Benicio Del Toro is a man of few words, carefully chosen.
Ask him about the weight he gained to play Pablo Escobar, the late Colombian drug kingpin for the film Escobar: Paradise Lost, and his response, delivered after a moment or two of quiet reflection, is succinct.
“I put some weight on. Part of it was fun,” Del Toro replied somewhat cryptically during an interview at TIFF 2014, at which the film premiered.
The Puerto Rican native also worked on speaking English with a Colombian accent, even though Escobar spoke only Spanish — “the one liberty” taken in portraying him, Del Toro noted.
The actor allows he was initially “hesitant” about playing Escobar, whose cocaine empire at the time of his death in 1993 made him one of the world’s wealthiest men.
“It’s always hard and scary to do a character that really existed. I didn’t know much about him,” he said, and that prompted him to do some of his own research into the feared drug lord.
“I understand (Escobar) did smoke a lot of weed and he did like to party, but he didn’t do cocaine,” he said.
Del Toro also knew little about Italian actor Andrea Di Stefano, who’d written the script and was making his first foray into directing.
“Meeting with Andrea and his enthusiasm, that pretty much sold me,” Del Toro said.
The film shoot, done mostly in Panama, went “pretty smooth,” he said. “Andrea takes his time. There was no sense of manic urgency and that was very cool.”
The film, set in the early 1990s, follows a fictional Canadian named Nick, who marries Escobar’s niece Maria. Nick, played by Josh Hutcherson, is slowly drawn into Escobar’s deadly web at a time the drug lord was preparing to surrender to Colombian authorities.
“I thought that pretty much everything that was there (in the script), if it’s not truthful, it’s believable,” Del Toro said.
He liked the idea of seeing Escobar from Nick’s perspective — “the eyes of innocence” — and the fact that Di Stefano didn’t go overboard in portraying the violence that was Escobar’s stock-in-trade.
“The violence was really disciplined, not over the top. It’s not like Pablo is going out and eating people. It’s not exaggerated,” Del Toro said.
As for the big question: what about real Escobar? Del Toro is once again succinct: “A waste of talent.”
“(Escobar) was a very smart man. He had the right instincts toward people and family. Had you taken away the violence of Escobar, he’d be an entrepreneur,” he expanded.
“He was not a hero. There was that contradiction, that he did care for his family but he did poison a lot of families all over the world. (So) he’s not a hero for me. But what an interesting character, a Greek tragedy character.”