Cinematic animal (clockwise from top left): Del Tom in 21 Grams; The Pledge;

The Usual Suspects; Way of the Gun; Traffic; The Hunted

fledged leading man role. Then. just as he was winning rave reviews from the public. critics. casting directors and studio executives. he went on a dramatic weight gain programme and repeatedly stubbed cigarettes out on his arms for the Hunter S Thompson escapade. causing not a little fear and loathing in Hollywood.

This has been the shape of Del Toro's career: bouncing

between popularity and obscurity. That might be the nature of

working in Hollywood. but with him. this ping-pong ball popularity is more especially evident.

That’s largely down to his choice of roles. ()f undoubted quality they might be. but career advancing they are often not. After his Oscar-winning turn in Traffic. Del Tom was offered dozens of leading man hero roles. all of which he turned down. saying: ‘I’m no angel and I didn‘t want to get this reputation as a champion of the good and noble.’ Instead. he took cameo roles. as a diamond smuggler in Snatch and as a man suspected of murdering a child in Penn’s most recent directing gig. The Pledge.

Penn. in fact. is a role model for Del Toro. ‘Penn was one of those actors I liked before I decided to be an actor. Not only as an actor. but also how he has endured Hollywood. It’s demented. Hollywood can kill you. Being loved one day and hated the next can send you into a spin. He managed to survive all that and on top of that he’s done whatever the hell he wanted to do: he‘s acted. directed. he‘s helped filmmakers. His grace as a performer is great —- and that‘s something to admire.‘

Like Penn. Del Toro picks his roles carefully among his

20 THE LIST 19 Feb—11 Mar 2004

future projects is another Hunter S Thompson adaptation. The Rum Diary. and Che. Terence Malick’s take on the revolutionary hero. I ask how much control he now has over his choice of film roles. ‘You can pick and choose and I‘ve been doing that for a long time.’ he says. ‘That doesn’t mean the films get made. Can I get a movie made? Usually the ones that attract me are really hard to make.’

Challenging film roles aside. there‘s something else that sets Del Toro (whose name means ‘of the bull‘) apart from other Hollywood actors: his intense screen presence. And it works for and against the actor. He‘s been dubbed ‘the Spanish Brad Pitt‘. but sexual charm aside (and he’s got that in spades). he‘s actually the opposite of that pretty boy star. Still three years shy of 40. Del Tom has a lived-in face. with narrow eyes masked by dark circles.

‘I think what you see inside of the eyes. we have to thank my mom and my dad.‘ Del Toro says. squinting slightly to emphasise his peepers. ‘Somehow I got the shape of my eyes from them. The fact that they hide makes me a little bit more difficult to see through.‘

That‘s not quite it. though. Perhaps 2] Grams director lfiarritu best summed up the actor's screen persona when he called Del Tom a ‘cinematic animal‘. ‘He said that'?’ asks the actor. his quizzical look suggesting something between confusion and suspicion. ‘I don‘t get it. He said it a couple of times. I haven't asked him. I’m afraid of what he really means by it.‘

[narritu has elaborated. explaining that when you put a camera in front of Del Toro’s face. there seems to be a lot