For Che, Steven Soderbergh's sprawling two-part biopic about Ernesto Guevara, Benicio Del Toro so thoroughly embraced the role that he even obsessed about nailing the Cuban Revolution antihero's asthma. "It's almost impossible to go Method with it," says the 41-year-old actor. "The problem is not that you can't breathe in. The problem is that you can't exhale. It's kind of like breathing backwards, which is hard to do. But I tried, man. I tried." Del Toro, who also served as a producer on the project, called us recently to discuss other things Che, including the iconic photograph that's sold a million T-shirts. And of course, we talked about werewolves.
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Time Out New York: You star in the first movie adapted from a T-shirt. Congratulations!
Benicio Del Toro: That's a first—I haven't heard that one. Thank you.
TONY: Do you find it ironic that Che's image has been used to sell stuff?
Benicio Del Toro: It's not necessarily irony. I mean, a T-shirt is just a T-shirt. But I think it's irony when it's attached to a vodka bottle or a Jet Ski or something.
TONY: A Che Jet Ski would be pretty hilarious.
Benicio Del Toro: Yes. But you know, I think the real irony is that whoever took the image never made a profit from it.
TONY: You won Best Actor at this year's Cannes Film Festival for your performance. How did that compare to winning your Academy Award?
Benicio Del Toro: Cannes, I think, feels a little bit more like the Olympics. The Oscar is the Oscar. Nothing comes close. But awards are just part of the business. That's the way I look at it. They can be a way of selling the movie. You've got to get people in to see the movies, and if getting nominated helps, I understand that.
TONY: How did a four-and-a-half-hour, two-part Spanish-language movie about a guy most Americans know little about end up getting made, anyway?
Benicio Del Toro: Well, without the recognition the Oscars brought on me, I don't think Che would have been made. It helped me get people around the world to put money in the film. I'm not ignorant about it or blind to it. On the other hand, you can make a documentary about Che in two hours, but you can't make a movie about him in two hours. You really can't. Otherwise, you're never going to get to spend any time with him.
TONY: But why break it into two parts?
Benicio Del Toro: What made me do it was Steven Soderbergh saying he wanted to do two movies. I wasn't going to argue. Not because he's, you know, Steven Soderbergh, but because his reason made sense. Originally, we were going to just do the last year of his life, which is the second movie, Guerrilla. But Steven's thought was if you just saw that and you don't know anything else about Che except that he's the guy in the T-shirt, you're going to go, The guy is crazy! So that's how the first picture, The Argentine, came to be.
TONY: Your next movie, The Wolf Man, started up right after Chewrapped. Did you take that role so you could keep rocking Guevara's facial hair?
Benicio Del Toro: I should have. But no, that's all makeup.
TONY: Wasn't it strange going from playing a Marxist rebel to playing a werewolf?
Benicio Del Toro: It was a way of shedding Che. Being pretty much on the tails of a role like that, that's when you want to burn the oil, you know? You step on the gas and just say fuck it and go on to the other movie. That they're completely different movies I think is maybe healthy for me. I could be completely ridiculous in the Wolf Man role.
TONY: No kidding—talk about doing a 180!
Benicio Del Toro: Completely. A complete 180, and around one more time—a 360.
TONY: Or maybe even a 540. Admit it: The Wolf Man is just a natural progression from your first movie role, Duke the Dog-Faced Boy in Big Top Pee-wee.
Benicio Del Toro: [Laughs] Yeah. The Wolf Man would be his great-grandfather.
TONY: So what's next?
Benicio Del Toro: After this? After this interview, I'm going to eat my food.
TONY: I meant in your career. But all right: What are you eating?
Benicio Del Toro: I'm going to have some tomato salad, some espresso and a little bit of meat.
TONY: That seems appropriate for awolf man.
Benicio Del Toro: There you go. I'm ready to start.
Che screens at the Ziegfeld Fri 12–Dec18.