Benicio del Toro

Benicio del Toro

Born in Puerto Rico Del Toro spent his first 13 years in his native country until the family moved to a Pennsylvania farm in the wake of his mother's death. Having had two lawyer parents, Del Toro enrolled at the University of California at San Diego with the intention of becoming a lawyer himself until a freshman acting class led him to alter his career path. He quit school and moved to New York where he trained at the Stella Adler Conservatory and the Circle in the Square Theatre School. Heading to L.A., Del Toro trained further at the Actors Circle Theater and began to break into the business with many guest appearances as knife and gun-wielding thugs in series such as "Miami Vice" (NBC, 1984-89). His first film appearance was as Duke the Dog-Faced Boy in "Big Top Pee-Wee" (1988), while the following year, Del Toro had the honor of being cast as a James Bond villain in "License to Kill" (1989). In the grittiest of his television roles, Del Toro played a brutally menacing drug lord in the Emmy-winning miniseries, "Drug Wars: The Camarena Story" (NBC, 1990), where he caught the eye of budding film director Sean Penn. Penn helped jumpstart Del Toro's indie film career when he cast him in a supporting role in his directorial debut "The Indian Runner" (1991), starring a then-unknown Viggo Mortensen and David Morse as polar opposite brothers - one a lawman and one a criminal.In an uncharacteristically showy performance, Del Toro played a nasty, rebellious sailor in the big budget "Christopher Columbus: The Discovery" (1992), before making a supporting appearance as the husband of an air disaster survivor (Rosie Perez) in "Fearless" (1993), from Peter Weir. He was cool and calm in his role as an assistant to a tyrannical film studio executive (Kevin Spacey) in the independent cult hit, "Swimming with Sharks" (1994). The following year, Del Toro reteamed with Spacey in Bryan Singer's dizzying ensemble neo-noir "The Usual Suspects" (1995). Del Toro's characterization of Fred Fenster, a mumbly, wisecracking criminal involved in a murder, earned him the first of two back-to-back Independent Spirit Awards. His second came the following year for his performance as the best friend of influential New York painter "Basquiat" (1996) in Julian Schnabel's biopic. Also in 1996, the busy up-and-comer offered a terrific performance as a rival gangster to a trio of brothers in Abel Ferrara's "The Funeral," and rounded out the year as a teammate of Wesley Snipes' stalked baseball player in "The Fan," for which he was well-cast at 6'2."Next, Del Toro earned the lion's share of praise for his supporting role as a car thief who unwittingly becomes a kidnapper in the dreadful "Excess Baggage" (1997), but the film did nothing to advance his career. Similarly, his Dr. Gonzo to Johnny Depp's over-the-top journalist Raoul Duke in Terry Gilliam's film version of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" (1998) was also little seen. Del Toro proved a potent force as a mercenary petty crook teamed with Ryan Phillippe in "The Way of the Gun" (2000), but that film also failed to excite audiences. Switching sides to join the law, Del Toro give one of his best screen performances in Steven Soderbergh's drug epic, "Traffic" (2000), his first major performance in front of mainstream theatergoers. Del Toro's strong portrayal of an upright Mexican lawman generated positive buzz and led to an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor, in addition to a staggering 16 more film critics' association awards.British filmmaker Guy Ritchie's "Snatch" (2000) again had Del Toro in bad guy mode, but this time the actor was more about fun and less about emotional stakes in his performance as a doomed diamond smuggler with the colorful name of Frankie Four Fingers. In 2001, Penn knocked on Del Toro's door a second time, casting him as a Native American with a police record in his harrowing "The Pledge" (2001), for which the actor was nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor by the ALMA (American Latino Media Arts) Awards. In a more crowd-pleasing release, Del Toro played a disturbed ex-special forces op chased by former mentor Tommy Lee Jones in the competently assembled, but undistinguished action feature, "The Hunted" (2003). From that commercial diversion, he went on to receive another round of critical praise for his potent, perfectly etched performance in the brooding drama "21 Grams" (2003), from Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu. Del Toro earned a second Oscar nomination and third Independent Spirit Award for his supporting role as a born-again ex-con whose rebuilt life is shattered when he is involved in a deadly car accident.Del Toro was virtually unrecognizable for his next performance in director Robert Rodriguez' and writer-artist Frank Miller's visually arresting adaptation of Miller's crime noir comic books, "Sin City" (2005). Appearing in the sequence "The Big Fat Kill," Del Toro wore heavy prosthetics that completely, convincingly and chillingly changed his appearance to match that of Miller's comic book creation, the corrupt cop Jack "Jackie Boy" Rafferty, whose drunken escapades result in an all-out war over control of Sin City's Old Town. After receiving another ALMA Award nomination for fanboy favorite, Del Toro went on to his first leading film role. Starring opposite Halle Berry in the drama "Things We Lost in the Fire" (2007), Del Toro portrayed a lawyer trying to kick a heroin addiction after moving in with the widow of a friend and her children. American audiences were relatively uninterested in this American film debut of Danish director Susanne Bier, but critics generally applauded her treatment of the film's themes and especially praised the performances of the two leads.In 2008, Del Toro took home a Best Actor Award from the Cannes Film Festival and a Goya Award for Best Actor (Spain) for "Che" (2008), Steven Soderbergh's two-part biopic about Latin American revolutionary, Ernesto Guevara, told in Soderbergh's trademark non-linear style. The film stirred up some controversy over its historical accuracy and its prohibitive running time, but Del Toro was applauded for his commanding performance. He was surprisingly overlooked during Hollywood awards season perhaps - as Sean Penn noted during his own SAG Award acceptance speech for "Milk" (2008) - due to the political controversy surrounding the subject or because the film was in Spanish. But Del Toro had successfully established himself as a Hollywood leading player, and in 2010 he took first billing in "The Wolfman" (2010), a telling of the classic Victorian tale about a man investigating a string of ghastly murders, only to uncover a bloodthirsty side of himself he has never known.