner 

1989 License to Kill 

1988 Big Top Pee-Wee 

1984 License to Kill 


 

TV: 


 

1989 Drug Wars: The Kiki Camarena Story  

1989 Tales From the Crypt  

1987 Hard Copy  

1987 Miami Vice  

1987 O'Hara  

1987 Shell Game  

© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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