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Reuters English News Service
Benicio Del Toro Wins Oscar In Unstoppable Year.
By Timna Tanners
March 25, 2001
LOS ANGELES - More than 10 years after breaking into television playing bad guys, Benicio Del Toro won the Oscar award for best supporting actor on Sunday portraying a heroic Mexican narcotics cop in "Traffic."
As his surname suggests - Del Toro means "of the bull" in Spanish - the 29-year-old Puerto Rican-born actor has been hard-charging and unstoppable, winning universal acclaim for his role in Stephen Soderbergh's tale of the drug trade along the U.S.-Mexican border.
Del Toro edged out a formidable array of contenders for best supporting actor, among them five-time Oscar nominee Albert Finney for "Erin Brockovich," plus Jeff Bridges for "The Contender," Willem Dafoe for "Shadow of the Vampire" and Joaquin Phoenix for "Gladiator."
The tall, dark, sleepy-eyed actor, perhaps best known before "Traffic" for his role as the mumbling con man Fred Fenster in "The Usual Suspects," also appeared late last year in Guy Ritchie's crime caper "Snatch." His work in "Traffic" won him a Golden Globe in January and the Screen Actors Guild's top award earlier this month.
Raised on a Pennsylvania farm from the age of 13, Del Toro reached college age with plans to become a lawyer, but an acting class at the University of California at San Diego sparked his interest in theater.
After studying at the Stella Adler Conservatory and the Circle in the Square Theater School, Del Toro headed to Hollywood, where he broke into television in 1987 with guest appearances on such series as "Miami Vice" and "O'Hara."
Often cast as a thug, the tall, Del Toro gained notice as the menacing drug lord in the 1990 Emmy-winning NBC miniseries "Drug Wars: The Camarena Story."
His big-screen debut was less auspicious, appearing as Duke the Dog-Faced Boy in "Big-Top Pee-Wee," the forgettable 1988 sequel to the Pee-Wee Herman comedy "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure."
Small roles followed in the Timothy Dalton James Bond movie "License to Kill" and Sean Penn's directorial debut, "The Indian Runner," then a more visible portrayal of a rebellious, rapist sailor killed by his own father in the 1992 film "Christopher Columbus: The Discovery."
He next played Rosie Perez's spouse in "Fearless" and a rookie cop in "China Moon" with Ed Harris before appearing with Kevin Spacey in the 1994 indie cult hit "Swimming With Sharks."
He reteamed with Spacey the following year in "The Usual Suspects," and a year later portrayed the faithful friend of American painter Jean-Michel Basquiat in the film biography of the late artist, "Basquiat."
Other film roles include a self-obsessed baseball player killed by a psychotic Robert De Niro in "The Fan," a car thief who unwittingly becomes a kidnapper in the farcical "Excess Baggage" with Alicia Silverstone, and Dr. Gonzo, the lawyer for a Hunter S. Thompson-like journalist in the film adaptation of Thompson's book "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas."