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Benicio Del Toro on Savages and Licence to Kill

His latest Oliver Stone thriller, playing a James Bond villain and what's on his iPod.

When we had dinner with Oliver Stone and Benicio Del Toro for the DVD and Blu-ray release of Savages, Stone did most of the talking. Honestly, more of our questions were for Stone but when Del Toro talk it was worth hearing. So we present Benicio Del Toro’s comments from the Savages dinner, which include some talk of his pre-Oscar winning films Licence to Kill and Excess Baggage. Some Savages spoilers follow right away.
 

Benicio Del Toro on attending the test screenings of Savages…

Benicio Del Toro: I did enjoy seeing the preview. For me it was kind of strange because I think the audience really hated me. I had that feeling of now I’m alive at the very end, they might just come after me for revenge. I’ve been to [test] screenings [before]. I think as an actor, I think the director is the same feeling. It’s going to be similar. You’re going to be nervous and you’re going to hope people are getting what you’re trying to do, but I think that the actor gets to rest in between scenes, unless you’re in every scene. I think a director doesn’t get to rest.
 

The inspiration for Benicio Del Toro’s moustache in Savages…

The moustache came from one of the gardeners that works on my street. There’s a gardener that works on my street that has that kind of moustache. I went, “Oh, let’s go with a moustache because there’s one guy that works on my street with a big thick moustache.” I haven’t seen him in a while. He didn’t work at my house. He worked on someone else’s house. I haven’t seen him in a while. Maybe he’s on the run.
 

I ask if he’s thought about what hasn’t changed since Traffic

Not much. I know, I thought about it but not much has changed [like] what Oliver’s saying. It just keeps coming. The war needs to be re-studied and use different tactics to have that war, if you want to call it war. My fear is it hasn’t changed much at all, except that maybe you can buy marijuana for medical purposes in 17 states I believe. That’s a beginning of something perhaps. The first tactic would be how do you take violence away from it? I don't know how exactly but legalizing some of it.
 

Oliver Stone pressures Benicio to talk about the election, back when we thought it was close…

I voted. I just don’t know. I think it’s the best game in town, tomorrow on the TV. Probably the best game in town because if it’s going to be tight, it could be people up ‘til six in the morning watching TV. If it’s really tight, but I don't know. I don't know all the numbers that are coming up, who’s ahead and who’s behind, I just don’t know who to trust. I think that’s speculating. I agree the electoral votes are antiquated and should be obsolete. It’s not very democratic, is it?
 

Benicio Del Toro avoids political appearances, or they avoid him…

I think that the guy who played Che Guevara in a movie might not be the guy you want to have in New Mexico trying to get votes for the Democrats, you know.
 

Benicio Del Toro remembers the protests at the Miami premiere of Che…
 

It was the premiere we were doing in Miami and most of the people that were outside hadn’t seen the movie, they never read the script, they didn’t know. Just the idea that you’re doing the movie and they felt like it’s unacceptable but part of the game I guess.  I mean, there was an ad for Romney where it’s got this guy, I don't know what country he’s talking about socialism, I mean that add is from 1962. It’s incredible. Is it Romanian? He paid for it himself. I don't know if he paid for it himself. Someone put makeup on that guy’s face, someone dressed him up too. So he’s talking about how he left a country that was socialist where people couldn’t excel and the government just buttoned everybody down, and he came to America to find his own life and find his dream and now America is going to go socialist, please stop it because I’ve lived it. It’s unbelievable. It’s like a sci-fi movie. It’s Them, like the giant spiders are coming. That will never happen in this country but people will believe it, that Obama is bringing this country back to communism.
 

I ask about his memories of playing a henchman in Licence to Kill

My memory is great. First, I met Cubby Broccoli who was the original producer, got the job and I grew up in San Juan, Puerto Rico. In my room, I had a lobby card of Thunderball so I grew up liking James Bond and suddenly I just pretty much did a year at college and I went to study acting. A year and a half, I’m doing a Bond movie. It was demented, so I really thought that I’d made it. I don’t remember but I think maybe I cleared like $20,000 and I went and bought a painting for $8,000. I thought that I was going to be the next Bond and I didn’t work again for a year and a half or two.
 

He still has the painting…

Yes, I do. I fought ‘til the end but I managed to survive, but the experience was fantastic. Great experience. Licence to Kill is not one of the great Bond movies. I’m biased to Sean Connery and Roger Moore because Live and Let Die was the first Bond movie I saw and I fell in love with Bond, so I’m biased with that but I think the last James Bond movies are very good. I haven’t seen Skyfall but the last two are good movies.
 

What Oliver Stone taught Benicio Del Toro about directing…

Well, I think Oliver is good in every aspect but I think part of the strength is the writing. I think the story aspect, working on the movie and seeing how prepared and intense he was with the writing and not forcing you just to say lines, but with the emotional journey of the piece and understanding all the time what was important in every scene, I think that was admirable to see. That he was just right in there with some lines that were crucial and the discussions about that, the process that I had with him calling him on Sundays, I learned a lot. I think one thing that I learned and that I would try, if I was to direct, I’d really pay attention to that because there’s a part of it that I really enjoy but I think he’s a master at it. So that’s one thing that I would take. There might be a couple other things. He’s also quick at making decisions which I really thank him for, because when you work with a director and the director will say, “Well, let me think about it.” When you do a movie the clock is ticking. It’s like a sport. So thinking about it, I’m going home and I’m doing the scene tomorrow and I don’t have the answer so I don't know if it’s going to be yes or no until tomorrow. He was very quick at saying yay or nay if it was going to work out, so that allowed me
 

Benicio Del Toro improv'ed picking the tomato out of John Travolta’s sandwich…

I actually picked it up in a couple takes but then [Stone] covered it. That’s never happened, if I do a little improv like that real small, because that was the writer. It’s when I take out the tomato from the sandwich. I just did it and he came back and he covered it and I was like, “Oh, he’s covering it. What’d I do?” But the fact that to me that was like a writer right there, because you can lean on it at some point in the scene and move the scene further. I guess I do realize I’m doing it, but when I’m working, let’s say with John [Travolta] and Oliver, it’s kind of like ecstasy for a kid. It’s almost like the ultimate jungle gym. I try to go in as free as I can be but the only way I can get there is by really working hard and understanding it. Then I throw it out the window and just be excited about it, because I know what I have to say or what’s going to happen to an extent, but the tomato thing just happened that day and thank God that he had a tomato in there because had he not had a tomato I would’ve had to take out the ham. Then it would’ve been just bread and butter. No one would’ve believed it.
 

Benicio del Toro’s iPod…

I’ve been listening to some African music. The iPod has changed all that because sometimes I listen to an album from beginning to end, but now I put the stuff on shuffle and have the iPod tell me what I’m listening to, especially if I’m working out. I can say I just want to hear classical music, but there’s some African stuff that I’ve been listening to, like Nigerian funk that is really, really good. I couldn’t tell you the artist right now but it’s kind of new. I’ve been listening to this music and it makes me want to dance. It’s really great guitars, amazing, some songs are 17 minutes and it’s just a jam that just keeps progressing and you’re like whoa, what is that? You go to the iPod, I gotta get the glasses now. And I’m always listening to rock n’ roll too.
 

Benicio del Toro talks about his Excess Baggage scenes with Christopher Walken…

Walken was like my uncle. All I remember was Walken talking about one piece of advice. He said if you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything. I thought that was such great advice for acting because whenever you’re in front of a camera you want to do something. I love Walken. It was hard to keep a straight face. He’s one of the great actors, a big influence on me, I love him. I haven’t seen the movie in a while.


Follow Fred Topel on Twitter at @FredTopel.