Benicio Del Toro in a scene from the movie Sicario.
Benicio Del Toro in a scene from the movie Sicario. Photo Contributed

Benicio Del Toro shines on wrong side of law

"I'VE made a career out of drugs," states Benicio Del Toro.

"Obviously it's because of our times, if I'd been an actor in the '30s it might have been alcohol or bootlegging. That's the way the cookie crumbles. I've played a junkie, a casual user, the supplier, the one who has gone after a drug dealer, I've played them all."

The 48-year-old has two more drug-related roles coming up on the big screen.

He is playing the most notorious drug lord in history - Pablo Escobar - in Italian director Andrea Di Stefano's crime drama Escobar: Paradise Lost.

Del Toro's other film, Denis Villeneuve's Sicario, is centred on the border conflict between Mexican cartels and the FBI.

The drama was acclaimed at Cannes and stars Del Toro as a mysterious hit man, said to be a former Mexican prosecutor, who is working with the Feds to smash a smuggling ring.

He delivers a typically haunting performance that leaves us unsure of his motives.

Del Toro is remarkably studied on the drugs trade within the Americas. His acquaintance with it on screen ranges from very early roles as drug dealers in Miami Vice and Drug Wars: The Camarena Story to his Oscar-winning turn in Steven Soderbergh's 2000 film Traffic, playing a Mexican police officer who makes a deal with the DEA.

"In 15 years, I don't think anything has changed," he says.

What does he think the politicians should do about it?

"I think legalisation. That road needs to be explored more. In the United States they are legalising marijuana in some states, so instead of fighting fire with fire, that road needs to be explored."

Del Toro has been open about his own past drug use, but when I bring it up, he reverts to humour. "Yes, I just did some now. You got some?" He raises an eyebrow and gives a look with that glint in his eye that says "enough already".

It's a look that, with slight adjustments, he's used in films to let the audience know he either wants to kill someone, or make love to them.

He put on weight to play Pablo Escobar but has lost it again, and looks as devilishly handsome as ever. His reputation as a ladies man precedes him. He's been attached to a plethora of co-stars and had a daughter with Rod Stewart's daughter Kimberly in 2011 - an infamous press release at the time of Stewart's pregnancy confirmed that they were not a couple.

"Every day becomes more real," he says of parenthood.

"I think about her in a way that is not so much right now, but I'm always looking ahead, like 10 years down the line."

Although he's tended to steer away from blockbusters in the past, it's clear that he's become more amenable to them recently. He took a starring role in last year's Marvel Studios' smash hit Guardians of the Galaxy, an experience that he describes as "Halloween, every day you want".

He says he'd happily jettison all the drug movies he's made because "I like the characters that get the girl in the end - one way or another."

Sicario opens nationally on Thursday.


Stars: Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Jon Bernthal.

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Rating: MA 15+

Reviewer's last word: Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro are in top form in this compelling and gritty crime thriller about an idealistic FBI agent who is forced to question her beliefs in a cross-border drug war.

Star profile: Emily Blunt

Quirky fact: Acting and adopting new accents helped her to overcome a debilitating speech impediment (stammer) at age 12.

Best known for: The Devil Wears Prada, Edge of Tomorrow, The Young Victoria.

If you like this movie you'll like these: Black Mass, Macbeth, Escobar: Paradise Lost.

Quote: "I couldn't talk as a kid because I stammered all the time, so I would just watch. I'm fascinated by human behaviour. People surprise me all the time. And I love being able to morph into different characters."

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