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Confessions of “Sin City’s” Benicio del Toro

On his decision to take on the almost-unrecognizable role of the mysoginystic, sadistic Jackie Boy, whose fate fuels the sequence “The Big Fat Kill”:

Benicio: “I was approached by Robert. I think we met at the Vanity Fair Oscar party. “And then he said something strange to me. He said ‘Don’t cut your hair,’ because my hair was pretty long. He said ‘Don’t cut your hair.’ “Okay.’ And then I met him here at the Four Season and he showed me he had done a trailer, of the opening sequence of the movie, and it just looked amazing.”

On his familiarity with the Sin City comic books:

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Benicio: “I wasn’t familiar with the books, no. I was familiar with Frank’s work on the Batman stuff, and since then I’ve just-my preparation was just talking to The Wizard [Rodriguez] about it. He got that nickname, I gave him that nickname-”

Robert Rodriguez commentary: “He walked in and said [thick Latino accent] ‘The Wizard!'”

Benicio: “We just walked in and everything was green. And I had seen how it would [ultimately] look already, because he had shown me the opening of the movie, the opening sequence. So it was like being in the office of the Wizard of Oz.”

(Story continues below…)

Robert Rodriguez commentary: “Working with somebody like Benicio, who’s got an Oscar, who’s been there and done a lot of things, to do things with somebody like that, that was incredible, too. Benicio, he was looking at the books and he called and said ‘I want to look MORE like this guy from the comics! I want to get a nose piece and a chin piece.’ And I said ‘Hey, go to the magic man, the makeup guy, and tell him to put something on you.’ And it got you right into character, so cool-”

On whether working primarily on a green screen set, with the film’s stunning backgrounds to be added digitally later, was intimidating or creatively freeing:

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Benicio: “For me it was intimidating when I walked in and everything was green and I thought I puked, but then after that, it reminded me of theater. I trained as a theater actor and you had a bigger stage and you had to pretend, one prop and you’re in the middle of 8th Avenue and traffic is just going by. So it reminded me a little of that, and that made it fun. You know, just going back to basics.”

Robert Rodriguez commentary: “He worked on it. It was interesting watching him. He worked on it, with just the book. He got the makeup. He showed up on the set and we had three jacket choices for him, because we knew that was part of the character, putting on the costume, and he wanted to look as much like the character as possible. Because then when they’re playing the character they can really cut loose. And we did one test with him, he put on his jacket and we put him in front of the camera-this was a test of the green screen, and right away-I’ve got the footage and I’m going to put it on the DVD, because he just walked out and turned around and [bugs out eyes] he was just in the character. I was like ‘Oh my God, that’s HIM.’ His eyes were doing this really spooky thing and Frank was getting creeped out. We hired Benicio but somehow we got Jackie Boy. I don’t know how but it was the best thing in the world to see an actor transform and within a day-because we shoot very fast-”

Benicio: “He shoots VERY fast. The Wizard goes really fast, and he makes it easy and cheap.”

Robert Rodriguez commentary: “That’s the Latin way. [in a heavy Latin accent] Faster, Cheaper, Better. And he took half a day to find that character. He showed up, put on the costume and was just doin’ it. That’s what’s so great about these actors.”

Benicio: “You know what happens? You trust. You just trust and you throw yourself in it. It becomes a rehearsal that becomes glorified, in a way. Photographed.”

Robert Rodriguez commentary: “Did you find it easier to watch yourself in this movie, because you were in character in makeup? Because you were playing something so different and even looked different? Because I got Mickey to be able to come watch himself on the HD monitor. He said “I never could have watched myself, but this is different – I’m learning.'”

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Benicio: “I think it was easier – The movie has that world that grabs you just so hardcore, and I think good movies make it easier for you to watch yourself, if you suffer from that same thing that Mickey has and which I do, too. I find it hard for me to watch myself on the screen, and kind of boring, really. But I thought that the movie has such a world that grabs you, it was a ride and I just took it and enjoyed it.”

On his response to taking direction from two directors on the set:

Benicio: “One at a time. That’s it, basically. I think that I tend to like to put a face to the director. For the most part I turned to the Wizard, because he hired me, but I did have conversations with Frank, and Frank did have input on stuff, a lot of stuff. Like he’d say ‘Hey, maybe you should have a cigarette here,’ because we’re having a scene where my head goes in the toilet with the cigarette, so I say ‘Okay, I’ll pull out the cigarette here at this moment…’ Stuff like that, and from that to the background of the character. But there was no problem whatsoever.”

On taking direction with Clive Owen from yet another director, Quentin Tarantino, in a harrowing sequence within “The Big Fat Kill”:

Benicio: “That’s when Quentin came in and-what’d you call it? The guest director–?”

Robert Rodriguez commentary: “Special Guest Director. You’d think it would be weird–oh, okay, now a new director’s coming in, but this sequence was kind of stand-alone and we were all prepared for anything.”

Benicio: “We sat there and we talked about it–Is it voiceover? Does he really talk? It was all done there on the spot.”

On seeing all of the film’s visual elements assembled together on screen for the first time:

Benicio: “It met the expectations when I saw the movie-surpassed it. What happens when you do a movie, for me–I just come in and work for five days and I’m out. I just basically know the one story. Usually when I see a movie, it’s the other stories that attract me more than my story. I’m looking at my story going ‘Oh no, oohh.’…I did feel that usually in movies less is more, but in this movie, you have the reasons to do more and more. More over-the-top, it’s conducive to that–It’s a comic book, and the Wizard was stimulating that for everyone.”

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