Benicio Del Toro discusses his new film, A Perfect Day, his approach to acting and his upcoming role in Star Wars: Episode VIII
Opening today in select theaters (and now available via On Demand) is director Fernando León de Aranoa’s A Perfect Day, a dark comedy drama starring Benicio Del Toro, Tim Robbins, Melanie Thierry and Olga Kurylenko. Set in the Balkans in 1995, the story unfolds over the course of a single day as a group of humanitarians try their best to do some good in a world that seems to be working against them on every conceivable level.
ComingSoon.net had the opportunity to sit down with Benicio Del Toro to discuss A Perfect Day and his approach to picking roles in general. He even drops a few details about his upcoming appearance in Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: Episode VIII, on which he’s set to begin filming this spring.
CS: How did “A Perfect Day” begin for you?
Benicio Del Toro: I had met the director, Fernando León de Aranoa, in Spain six or seven years ago. I liked his work. I had seen three or four of his movies. We hit it off and then time went by and he sent the script my way. I read it and I felt the character was different from the characters I usually get. I also felt the movie was different. I took an interest, read it and said I would do it. Then I bumped into Tim Robbins at the airport and told him about it. I was going to Spain to promote a film, but I was also meeting with Fernando. I told Tim Robbins, “You should read this script. There’s a part that you would be really great for.” He said, “Yeah? Let me see it.” His agent got him a copy and by the time I went to spent, I told Fernando, “Tim would be perfect for this.” Tim jumped in and that was great. I’m a big, big fan of Tim, not just as an actor but as a director as well. So we went off to Spain to do it. When Tim became part of the team, that pretty much locked it.
CS: You’ve referred to the character that you play, Mambrú, as being in the “misfit phase” of his life. Could you explain to me a little bit more what you mean by that?
Benicio Del Toro: My character or Tim’s character?
CS: I think all the characters in this to some degree fit that description.
Benicio Del Toro: That’s true. But Tim’s character is way on the other side. He’s completely desensitized. My character kind of has one foot out the door and one foot in the door. I really think that he cares. The whole movie takes place in about two days. It’s hard to get a full synopsis of who he’s going to become in just two days. I think that, in a way, he really still cares. He has a little bit of the character of Sophie, played by Mélanie Thierry. My character is a little bit of her and little bit of Tim’s character put together. He’s kind of in the middle.
CS: There’s a very particular sense of humor in “A Perfect Day.” It’s almost reminiscent of Robert Altman’s “M*A*S*H” in its attitude towards the bureaucracy of war.
Benicio Del Toro: That’s one of the things that attracted me, that sense of humor. The mix of humor and the seriousness. That’s a challenge for the film and for the actors to walk that line and stay on that line. You don’t want to get ridiculously funny or too serious. That’s a challenge. That’s the difficult thing about the movie and the exciting thing as well. How do you keep that balance? It’s one thing for the director and the actors on set, but you also hope that when they go into the editing, they’ll also be walking that line.
CS: Is that a discussion that you have with your co-stars?
Benicio Del Toro: No. Well, you don’t exactly work it out with co-stars. When you read the script, you really can see it. Tim’s character, for example, is a little bit on the far, dangerous comedy place. He’s got the job of making that character seem real. We know that he’s going to be able to do that because he’s a great actor. My character is a little bit more like the anchor of the two extremes. I was looking at my character and trying to find out how to hold it all together so it doesn’t go too much one way or the other. Sometimes, though, you don’t know and you’ve got to go over the top. I don’t know how to describe it. You just hope you’re lucky enough to be surrounded by the best talent and then you try not to go too big. Then, sometimes, you go big and maybe big is better in that moment than what you thought. You hope that the director will allow you to explore and he did. He let us explore a bit.
CS: I don’t want to spoil exactly what happens, but the film has almost a punchline in its final shot.
Benicio Del Toro: That’s one of the things that I really liked about the film. The futility of effort. We are kind of that. We go through life. At some point, we’re all going to die. There’s this effort that, when given the question — and I don’t mean to get too existentialist — but the question is, “To be or not to be?” The answer is “To be.” You might do something, like these guys in this movie, who actually did the right thing. Even though their main obstacle was themselves in the end, for trying, they got rewarded. Or the people that they wanted to help got rewarded. There’s something great there. It’s one of the things in the script that I thought was cool. No one wins, but they also do win, but don’t know. I like characters that try and try and fail. But, just because you fail, doesn’t mean that it wasn’t the right thing to do.
CS: How important do you think the period setting is for this story?
Benicio Del Toro: Yeah, it takes place in the Balkans in 1995, but it really could take place anywhere. It could take place in a dangerous zone or a disaster zone anywhere in the world.
CS: Do you change your approach as an actor depending on whether or not a story is based in reality versus something completely fictional?
Benicio Del Toro: You know, they’re both complicated for different reasons. When you are making a movie based on something that has happened, there’s a research there. You have tracks that you have to stay within because there’s proof of what happened and X and Y. There’s limitations, but there’s also a lot of sources of, let’s call it help. When you do a character that comes from fiction, the limitations might be looser, but you still have to find the stuff that’s going to make him. To build him. You have to find stuff. That takes time and thinking and research. Neither is easier than the other and they’re both complicated.
CS: Where does that process normally start for you?
Benicio Del Toro: I think it really starts with the writer, man. You’ve got to read the writer to understand the movie. I usually have to read the script three, four or five times. Even if my character is not the lead, you need to understand the story. I think that lets you know what road to take to start building research and building the character. That’s what really lays the foundation for me to decide, “Okay. This is what I think this character would do. This is what I think he would wear.”
CS: Do you ever get offered characters that, at first, you can’t seem to wrap your head around?
Benicio Del Toro: I think that’s every character. Sometimes I feel like I don’t come to understand a character and really figure him out until the last day of shooting. It sounds pompous, maybe, or crazy, but it’s true. You just try. Some characters, you might be going in the right direction from the beginning, but some characters you start in the wrong place and realize halfway through, “Man, I’ve gone the wrong way with this guy. How can I turn him? How can I go the other way?” For me, the thing that helps the most with that is understanding the story. You don’t want to take that left turn. If you’re going from LA to Vegas, you don’t want to wind up in Phoenix. The best way to keep yourself from ending up in Phoenix is to really study the map. Then you take the right exits. In acting, it’s similar. You just need to read the script and understand exactly what the story is.
CS: Are you coming back for “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”?
Benicio Del Toro: I don’t think so. They would have told me, I hope. I hope to play that character again at some point.
CS: At this point in your career, what is a dream project for you?
Benicio Del Toro: I’m about to go into one, which is “Star Wars.” Especially after the box office success and the quality success of the new film, it’s really exciting to be part of the sequel. It’s scary.
CS: Are you a big sci-fi fan? It seems like you’ve had a couple films in that genre lately.
Benicio Del Toro: Yeah, I like sci-fi. But the first sci-fi I did was “Guardians.” It’s a different world. The reality is different. Reality is reality and gravity is gravity, but you need to really understand these worlds. How can I find information? How can I do research? You can go and watch the old “Star Wars” movies, but Star Wars has been written for the movies. It’s not based on a book. Rian Johnson, the director of “Episode VIII,” though, which I’m going be shooting this spring, I’m going to have to bombard with questions.