The last time we saw Benicio Del Toro on screen he was starring in Sicario as a mercenary who collected a handsome paycheque while quenching his thirst for revenge against drug cartel leaders.
He was vicious and malicious, a supreme badass doing the right thing for the completely wrong reason.
That movie’s dark and gritty examination of the drug-fuelled Mexico-U.S. border war stands in stark contrast to his new movie, the optimistically titled A Perfect Day.
“I do believe there is hope in A Perfect Day,” he says. “I agree with you that Sicario is hopeless but in this one there is hope. I was finishing A Perfect Day when I went into Sicario. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons Sicario was interesting, because it was the dark side of the coin.”
Set in 1990s Balkans, Del Toro plays Mambrú, a misfit aid worker whose team (played by Tim Robbins and Olga Kurylenko among others) begin their day in the former Yugoslavia trying to remove a bloated corpse dumped in a well to contaminate the water.
The task is complicated by United Nations bureaucracy and the lack of a strong enough rope forcing the crew to navigate not only landmine-ridden roads but their own complicated relationships in search of a solution.
Director Fernando León de Aranoa calls Del Toro the centerpiece of the film, adding, “Working with him means working with a creative partner.”
“There are some ideas that can come from anywhere that are golden,” Del Toro says on improvising on set. “I would like to say that I wish I could recognize good ideas when they are out there whether they come from another actor or they come from myself.
“If there is a good idea I do believe that if you don’t take advantage of it while you are making the film it’ll be gone forever. If there is a good idea I am game to explore.”
Del Toro, who is currently filming Star Wars: Episode VIII, says the script appealed to him because, it was about, “people trying to do good and just how complicated it can get, but with elements of humour…. It was like a riddle to solve,” he says.
“Can the movie balance these two things? I think it does. The darkness of the war and the job with the humour.”
One point of reference was Robert Altman’s black comedy M*A*S*H about medical personnel stationed at a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War.
The actor says he discussed the 1970 movie, “with the director and Tim Robbins a little bit but the other film we talked about was No Man’s Land by Danis Tanović. It takes place in that part of the world and deals with the comedy and the darkness. The comedy in a ridiculous way.”
More importantly, he met with his character’s real-life counterparts.
“I had met some aid workers and I will tell you, they all have a good sense of humour. They tell you some dark stories but they do have a sense of humour. It’s a way of dealing with the darkness of their experiences and the pain.
“At the end of the day when you do a movie like this you learn about how valuable these people are. How courageous they are. Aid workers. Doctors Without Borders. How much energy and compassion for humans they have.”