Benicio Del Toro


You wouldn’t normally think of gravelly-voiced screen villain Benicio Del Toro as the type of guy that would idolize Hollywood’s most famous modern-day sing-song dancing man, but as cinema’s go-to guy (“I’m one of them, anyway” he says) for gangster parts tells CLINT MORRIS, he’s been in awe of John Travolta – or the “king of cool”, as the Oscar Nominated actor calls him – for the better part of his life.

“I’ve been a fan for a long time, perhaps even more than I recognized. I was one of those kids who went to see Grease like ten times”, Del Toro, 45, says of his ”Savages” co-star. “I was walking around in the hallways of my junior high school, doing the John Travolta walk – that classic walk – before I even knew I wanted to be in the movies. It wasn’t until I met the guy, and I think about how much influence he has had on me, that I realise how much of a fan of his I am.”

Del Toro, who made his film debut as the uncomplimentary ‘Duke the dog-faced boy’ in 1988’s Big-Top Pee Wee, says Travolta didn’t so much influence him to become an actor but he did encourage him to start playing the part of a cocksure ladies man.

“I remember when I was in school, doing that Travolta walk [from ”Saturday Night Fever” and ”Grease”], my idea was that ‘if I keep doing this walk, and act like John Travolta, I will get the girls’. I don’t think I’m the only one.”

Del Toro, who like Travolta made his entrance on screen playing a cool character that’s garnered a plethora of fans (Fred Fenster from 1995’s ”The Usual Suspects”), only shares the one scene with Travolta in Savages, but it’s a moment that’ll definitely be chronicled in the actor’s imminent biography.

“He was just so great to work with”, Del Toro says, backing up what others have said about the notoriously generous Travolta. “We had one scene in the movie – it’s a complicated scene, and we managed to dance around it. I managed to dance around it… with the gangster of cool. So it was fun. He was great. He’s a legend.”

In ”Savages”, Del Toro plays the kind of character he’s become best known for – a shady gangster type. This time, he’s Lado, the right-hand made of Drug Cartel mama Elena (Salma Hayek), who is assigned the task of evening the scores with a couple of very successful tyro dealers, played by Aaron Johnson, Taylor Kitsch and Blake Lively.

Lado, no doubt as cocky and confident as a 13-year-old Del Toro strutting down the High School corridor was, is a chap that’s determined to become ‘number one’ – pushing aside his boss, Elena – by the end of the film’s 131 minutes.

“A lot of humour comes from that”, explains Del Toro, “and it’s that tinge of humour that really attracted me to this movie.”

In fact, though the jokes played a part, it was the involvement of filmmaker Oliver Stone (”Platoon”, ”JFK”) that drew Del Toro to “Savages” initially.

“I just wanted to mainly do it because Oliver Stone was directing”, the actor, who has worked with the likes of Bryan Singer, Guy Ritchie, Robert Rodriguez and Terry Gilliam, says. “Oliver was the instigator. Oliver reached out to me, and then I read the story and I loved it – it was this interesting sort of film-noir that, instead of say people fighting over a diamond, as they would’ve back in the old days, it’s now marijuana.

“And what I also liked about the script, when I read it, was that my character, and Salma Hayek’s character, and maybe even John Travolta’s character too, was that there was a tinge of humour. That made it an interesting challenge to play a vicious character and make [him or her] kind of funny, too. Even though it’s violent, it’s also funny – at least I hope it’s funny.”

The movie, like Don Winslow’s book of the same name, is a serious yarn embossed in some black humour. Del Toro ponders whether it would work as well without the laughs.

“I think the movie itself benefits from that because those elements of quirkiness, or whatever you want to call it, helps the audience navigate through the violence. ”

Del Toro has played his fair share of threatening-looking criminals now, and looks forward to playing more, but he fortunately doesn’t scare too often in public.

The actor says he’s happy to say nobody runs or gets out of the way when they see him approaching, “But I will keep an eye on that”, he laughs, adding “And see if that starts happening. That could be funny, man.”

”Savages” starts Thursday around Australia