CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Actor Benicio Del Toro (and his mad-scientist hair) appeared at the Kendall Square Cinemas over the weekend as part of a special screening of his new film, “Che.”
The “roadshow” screening, which was held here January 18 and 19, gave audiences a chance to see both parts of the film, and take part in a question-and-answer session with Del Toro. The actor discussed the making of the two-part epic, and about his role as Cuban revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara.
“I was drawn to the story, the history, the people involved,” he said, “I think also being Latin American, having Latin American roots (Del Toro is Puerto Rican) made me think it was a story that should be brought to cinema.”
Directed by Steven Soderbergh, the film is broken up into two parts. The first is called “The Argentine,” and chronicles Guevara’s involvement in the Cuban Revolution of the 1950s, which overthrew the regime of Fulgencio Batista and established a Communist state. The second part of the film, “Guerrilla”, shows Guevara’s failed attempts to establish the same revolution in Bolivia.
“He was willing to give his life to a cause that was bigger than him,” he said. “But I also see him as truly human. I don’t see him as anything perfect. I see faults in him.”
Del Toro traveled to Spain, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Bolivia to research and shoot the film, and was given special permission from the U.S. government to do research in Cuba. The preparations took seven years, during which time Del Toro, Soderbergh and writers Peter Buchman and Benjamin A. Van der Veen met with family and friends of Guevara, people who had fought alongside him in the Cuban Revolution, and three survivors from his campaign in Bolivia.
“Taking advantage of the fact that a lot of the people who participated were still alive, we went out and met with a lot of them, and sort of knew we were on to something.”
Del Toro also said that meeting Guevara’s contemporaries gave him a unique perspective into Guevara’s psyche, and helped him prepare for the role.
“It affected me in that I could get information from people that actually knew him,” he said. “I could sit down across the table and actually look at them. And get that feeling that I don’t think film can do, or that a book could do.”
The biggest challenge, according to Del Toro, was the responsibility that he and those involved in production had for preserving history within the film. Del Toro said that while some characters in the film had been condensed or changed in some way, and that specific events were chosen over others, every event that occurs in the movie is the best representation of truth they could create.
“With fiction, everything you do is real, is how it’s supposed to be,” he said. “With a movie like this, you’re painting within the lines. You don’t want to invent anything.”
In the end, Del Toro said, it was Guevara’s humanity, and even his weaknesses, that appealed to him and drew him to the character. He added that the key to playing a historical person is to go back to that character’s very beginning, using a story from Guevara’s childhood to illustrate.
“He [Guevara] was born in a town called Rosario, in Argentina. In his first year he has a series of asthma attacks. His family decides to move the child to a town called Cordoba – Cordoba is very dry and is better for his asthma. So there you see that he’s surrounded by this love. You’d think this guy’s beginning was being born in a cage with a lion. But it was very different; he was surrounded by this love, by this nourishment. He had a really nice childhood. And this, to me, is interesting to use as a beginning.”