Benicio Monserrate Rafael del Toro Sánchez, better known as Benicio del Toro (born February 19, 1967) is a Puerto Rican actor and film producer. He won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and a BAFTA Award for his role as Javier Rodríguez in Traffic (2000). He is also known for his roles as Fred Fenster in The Usual Suspects (1995), Dr. Gonzo in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), Franky Four Fingers in Snatch (2000), Jackie Boy in Sin City (2005), and Che Guevara in Che (2008), a performance which garnered him the Best Actor Award both at the Cannes Film Festival in France, and at the Goya Awards in Spain. He will portray The Collector in the upcoming Marvel Studios films, Thor: The Dark World and Guardians of the Galaxy. He is the third Puerto Rican to win an Academy Award.
Benicio del Toro was born on February 19, 1967, in San German, Puerto Rico, to Gustavo Adolfo del Toro Bermudez and Fausta Genoveva Sanchez Rivera, who were both lawyers. Many of Del Toro’s relatives are involved in Puerto Rico’s legal system. He has an older brother, Gustavo, who was a pediatric oncologist at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. He had a Catalan paternal great-grandfather and a Basque maternal great-grandmother. He claims some Indigenous American ancestry as well. Benicio del Toro is related to Puerto Rican basketball player Carlos Arroyo, Spanish pop-eurodance singer Rebeca Pous Del Toro, whose maternal grandfather was Puerto Rican, and Puerto Rican singer Eliseo del Toro.
Del Toro, whose childhood nicknames were “Skinny Benny” and “Beno”, was raised a Roman Catholic and attended Academia del Perpetuo Socorro (The Academy of Our Lady of Perpetual Help), a Roman Catholic school in Miramar, Puerto Rico. When del Toro was nine years old, his mother died of hepatitis. At age 12, he moved with his father and brother to Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, where he was enrolled at the Mercersburg Academy. He spent his adolescence and attended high school there. After graduation, del Toro followed the advice of his father and pursued a degree in business at the University of California, San Diego. Success in an elective drama course encouraged him to drop out of college and study with noted acting teachers Stella Adler and Arthur Mendoza, in Los Angeles, as well as at the Circle in the Square Theatre School, in New York City.
Del Toro began to surface in small television parts during the late 1980s, playing mostly thugs and drug dealers on programs such as Miami Vice and the NBC miniseries Drug Wars: The Camarena Story. He had a cameo in Madonna’s 1987 music video clip “La Isla Bonita” as a background character (the kid sitting on the car). Work in films followed, beginning with his debut in Big Top Pee-wee and in the 007 film Licence to Kill, in which 21-year-old del Toro held the distinction of being the youngest actor ever to play a Bond henchman. Del Toro continued to appear in movies including The Indian Runner (1991), China Moon (1994), Christopher Columbus: The Discovery (1992), Money for Nothing (1993), Fearless (1993) and Swimming with Sharks (1994).
His career gained momentum in 1995 with his breakout performance in The Usual Suspects, where he played the mumbling, wisecracking Fred Fenster. The role won him an Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Actor and established him as a character actor. This led to more strong roles in independent and major studio films, including playing Gaspare in Abel Ferrara’s The Funeral (1996) and winning a second consecutive Best Supporting Actor Independent Spirit Award for his work as Benny Dalmau in Basquiat (1996), directed by his friend, artist Julian Schnabel. Del Toro also shared the screen with Robert De Niro in the big budget thriller The Fan, in which he played Juan Primo, a charismatic Puerto Rican baseball star. He subsequently starred opposite Alicia Silverstone in Excess Baggage (1997), which Silverstone produced.
For Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the 1998 film adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s famous book, he gained more than 40 lbs. (about 18 kg) to play Dr. Gonzo (a.k.a. Oscar Zeta Acosta), Thompson’s lawyer and drug-fiend cohort. The surrealistic film, directed by Terry Gilliam, has earned a cult following over the years. Returning from a two-year hiatus after Fear and Loathing, del Toro would gain a mainstream audience in 2000 with a string of performances in four high-profile films. First up was The Way of the Gun, a crime yarn that reunited him with The Usual Suspects screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie, making his directorial debut. A few months later, he stood out among a first-rate ensemble cast in Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic, a complex dissection of the North American drug wars. As Javier Rodriguez —a Mexican border cop struggling to remain honest amid the corruption and deception of illegal drug trafficking —del Toro, who spoke most of his lines in Spanish, gave a performance that dominated the film.
His performance swept all of the major critics awards in 2001. Del Toro won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, becoming the fourth living Oscar winner whose winning role was a character who speaks predominantly in a foreign language. Del Toro is also the third Puerto Rican actor to win an Oscar, after Jose Ferrer and Rita Moreno. The night he won his Oscar marked first time that two actors born in Puerto Rico were nominated in the same category (the other actor was Joaquin Phoenix). In his acceptance speech, del Toro thanked the people of both Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora and dedicated his award to them. In addition to the Oscar, he also won the Golden Globe Award and the Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor. Traffic was also a success at the box office, bringing to del Toro real Hollywood clout for the first time in his career. While Traffic was still playing in theaters, two other del Toro films were released in late 2000/early 2001. He had a brief role as the diamond thief Franky Four Fingers in Guy Ritchie’s hip caper comedy Snatch, and played a mentally-challenged Native American man in The Pledge, directed by his old friend Sean Penn.
In 2003, del Toro appeared in two films: The Hunted, co-starring Tommy Lee Jones, and the drama 21 Grams, co-starring Sean Penn and Naomi Watts. He went on to garner another Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his work in the latter. He then appeared in the film adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel Sin City, directed by Robert Rodriguez, and Things We Lost in the Fire, the English language debut of celebrated Danish director Susanne Bier. Things We Lost in the Fire co-starred Halle Berry, Alison Lohman, and John Carroll Lynch.
In 2008, del Toro was awarded the Prix d’interpretation masculine (or Best Actor Award) at the Cannes Film Festival for his characterization of Che Guevara in the biographical films The Argentine and Guerrilla (together known as Che). During his acceptance speech del Toro dedicated his award “to the man himself, Che Guevara” along with director Steven Soderbergh. Del Toro was also awarded a 2009 Goya Award as the Best Actor for his depiction of Che. Actor Sean Penn, who won an Oscar for his role in Milk, remarked that he was surprised and disappointed that Che and del Toro were not also up for any Academy Award nominations. During his acceptance speech for the Best Actor’s trophy at the Screen Actors Guild Awards Penn expressed his dismay stating, “The fact that there aren’t crowns on Soderbergh’s and Del Toro’s heads right now, I don’t understand … that is such a sensational movie, Che.” For the final portions of the film (shown here), del Toro shed 35 pounds to show how ill Guevara had become near the end of his life in the jungles of Bolivia.
In 2010, del Toro starred in and produced the remake of Lon Chaney, Jr.’s classic cult film The Wolf Man. He was chosen to be the face of the 2011 Campari calendar, becoming the first male model to be featured in the Italian liquor company’s calendar. In June 2013, del Toro joined the cast of Marvel Studios’ 2014 superhero film Guardians of the Galaxy.
While promoting his film The Wolfman in 2010, he described his romantic life as “in limbo.” When asked if he had thoughts of settling down, he responded, “Why? Everyone says, ‘Why isn’t he married?’ But it’s like, ‘Fuck! Why do I have to get married? Just so I can get divorced?'” In an interview with The Times he mentioned that he didn’t want his West Hollywood apartment, which he described as his “cave,” to be “invaded” by a wife and children.
On April 11, 2011, del Toro’s publicist announced that del Toro and Kimberly Stewart (daughter of Rod Stewart) were expecting their first child, although they were not in a relationship. Stewart gave birth to a daughter, Delilah, on August 21, 2011. They had their daughter baptized in Puerto Rico.
On November 4, 2011, he acquired Spanish citizenship, along with fellow Puerto Rican Ricky Martin. The request was granted by the Spanish government due to his artistic talents and his Spanish roots (he has family in Barcelona). In March 2012, he was granted an honorary degree by the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico for his impact on the cinema enterprise, during the celebration of the institution centenary.