In an interview with RT during the recent fortieth edition of the International Festival of New Latin American Cinema in Havana, Puerto Rican actor Benicio Del Toro spoke about Che, a film directed by Steven Soderbergh and produced by Del Toro in partnership with Cuba’s Telecinco Cinema, Wildbunch, and Section Eight Productions.
The actor was interviewed at the International Film Festival about his experience before the camera, his vision on a few social issues and his interest in Cuba.
Del Toro, winner of the Oscar award for best supporting actor in 2001, said when accepting the best leading actor award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2008 for his role as Che, “I’d like to dedicate this award to the man himself, Che Guevara. I wouldn’t be here without Che Guevara, and through all the awards the movie gets you’ll have to pay your respects to the man… Ideologically I feel very close to Che.”
“The film’s production crew spent six years in Cuba researching everything about Che Guevara. Del Toro recalled that the preparation for the role of the leader of the Cuban Revolution went beyond understanding the historical moment, the country and the continent.
The actor said, “I remember sitting with Che’s wife Aleida who told me, ‘It’s not important if you resemble Che physically. The important thing is to understand the person.’ … Che Guevara’s person educated me about my roots of being a Latin-American and a Puerto-Rican.”
At the screening of Che by the American Film Institute at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in 2008, Lou Diamond Phillips, who played the role of Bolivian Communist party leader Mario Monje said, “Che Guevara is a hugely controversial figure.” The cameras in front of Grauman’s then turned to co-star, co-star Joaquim de Almeida who added, “I don’t know how this film is gonna go over in Miami.”
The film was greeted by protests in Miami but praised as a cinematic masterpiece by the rest of the world .
“Before making the film ‘Che’ we did research work for six years knowing many points of view,” says the Oscar winner. However, Del Toro’s relationship with the Island began long before that.
Del Toro’s interest in Cuba was inspired by the cinema of that country. “The works of Titón [Tomás Gutiérrez Alea], the works of Pastor Vega and others, [. ..] many Cuban directors,” he told the interviewer.
Del Toro said that he wanted the character to be “as real as possible,” relying on the work of the actors and the team that surrounded him. He also explored corners of his own person. “The character of Che is a character who has educated my roots, of being Caribbean, Latin American, Puerto Rican,” he said.
However the actor is cautious when it comes to assigning the cinema an active function of social change. “Maybe movies do not change society as such, but movies change movies,” said Del Toro.
Awarded for his role in ‘Traffic’ (2001), Del Toro believes nevertheless that the collectivity of these “stories” can serve to point to the problematic points in society and ultimately influence governments on issues such drug policies. “I think that is a solution to the problem of marijuana, to legalize it, but I do not know if it is the same for heroin,” he explains.
As for his profession, the Puerto Rican actor reveals that he chooses his roles taking into account that he can work with a good cast and a “creative” and “democratic” director who is willing to work on the script, which in turn should be “original.” He added that, “I have never read a script that is perfect.”
In his acting work, Del Toro stated that he began to “take a lot of affection for literature,” “The writer works in the same way that I work as an actor,” said Del Toro, noting that he first learned about it when he played his role in the film ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ (1998).
The artist declares himself “a film fanatic” and reveals that he likes to see “all kinds” of genres with certain exceptions. “I prefer to see other films than mine,” admits the Oscar winner, but not before highlighting the power of the big screen.
“All the films leave you with something, they touch you in some way. I’ve never had the experience of having the same experience in two movies,” said the actor. “They have not given me a dancer role yet,” regrets Del Toro.
Read the full interview on RT.