Benicio Del Toro is a man of few words, both on and off the screen. Since making a major impression as the often indecipherable criminal Fred Fenster in 1995’s “The Usual Suspects,” Del Toro has specialized in characters for whom actions speak louder than words—preserving what he does have to say for critical, and often heartbreaking, pronouncements (“21 Grams,” “The Pledge”).
Del Toro is again the silent type in “Things We Lost in the Fire,” opening Friday, but he’s not so silent. He’s a longtime junkie who makes an attempt at recovery when his lifelong best friend dies and the man’s widow (Halle Berry) asks him to move in with her and her two children. Del Toro offers a few words about “Fire.”
Things We Lost in the Fire
Halle Berry, Benicio Del Toro, David Duchovny, Alison Lohman, John Carroll Lynch, Alexis Llewellyn, Micah Berry
(Paramount Pictures; US theatrical: 26 Oct 2007 (Limited release); UK theatrical: 4 Jan 2008 (General release); 2007)
I’ve not really read a lot about your acting style or technique. Are you a researcher?
Yeah, to some degree. I don’t believe you have to shoot junk to understand addiction. I spent some time in Maryland with recovering addicts, hearing the stories, hanging out. I went to NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meetings. And yeah, I’ve got friends that became addicts, for various reasons, not all of them tragic. I knew their stories, or I thought I did. Nobody really knows who anybody is until they walk in their shoes a little. It’s what the movie’s about.
Halle Berry restores her Oscar luster with this performance. You two have taken really different paths to get where you are, and I was wondering if you had any trouble integrating your styles.
Not a bit. We were locked in from the first scenes. Both of us had the same goal, you know, so that made it easier. We both wanted to pay this story respect.
Which brings me to my next question. While this isn’t a romantic comedy or anything, it’s not the sort of story we might expect you to play the lead in. Why did you take the part?
I guess you’re right. I don’t know. I’m not against doing a romantic comedy if it’s as honest as this movie is. When they brought the material to me, I said, “You know, this is really strong, but there is great danger this can get sappy if it’s not done right.” I needed some assurance it wouldn’t go that way, and it didn’t.
The most touching scenes in the film are you with the kids. Who would have guessed it?
I love working with kids, man. They’re so real if you don’t turn them into little robots, just let them react naturally. I thought it was important to show how comfortable he is with them because it reminds him of when he was really happy hanging out as a kid with their father.
You’re currently, and finally, making the long-promised Che Guevara movie with your “Traffic” director, Steven Soderbergh. How is that working out?
Hard. It’s the hardest thing I’ve done so far, logistically and historically and dramatically. It’s an ambitious project. We’re trying to tell the whole story of an Argentine named Ernesto who became a very different man named Che when he got to Cuba. It’s not a story of some myth on a T-shirt, that’s for sure.