Che’s Benicio Del Toro on Faking an Asthma Attack

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Photo: Courtesy of IFC Films

If you're one of those squeamish moviegoers who'd like to spend four and a half hours appreciating Benicio del Toro's mesmerizing performance in Che — Steven Soderbergh's new Spanish-language film on the adventures of Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara — but were wary of doing it all in one sitting, you're in luck! This Friday, IFC films will split the movie into two halves, The Argentine and Guerrilla, and reopen it in New York and Los Angeles. And, on January 21, the entire film will be made available on on-demand cable. Del Toro spoke with Vulture yesterday about Soderbergh's Spanish, acting at long range, and why you need a bigger TV set.

Che doesn't have the signposts that most people might expect from a biopic, and it focuses entirely on Che Guevara's wars and very little on his personal life. As an actor, did you ever wish you could spend more time exploring his extra-revolutionary side?
No. The signposts were there for me, they're just not underlined or magnified. I wasn't disappointed. He didn't have much of a personal life anyways. He was working the whole time. This is a guy who was constantly on the move, working for what he believed in. Sometimes you see a biopic that works. I saw Milk last night. I mean, Che is very different, maybe more radical in a way of storytelling, but Milk, I really enjoyed it.

It's sort of amazing that Steven Soderbergh was able to make this film without being able to speak Spanish. How difficult is it to act in a language that your director doesn't understand?
He got it. Everything was talked about. We knew what the scenes are about. It wasn't that difficult at all. We had people there to help translating; a lot of the actors were bilingual too. I'm speaking for Steven, but what I've heard from him is that he really enjoyed it. There were moments when I would omit a line and he'd be, "What happened to that line that you talked about?" He's gotten better at Spanish since Traffic. He gave a whole speech in Spanish at the beginning of the film, a good twenty minutes there in Spanish.

There's been some criticism about your accent in the movie. You speak in a Caribbean Spanish accent while Che Guevara had an Argentine one. Was there a reason you made that choice?
Where'd you read that?

It was mentioned in the Variety review, among other places.
What do they know? He doesn't know Spanish. You should ask someone Cuban what my Spanish sounds like. Are you one of those people that believe what they read?

No.
Well, then don't shoot it back at me, bro.

One of the things that seems like it would've been most difficult about your role was that Che suffered from asthma attacks. Since fake coughing hurts just as much as real coughing, was it hard having to do it so much?
Yeah. It's awful to do it. I'll explain it to you. The problem with asthma is not that you can't get air — it's that you can't exhale the air that's in your lungs, and that's impossible to do unless you're really having an asthma attack. You try to do your best.

There aren't many close-ups of you in Che. How difficult was it to paint this character with just body language?
It wasn't difficult. It was just faster. When you do a typical movie, there's usually the master shot, the loose shot, and the close-up. You get to warm up in the process. In this movie you didn't have that luxury. You had to stay focused and come in ready. You usually don't get to two scenes in one day — in this movie, you'd get to four scenes in one day. I had a little trailer at some points for this movie — I don't remember it. You couldn't use a trailer in this movie. In other movies, your trailer is your second home.

The movie's being rereleased in theaters on Friday as two separate films, and on January 21 it'll be available for on-demand cable. How would you prefer people see it?
It depends on how big your TV is! If not, go to the movie theater. Or how about, just go to the movie theater.

Earlier: Che’s Franka Potente on Working With Benicio, Peeing in the Jungle