Saturday 25 October 2014

I'm a daddy, not a baddie

Benicio Del Toro is Hollywood's go-to villain but, as Julia Molony finds out, fatherhood has made him ponder family, responsibility and child-rearing

Benicio Del Toro leans forward in his chair in a London hotel suite, half-smoked cigarette in hand. He's wearing a crisp suit, an oversized silver ring. His hair stands up in luxurious, jet-black swathes.

As on film, he seems an almost cartoonish creation -- features and physicality so perfectly drawn for louche villainy that he appears more an invention of fiction than nature.

It's a quality used to powerful effect in his latest film Savages, a dirty, sexy, bloody gangster romp directed by Oliver Stone. Del Toro plays Lado, a Mexican drug cartel member known for his unmitigated viciousness.

But is he that much of a badass in reality? With so much opportunity to act out every possible monstrous, violent human impulse, I'm expecting him to be pretty Zen. Surely, there's no room for repressed anger when one's day job involves violently dispatching one's enemies.

"I still get angry in real life," he says with a small smile, pulling on his cigarette.

But is there something about being able to vent? "To an extent, but not really. You're just acting. Hoping that there is truth in it. That it's convincing, that it's not boring, that it's not too hammy."

His position as Hollywood's go-to baddie has been established since his big break in The Usual Suspects at the age of 21. He's played a long line-up of dark and twisted characters, which has given him plenty of time to reflect on what the psychological mechanisms behind evil behaviour are. Being bad is his on-screen metier.

It's something he's given a lot of thought to, unsurprisingly. "I think they might be born with that inkling. And when they are thrown into a society that doesn't give a f*** about them, then they are more prone to become ... home doesn't exist and there's the makings of a storm.

"I think it's home. I think we see it, it's not a mystery. You see anyone who is in the life of crime, you track it down. For the most part you'd say that there is some characteristics of their past that are going to be similar."

He speaks in long, considered monologues which often change tack, with wide-ranging digressions covering everything from turn-of-the-century cinema to what conditions create the sort of teenagers behind high-school massacres.

And one wonders whether thinking about these themes is something that has become more relevant to him now that he's become a father.

Last year, Kimberly Stewart gave birth to his daughter Delilah after the pair had a short relationship, and while they are no longer together, he's actively involved.

Perhaps that might go some way to explaining why he's been thinking about what makes the difference between a happy well-adjusted child, and one who takes a gun into their high-school and opens fire.

Presumably then, there will be lots of shared meals in the Stewart-Del Toro postmodern family. Certainly, he admits that parenthood has changed his outlook.

"You've gotta make sure, economically, now you are living for someone else. So there's a responsibility here that I never had before. When I worked, I only looked at myself and now I've gotta think there's someone else. We need to make some savings so that she goes to school. Eventually she'll decide what she wants to do, but there is this element of being ready for the options. And that's kind of different.

"We're still in the process of organising all of that. But now, when I work, I'm not just working for my sandwiches and my pizza. Now it's a little bit different.

Sunday Indo Living

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