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The Untold Truth Of Benicio Del Toro

Every star in Hollywood has their own story, but few are as interesting as Benicio del Toro's. Growing up in Puerto Rico, del Toro had to contend with the loss of his mother and find his place in a world that seemed much too rigid to the young man. He attended a private high school in the United States and afterward moved on to the University of California San Diego. There, del Toro pretended to study business while secretly pursuing his newfound passion for acting with a tenacity that's truly worthy of admiration.

Del Toro was determined to make acting his life whether or not he ever achieved real success. For a long time, he must have thought his future was uncertain. After going through the usual trials and tribulations of a young actor, del Toro had his breakout role at age 21 with "The Usual Suspects." Just three years later, he starred in "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" with Johnny Depp, and the film's awful critical reception nearly ended his career.

In 2000, del Toro starred in Steven Soderbergh's "Traffic," won himself an Oscar, and vaulted his career into the stratosphere. Today, he's one of Hollywood's most treasured actors, and he tackles everything from brutal crime stories like "Sicario" to space-faring adventures like "Star Wars: The Last Jedi." Del Toro has a unique career, even by the standards of famous performers. This is his untold truth.

His mother died when he was young

Benicio del Toro spent his childhood living in San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico (via Esquire). His father, Gustavo, came from a working-class background, while his mother, Fausta, was part of a well-to-do family. Del Toro's earliest years were marked by tragedy, and his mother died of hepatitis when he was just 9 years old. According to del Toro, his family found a way to enjoy their time together despite the sad situation. "There was a sense of looking at what was coming straight in the face and at the same time just enjoying life," he told Esquire.

In more ways than one, that time in del Toro's life has defined him. It changed the way that he thinks about life, death, and the meaning of it all, but it also played a big role in getting him involved in acting. In an interview with FeatsPress, del Toro explained that his earliest experiences of performance came from entertaining his mother when she was sick. "The performances I would do to make her laugh were probably my first acting efforts," he said. After her death, del Toro and his father grew closer, and the two of them learned to appreciate the good in life, despite the inevitability of loss. Del Toro's ability to find humor and love even in the darkest of places is part of what makes him such an incredible actor, and he owes it to his mother. 

His godmother changed his life

It's one thing to have a dream, but something entirely different to have the means to pursue it. Without Benicio del Toro's godmother, he likely would never have found his way to where he is today, and the world would be short one amazing actor. Sarah Torres Peralta was a friend of del Toro's mother, and she helped the family navigate the loss of Fausta (via Esquire). "I think she understood somehow, much more than my dad understood, the big picture of what was going on," del Toro said.

Torres Peralta did more than just provide emotional support to del Toro and his family members — she also used some of her income from her career as a lawyer to help support the education of del Toro and his brother. When del Toro was thirteen, Torres Peralta asked him if he'd like to attend a private school in the United States, and she paid his way there. Later, she gave both boys money to help with college, and it was while studying at the University of California San Diego that del Toro finally settled into being an actor. His godmother provided support at all the right moments to help del Toro along his path in life.

He was a troublemaker growing up

Considering his unorthodox approach to creating characters, maybe it's not all that surprising that Benicio del Toro wasn't much of a rule-follower when he was growing up. His tendency to act out and go his own way meant he was regularly butting heads with the adults in his life. He wrote in The Miami Herald, "My father was a strict disciplinarian, and I would thrive on breaking rules, a conflict developed between us." Del Toro's trouble at home followed him to the Catholic School he was attending at the time. "The nuns and priests gave me hell at times ... to most I was Benicio The Troublemaker," he said.

Del Toro told Esquire that though he had a reputation for being a "class clown," more was happening under the surface. Though he didn't realize it at the time, he says now that he was "a little bit depressed" in the wake of his father's remarriage and didn't understand how to deal with those feelings. Luckily, that's when his godmother stepped in and helped him find his way to a private school in the United States, where he had an opportunity to set things straight by starting fresh.

He's not a one trick pony

Some people seem to know exactly what they want in life, but others need some time to figure things out for themselves. Benicio del Toro belongs to the latter group. When he was growing up, acting wasn't always an obvious career path for him. As a young boy, he preferred sports to the arts, and he proved time and again that he had some serious skills in basketball (via Esquire). He had ambitions of going pro, but by the time college rolled around, del Toro realized that a career in sports wasn't going to be a part of his future. "I was a little bit freaking out," he said, so he tried turning to some of his other interests.

Through high school, del Toro had begun developing an interest in art. He was particularly drawn to painting and briefly considered studying it in college before life took him in another direction. Acting became the overwhelming passion of del Toro's life, but it's far from his only interest ⁠— he's a prolific appreciator of film, literature, and art. When asked about his hobbies in 2009, del Toro admitted to BAFTA Guru that though he still paints, he also has other ways of entertaining himself. "Smoking Cuban cigars and carpentry," he said, adding, "I like to make tables; I just hammer away and watch them happen." There are probably more than a few people in the world who would pay good money for a del Toro original.

Del Toro pretended to study business in college

By the time Benicio del Toro left home for college, he knew he could be an entertaining performer, but he hadn't yet fallen in love with acting. Before he caught the bug, del Toro's path in life was already planned out for him — his family wanted him to follow in the footsteps of his father and godmother by going to law school (via The Miami Herald). He took off for the University of California San Diego as a declared business major, but that wouldn't last long. Shortly after del Toro started his studies in San Diego, he realized that he couldn't cut it in business school.

At that time, he discovered a play put on by the drama department and auditioned for a role. He landed the part, but in order to participate, he had to change his major. Del Toro secretly switched to studying theater and started pursuing his acting dreams in earnest. It took years for del Toro's family to approve of his decision, but in the meantime, he threw himself into it wholeheartedly. After dropping out of UC San Diego, he later enrolled in the Stella Adler Conservatory of Acting and studied alongside other talents like Mark Ruffalo. Del Toro knew that making a career in acting would be a long and difficult road, but he'd finally found what he wanted to do with his life.

His upbringing influences all his roles

So much of Benicio del Toro's skill as an actor ties back into his life as a child. He wrote (via The Miami Herald) that when he and his brother played while growing up, they "had to create our own world using our imagination." All that imagination was constructed against the backdrop of life in Puerto Rico. Years later, the del Toro's family moved to the States, but he said, "I think that my time in Puerto Rico from the ages of 5 to 9 was the most important part of my life." He learned how to create and play and how to really appreciate the beauty of being alive.

He also developed a cultural identity, and that's something that has greatly influenced his approach to acting. "I can only say that my life has influenced the f*** out of every character that I play," del Toro told Esquire. He said that when he's working on a new character, he always starts by imagining their childhood. From there, he thinks about all the cultural markers that are most important in his life and uses them as a model to determine how his character sees the world. It's a method that's been keeping audiences captivated for decades.

His life as an actor began in failure

Any working actor will tell you that the business isn't for the faint of heart. There's rejection to face and tight budgets to overcome. There's uncertainty, insecurity, and doubt knocking on your door day in and day out. When Benicio del Toro embarked on his acting journey, he had a little too much confidence. Or, as he told Esquire, "I was cocky." He dropped out of his theater studies at the University of California San Diego after just one year and set his sights on making it in New York. The city chewed him up and spat him back out. After just five months, del Toro returned to Los Angeles, where his brother was attending college.

Del Toro might have been taken aback by the ferocity of the New York City acting scene, but he wasn't discouraged. Del Toro said that when he decided to pursue acting, he never even considered falling back on any other career. "I didn't see it that way," he wrote (via The Miami Herald). "I saw it as a marriage." He decided to go back to school, but this time he earned himself a scholarship to the Stella Adler Conservatory of Acting and thoroughly invested himself in his studies.

His career has had its ups and downs

Benicio del Toro has over five dozen acting credits to his name. He's starred in small cop dramas, giant studio blockbusters, and everything in between. Del Toro has never been afraid to try something new and unique, even when that impulse has gotten him into trouble. In 1995, del Toro was just 21 years old when he blew up on the scene with his role in "The Usual Suspects," but the moment wasn't meant to last.

After impressing audiences with his unique performance in Bryan Singer's crime drama, he took things too far in 1998's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." Though it's now considered a classic, the film bombed critically, and audiences found del Toro's Dr. Gonzo to be incredibly off-putting. "My career definitely went into a hole ... I was unemployable for about a year," del Toro said in an interview.

Almost as quickly as del Toro's career fell apart, it came back together and was launched to new heights when he landed the role of narcotics officer Javier Rodriguez in Steven Soderbergh's 2000 film "Traffic." The role won del Toro an Oscar for best supporting actor and solidified him as a mainstream talent. After nearly two decades of hard work, del Toro had finally made it.

He's avoided Superman levels of fame

Celebrities are known for living lavish lifestyles, and no one would blame Benicio del Toro for living like a typical movie star. However, del Toro has developed a reputation for being down-to-earth and anything but typical. That's why Esquire called him "The Thinking Man's Hollywood Badass" when publishing an interview with him in 2018. To hear him tell it, del Toro always concerned himself with staying away from the ostentatious life that can come with fame.

Speaking with FeatsPress not long after his Oscar win for "Traffic," del Toro explained why he prefers to ignore his fame as much as possible. "When you start to become a movie star, it's easy to believe that you are Superman. ... Without realizing it, you can enter a vicious circle and think that you really are a superhero." Del Toro never wanted to delude himself, and even after achieving widespread success, he viewed the work of acting as more important than his own status. He didn't want to lose his focus by believing the hype, so he avoided his own publicity as much as possible.

Having a daughter changed his approach to work

Benicio del Toro's life has changed in countless ways since the days that he was using his imagination to play with his brother in Puerto Rico. He's traveled the world and become a remarkably successful actor, but by far the biggest change in his life came in 2012 when he had a daughter with Kimberly Stewart (via Independent.ie). Del Toro and Stewart didn't stay together after their daughter Delilah was born, but they both remained an active part of her life. For Del Toro, becoming a father meant changing the way he approached his career.

"So there's a responsibility here that I never had before," he said, later adding, "Now, when I work, I'm not just working for my sandwiches and my pizza." He needed to start making sure that the roles he took were bringing in enough money to take care of his daughter's future. At the same time, he started to consider the fact that she would one day be sitting in front of a screen watching him perform. "Perhaps I will like to get involved with things that have to do for kids within the world of cinema," he said at the time. Maybe that's why, as Delilah has gotten older, del Toro has taken on roles like The Collector in the Marvel universe and Swiper in "Dorah and the Lost City of Gold."

He's a classic rock aficionado

As a former basketball player and current hobbyist painter and amateur woodworker, Benicio del Toro is sort of a jack of all trades. He finds a way to get actively involved in just about all of his interests, but when it comes to music, he seems satisfied to remain a fan, albeit a dedicated fan. Among all the genres of music, del Toro is most drawn to classic rock, which is part of why he's amassed what a writer for The Rake called "the largest vintage vinyl collection in Hollywood." He's a massive fan of bands like The Rolling Stones, The Who, and the Beatles, all of which he says "made me feel braver in life, if there is such a thing."

Del Toro told As If Magazine that his older cousins introduced him to what are now his favorite bands when he was a young boy. The music of groups like The Velvet Underground and Creedence Clearwater Revival helped him through the loss of his mother. "If you were suffering as a kid ... that music can help," he said. As he grew up, del Toro never lost his passion for those bands, and they helped him to define his identity. "I think that the sound of rock made me feel like I was not a freak, but if I was, I could kick a**!" he said.