Born on the 19th of February 1967 in San German, Puerto Rico, Benicio Del Toro is a highly diverse and charismatic actor who regularly steals scenes as loveable and fascinating characters. Despite a few nods at award ceremonies, and his reliable and captivating performances throughout his career, Del Toro is often overlooked as the powerhouse acting talent that he has consistently proven himself to be.
After dropping out of business school, and dashing his family’s hopes that he would become a lawyer, he quickly took up acting classes with the renowned actress Stella Adler’s performing arts school. Adler praised Benicio for his enthralling and inspiring capacity to entertain, tipping him to be a huge success in the film industry.
As one of only three Academy Award-winning Puerto Ricans (alongside Rita Moreno for “West Side Story” and Jose Ferrer for “Cyrano de Bergerac”), Benicio Del Toro has, in his roles, revisited the effects and industry of illegal drugs, often portraying villainous or morally ambiguous characters.
Benicio Del Toro, a man of unique appearance and ability, initially landed promising, but largely unnoticed roles in a number of blockbusters, including, “Licence to Kill” (taking the title of the youngest Bond villain of all time), as well as “The Indian Runner” and “Money for Nothing,” before eventually gaining critical attention in the mid ’90s.
Always considerate of the projects he undertakes, he has since become a fan favourite, rarely missing the mark and keeping a consistent flow of high calibre performances. Here are his ten best to date.
10. The Hunted (2003)
Director William Friedkin (“The French Connection,” “The Exorcist”) has produced an eclectic mix of films since his most noteworthy pieces of work in the 1970’s, resulting in varying levels of success. These range from the cult piece “Killer Joe,” which resurrected Matthew McConnaughey, to 2003’s action drama, “The Hunted,” starring a grizzled and worn Tommy Lee Jones alongside Del Toro as a trained and framed assassin gone AWOL.
The film takes most of its ideas and concepts from action films of past years and it is conspicuously similar to “Rambo.” Using close-encounter action scenes and steering away from hefty set pieces, “The Hunted” is an up close and personal battle of wits between the two men, giving them plenty of room to manoeuvre, build their characters’ mannerisms, and deepen their stories.
Completing most of his own stunts for the film, Del Toro severely injured his wrist during the end fight sequence with Tommy Lee Jones, after accidently taking a fall. He was, to some concern, informed he may never regain full use of his hand, but he underwent several hours of physiotherapy each day to overcome the injury he sustained.
9. Sin City (2005)
Despite playing a minor supporting role in Robert Rodriquez and Frank Miller’s gloomy and stylish adaption of “Sin City,” Del Toro’s villainous Jack ‘Jackie Boy’ Rafferty, is a highly memorable and heinous creation within the piece. As a corrupt cop and the abusive boyfriend of Brittany Murphy’s character, Shellie, he quickly finds himself, along with his gang of cannon fodder, tangled in a violent and unforgiving world of pain at the hands of Shellie’s old flame, Dwight, played by Clive Owen.
Working with some minor facial prosthetics, make-up artist Gregory Nicotero, squared off his jaw line and, with a longer, thinner nose, Del Toro perfectly portrays the belligerent and forceful Jackie Boy, a character that truly deserves everything that heads in his direction.
Most memorably, however, is the scene directed by Quentin Tarantino in which Dwight is transporting Jackie Boy’s corpse in his passenger seat and having a conversation with his body. A spectacularly executed scene in true Tarantino fashion, both actors are enthralling and the dialogue is truly gripping. Without question, it is one of finest, not to mention, stylish stand-out moments in a film full of incredible segments.
8. Things We Lost In the Fire (2007)
“Things We Lost in the Fire” features an astounding, powerful performance from Del Toro as a recovering heroin addict. On the path to redemption, his best friend dies and Del Toro’s character moves in with his family.
His best friend, heartbreakingly played by David Duchovny, is killed defending a woman who was a victim of domestic abuse, leaving his wife, Audrey, played confidently by Halle Berry, and their two children to fend for themselves. It is at this point when Benicio Del Toro’s Jerry moves into an attached room on the grounds of their family home to help the grieving family cope with the painful consequences of their loss.
Danish director Susanne Bier’s first English language film following her success in her native Denmark, “Things We Lost In The Fire’ is a heartfelt drama, exquisitely shot, and accompanied by a charmingly written script by Allan Loeb. At the heart of the film is Del Toro’s Jerry, a flawed character with a strong moral compass, putting his own needs to one side and faithfully helping his late friend’s family.
Despite his difficult and intricate relationship with Audrey, Jerry is a warm and supportive father figure for her two children, Harper and Dory, helping them to grow and overcome difficult scenarios that arise in their lives.
The film shows a much more tender side to Del Toro. While no stranger to complex and troubled characters, he rarely has the opportunity to show his sensitive and caring demeanour, which he skilfully accomplishes here as the strongest aspect of a genuine and honest drama piece.
7. Escobar: Paradise Lost (2014)
The directional debut of Italian actor Andrea Di Stefano, “Escobar: Paradise Lost” is an ambitious and confident romantic drama-turned crime thriller that never fails to be ruthlessly determined in its conviction. Starring Josh Hutcherson of “The Hunger Games” fame as Nick Brady, a Canadian surfer travelling with his brother, and Claudia Traisac as Maria, a local village girl too perfect to be true, Del Toro enters the scene as Maria’s uncle, Columbian drug lord and Cartel boss Pablo Escobar.
In what at first glance sounds like a set up for a comedy sketch, Andrea Di Stefano’s script skilfully creates a mesmerising and at times haunting thriller that lands Nick in an entirely different world, one in which he must make impossible decisions to hold onto the girl he has fallen deeply in love with. The backbone of the film is unquestionably Del Toro’s charismatic and at times over the top portrayal of the Columbian kingpin, stealing each and every scene he is in.
However, “Escobar: Paradise Lost” often feels like a missed opportunity. Having the fictional love story as the intended heart of the piece, it’s hard not to feel cheated with the casting of Del Toro as Pablo Escobar, which was a stroke of genius.
Del Toro is breathtakingly charismatic throughout, carrying the film upon his introduction, leaving audiences questioning the potential of a film that merely outlined the life of the King of Cocaine and what could have been accomplished in this film without the requirement of a trivial love story at its centre.
6. Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
An adaption of American gonzo journalist and author Hunter S. Thompson’s novel of the same name, the film follows Raoul Duke, a character depicted in the author’s own image. Played by Johnny Depp, Duke and his esteemed lawyer Dr. Gonzo embark on a psychedelic drug-fuelled road trip across the United States, in search of the so-called American dream. Written for the screen by the weird and wonderful Terry Gilliam, his directorial work has also never been better-suited to its subject matter.
While Johnny Depp is front-and-centre in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” Del Toro’s interpretation of the lurid Samoan lawyer Dr. Gonzo is equally remarkable. Piling on 40 pounds to undertake the role, on a diet consisting solely of donuts, Del Toro stars as a fictionalised version of the attorney and politician Oscar ‘Zeta’ Acosta, a friend of Thompson’s, famous for his notorious partying habits.
Dr. Gonzo is constantly in a drug-induced haze and Del Toro is mesmerising to behold throughout, using considerable amounts of improvisation, channelling the novel’s character expertly onto the screen, in what stands as one of his most outrageous and bold creations to date.
As described by Raoul Duke in the film, he is “one of God’s own prototypes, some kind of high-powered mutant never even considered for mass production, too weird to live, and too rare to die.”