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Biography
Known for his dark intensity and idiosyncratic performances, Benicio Del Toro became one of Hollywood's more unique actors. His looks suggesting a hidden background as Wednesday Addams' hunky older brother, he first became known to film audiences in 1995 with his breakthrough performance in The Usual Suspects. Born in Santurce, Puerto Rico, in 1967, Del Toro was the son of lawyers. His mother died when he was nine, and, four years later, his father moved the family to Mercersberg, PA, where they lived on a farm. While attending the University of California at San Diego, where he was working toward a business degree, Del Toro took an acting class and was soon hooked. He appeared in a number of student productions, one of which led to a stint performing at a drama festival at New York's Lafayette Theatre. Del Toro decided to remain in New York to study acting at the Circle in the Square Acting School and won a scholarship to the Stella Adler Conservatory. A move to Los Angeles, where he studied at the Actors Circle Theatre, led to Del Toro's first television roles, which included a guest spot on Miami Vice and an appearance as a drug dealer on the miniseries Drug Wars: The Camarena Story (1990). The actor also began showing up in feature films, perhaps most notably as Duke the Dog-Faced Boy in Big Top Pee-Wee (1988). Despite fairly steady work, Del Toro was still virtually unknown when he was cast as the eccentric criminal Fenster in Bryan Singer's The Usual Suspects. His slurred, otherworldly performance earned widespread praise, an Independent Spirit Award, and, coupled with the film's great success, Del Toro was soon thrust into the limelight that had hitherto eluded him. The actor followed up The Usual Suspects with a supporting role as the titular artist's best friend in Julian Schnabel's Basquiat (1996). Despite intriguing subject matter and a stellar cast, the film was something of a critical and commercial disappointment, although Del Toro's work did earn him a second Independent Spirit Award. Having thus put his trademark on offbeat character acting -- something that was also helped by his role as a gangster in Abel Ferrara's The Funeral (1996) -- Del Toro played a romantic lead opposite Alicia Silverstone in Excess Baggage (1997). A botched caper comedy that cast the actor as a bumbling car thief, the film, unfortunately, turned out to be an indisputable turkey. Not nearly as disastrous, though courting an intensely mixed critical reception, was Del Toro's next film, Terry Gilliam's much anticipated 1998 adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. A drug-addled, hallucinatory odyssey, it starred Del Toro as Dr. Gonzo, protagonist Raoul Duke's (Johnny Depp basically playing Thompson) partner in crime. Del Toro earned strong notices for his portrayal of the portly, freewheeling, Samoan lawyer (based on real-life Thompson cohort Oscar Acosta), and his performance was widely touted as one of the best aspects of the film. Del Torogained further notice when he won several awards -- including the Best Supporting Actor Golden Globe and Oscar -- for his role as a Mexican cop entangled in the international drug-trade war in Steven Soderbergh's Traffic (2000). The next year, Del Toro played a retarded man wrongly accused of murder in director Sean Penn's sad tale of obsession, The Pledge, and earned his second Academy Award nomination for his performance in21 Grams in 2003. Del Toro made his directorial debut in 2004, reuniting with Depp for an adaptation of another Hunter Thompson book, The Rum Diaries. He was also cast to star in Che, Terrence Malick's biopic about Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, the production of which was postponed in 2004.
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