Before doing my one on one interviews for The Wolfman I sat in on the press conferences and learned something I never knew about Benicio Del Toro – he was a hardcore Monster Kid growing up. I knew that he loved The Wolf Man, but listening to him talk about Famous Monsters of Filmland and building Aurora Monster model kits was kind of mindblowing.
I knew that would be the first thing I brought up to the actor (who also produced the movie), who has always struck me as one of the coolest guys in Hollywood. How could I pass up the opportunity to explore Benicio Del Toro’s hidden geek side?
Be warned, there are slight spoilers ahead in this interview.
Read my review of the movie here.
Read my interview with Joe Johnston.
Read my interview with Hugo Weaving.
Something I learned about you today that I never knew – you’re a nerd.
I’m a nerd?
You had all those Aurora monster model kits and read Famous Monsters – these are things I recognize from my own nerdy childhood. It’s refreshing that this is the dream project for you.
It’s one of them. Che was another dream. In a way I’m both. But it’s strange because I remember sitting in the garage of my house for hours trying to paint The Mummy. And I remember being frustrated and angry that I couldn’t paint that good, and that I couldn’t get around the eyes. I was looking to see how I could control my hand – and I’m talking 8 years old. I think every actor in a way is a nerd. Anyone who is in film has got to be a nerd in a way. He’s got to have something of the nerd. You can be the cool guy or whatever, but you have to have something of the nerd.
But yeah, I used to looove painting that shit. And the boxes, the artwork!
Do you still buy those kinds of things?
I don’t paint them anymore, but I still have some of those models in the boxes.
Universal has tried to bring these monsters back and royally fucked it up with Van Helsing. Does that make them more open to your take on the character being done in a more classical way?
That’s a better question for them, but for me what I wanted to do was pay homage to those movies. Boris Karloff to me is one of the greatest actors of all time. Lon Chaney’s father? My God! He could take Brando dancing. Lon Chaney Sr, some of what he’s done no one else could have done. It’s mindblowing what Lon Chaney Sr could do. Rick Baker and I always sit down and talk about the three greats – Lon Chaney Sr, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Let’s talk about Dracula. Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, man, the fucking thing is incredible. He’s the only one where you see that face and you know it’s Dracula and there’s no make-up. It’s just him and his fucking intensity. I have much respect for those guys. Those are like gurus to me. They’ve influenced me.
My intention, always, was stay to the truth. Stay away from the phoniness. Let’s not try to reinvent the fucking wheel, let’s maybe give it an interpretation.
How do you balance that? How do you stay true while also bringing something that audiences today can appreciate?
You have to believe it. Andrew Kevin Walker came in with this idea of the relationship of the father and the son, and I thought it was great. He based it on Hamlet and I thought it was really clever. You surround yourself with good people, with the best of the best who can be there at the moment. Sir Anthony Hopkins jumps in to play the father – Jesus! What do you do? You open the door! Let him fucking do whatever he wants to do. That’s another thing about doing movies, in my opinion – you surround yourself with the best people you possibly can.
Milena Canonero was doing wardrobe – she did Barry Lyndon, man! She worked with Kubrick.
Do you say to her “I need to hear your Kubrick stories?”
A little bit. A little bit. But then I have to go meet with Rick Baker and then I have to be over here and then I have to do this and then I want to go home. And watch a scifi movie!
The father/son relationship is so interesting here – how did you and Sir Anthony come at it? You’re both approaching your characters from such different perspectives, and they have such different views of the world. Lawrence hates the beast inside him, while Sir John sort of digs the beast.
That’s the script. You just play the moment. But I love the idea that he was liking it. I did a version where I turn into the Wolfman where I just laugh right through it. They didn’t use it. Doesn’t mean I wasn’t good! (It could have been terrible) But I knew that he had that, and maybe I started to enjoy it on the third transformation and just says fuck it and goes with it.
Do you think Lawrence has that in him? Could he come to enjoy the beast in the way Sir John does?
I think he’s too good of a guy. He has to be. If not then you don’t have that confidence. So I had the boring part.
You don’t have the boring part because -
Well, I get to kiss the girl.
More importantly than that, you get to be the Wolfman. When I was a kid the Wolfman was my go-to Halloween costume. A lot of actors wouldn’t be as excited to get into that make-up, but you embraced it.
You got Rick Baker doing the stuff! There was no conflict there, it was as good as it can get. That helps, to embrace the process.
Can you talk about acting through that make-up?
First of all you have to overact. But you know what happens? There are snippets of moments in there where you get to see me stealing something from Lon Chaney Sr. There’s the scene with the gargoyle and I watch it and go, ‘Damn bro, you could have been more subtle with your stealing!’ I’m doing The Hunchback of Notre Dame with Lon Chaney Sr. There’s moments there where I can’t help but be Boris Karloff as Frankenstein. I’m channeling all that stuff.
I saw some Curse of the Werewolf in there.
Oliver Reed, yeah.
Is that fun? As a fan to go back and play with that stuff?
It’s like a trip. A friend of mine called it going to the Western Manhattan Warehouse, from Citizen Kane. When Kane meets the girl, the second wife, and he tells her he’s going to this warehouse where he has all this stuff from when he was a child so he can relive his youth. In a way this movie is like that, all the moments. All those Famous Monsters covers. You remember the back pages of stuff you could order? It was like a trip going that way, a memory trip. It’s exciting for someone who likes that stuff to go back and relive that and have the team involved! All the filmmakers involved with this movie, from the actors to every department, it’s great to have something of which I can be really proud.
Something strikes me about you as an actor – you’re really patient. You waited forever for Che. You shot scenes for Che a year before principal photography. This film was an odyssey to make. You’re still connected to The Three Stooges, which feels like it’s been happening half my life at this point -
You really commit to things.
The minute you get other people to commit it’s easy to commit. But I guess. The Wolfman came pretty quick, in a weird way. We proposed the idea before I started Che and then I did Che and The Wolfman was right on the tail of Che. Ten weeks after I finished Che I was somewhere in the woods in England covered in blood.
Is that whiplash?
It’s good whiplash. It’s like a decompressor. Now I can be over the top. With Che you gotta stay true to history, but when you do The Wolfman you can just fly out there. Be over the top, maybe fall on your face being silly.
Watching Che it’s amazing that a movie like this still can get made. You can go from a movie like that to a huge film like The Wolfman – how important is that balance?
If I can keep doing it like that it’s a perfect balance. Then I can have something from this movie and be able to do an independent movie that I care about – you know I care about every movie I’ve done, it’s the only way I can do it. It’s not about the glory or the money, it’s about giving a fuck about the project. If you can surround yourself with people like Steven Soderbergh and company, that’s a good thing.
How does producing impact your job?
Being a producer one of the things we brought up to the studio from the get-go was that we wanted to pay homage to the original movies, therefore we wanted to see the actors inside the make-up. That was crucial, to stay true to the original and maybe give it a reinterpretation on some things. I’ve been doing movies now for a while, and I like to think I know a couple things about movies now – or at least more than I did ten years ago, fifteen years ago. As a producer I feel like I can – more in the creative way, not so much in the business way – I think that I can bring something to the movie. It’s not like every movie I do now I have to be a producer.
Do you see yourself producing movies you don’t star in?
Yeah, why not. You got any ideas?