The Daily Transom is not easily starstruck. But when Benicio Del Toro offered to "wine and dine" us in atonement for allowing someone to interrupt our conversation after the Monday evening screening of his new film, Che, directed by Steven Soderbergh, we must admit we had a … moment. After all, the food and drinks at Plaza Athenee were free–it would be simple!
Fortunately, by the time he turned his attention back to us, we had regained our composure. What had the person who had approached him wanted to know? "He wanted to know how I lost weight for the movie."
How had he?
"That’s a secret, it’s a mystery!"
Well, then how had he gained it back?
"That’s a secret."
What he could tell us that was not a secret, then?
"What do you got?"
Well, we wondered–perhaps still a bit distracted–what were his methods for wining and dining?
"That’s a secret. C’mon! I don’t want competition." (Competition hardly seems likely.)
Fine! How had he enjoyed his first turn as a producer? "I liked it. You get to know what’s happening behind the curtain a little more. You get to know more of the mysteries." He also told us about the trip he had taken to Cuba to in preparation for playing the South American revolutionary. "It was great. I loved everyone that I met… You know, I grew up in Puerto Rico and the people are similar–the spirit of the people, the climate."
We wondered what it had been like winning the award for Best Actor when the film premiered at Cannes. "It was like winning a medal at the Olympics," said Mr. Del Toro. "I mean, I’ve never won a medal at the Olympics, but I think that’s what it would be like."
Mr. Del Toro has starred in a number of small budget films, and we asked whether he thought the current economic climate would make it even more difficult to produce interesting projects. "I’m sure it will, but art will always find its way," he said, rather seriously. "It doesn’t matter–art will always find its way. And I’m pretty sure about that."
Finally, as we tend to these days, we shifted the conversation toward the election. Mr. Del Toro told us he planned to watch tonight’s presidential debate. Who would he be gunning for? "Who do you think?" he asked. Not wanting to reinforce any stereotypes about Hollywood liberals, we wondered if he was perhaps a Republican. "What? Because I wear cowboy boots?"
We also spoke with co-star Demian Bichir. The actor had just been chatting with the playwright Neil Simon, who was in attendance, and he seemed a little starstruck himself. "Neil Simon!" he exclaimed by means of introduction.
Mr. Bichir plays Fidel Castro in the film. How had he prepared for that role?
"It’s difficult, everyone knows him so well–there’s so much footage…It was Fidel for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for five months." And where did he think the film industry is headed? "I think times of crisis are the best time for art, because there are stories to tell, and we’re here to tell them."