Jul 20 2003

Interview with Benicio Del Toro

On the Making of The Hunted, Realistic Fight Scenes and the Blues versus Techno.

By Teja Van Wicklen

The Hunted, starring Benicio del Toro and Tommy Lee Jones, is that rare chase film that is pure action and little dialogue. Rather than using talking heads, the film allows the actors and the action to do the work of the storytelling. The action, therefore, had to be real, urgent, unusual, gritty. In the following interview Academy Award Winner Benicio Del Toro discusses his experience finding, then training in Sayoc Kali, a highly evolved Filipino martial art.

TVW – How did you know you had found the right martial art for the movie, and how did you convince
Director Billy Friedkin to bring the Sayoc guys on board?

BDT – I went to [expert tracker and instructor] Tom Brown Jr. to have a meeting with him about the tracking aspectof the movie. At that point I’d read the script and it seemed that my character kept using a knife. So, eventually it was like, lets go to where the heart of the movie is. I really think that my character in The Hunted is an urban, modern day Tarzan. He doesn’t use a hand gun at all. So, among the people I was supposed to meet while I was at Tom Brown’s was [Sayoc Master Instructor] Tom Kier who was a knife encyclopedia. Right away I saw he knew that knife like the back of his hand – no one else knew it like he did. I spent about two hours with him and Gordon [Sayoc Associate Instructor Gordon Katz] – I threw the knife a couple of times and made a couple of moves. And then I came back to LA and I met with Billy Friedkin and I said – you know, we need to bring Tom Kier in. The knife stuff is the photogenic aspect of the film and Tom was a scientist of the knife. The movie as we know it now – for my character – for Hallam, is 80 percent knife fighting. So, that was the first step, to get the director to bring in the best of the best to work with me and then eventually Tommy Lee Jones. But I had to keep him longer than a week, because I’m just about to learn a whole world of the knife, and I want to know as much as I can. So Tom and Raf [Sayoc Master Instructor Rafael Kayanan] came to stay for a week and basically they stayed to the end of the film. It’s a classic story of the new guy makes good in Hollywood.

TVW – Can you talk a little about the creative process?

BDT – Well, my job was to have Tom Kier open up. I had to be the termite. I go around, basically pushing him – okay, what would happen here? well, this would happen – well, what would you do? could I do this? could I do that? yes, no, that’s a dangerous move. If someone is holding a gun at you, how do you get into it? You deconstruct the move, and then you go for the physical aspect of it. You look at the scene and see what it proposes. I’m always into the reality of things, I want to believe it, I’m a terrible movie goer. I always think real is more interesting than fiction. Truth is stranger than fiction, and reality is more interesting than fiction. So, the process would go – okay here’s a scenario, what could happen, lets talk about it, and eventually we would get on our feet and Tom would act it out and – what if I did this, and he would say,
well I would have to do that, and that’s a little bit more real because I’m not going to stand here and get stabbed in the neck or whatever – always thinking about the opponent as the best he can be. But people do make mistakes, so what’s a mistake that could be believable. A cop would never make that big of a mistake, but cops make mistakes, people who are trained make mistakes – so the mistake can be tiny, but for people who really know how to deal with a weapon, that small mistake would be huge. So, then it becomes realistic. The better the fighter, the better the fight. It’s like Ali and Frazier. Two different styles. You put them together, you got one hell of a fight.

TVW – What made you want to work on the movie?

BDT – Well, there are many elements – Billy Friedkin, the director, and [co-star] Tommy Lee Jones for one. Also, we worked to make the script less of a plain black and white kind of film, you know, evil versus good. It wasn’t the knife fighting that made me want to do the movie. That wasn’t until after I met Tom and company – the knife fighting became like the heart of the picture. Overall, I’m proud of it. Mostly, the fighting is superb.

TVW – What inspirations do you use in preparation for a character?

BDT – There are different things. For The Hunted, my main source of inspiration was having Tom Kier there and [dialect coach and friend] Alan Sheterian hitting me with his brief case, letting me know I was on a movie. You start believing that you can fly, that you’re really a blade guy. But it takes years to really become a blade guy and that’s the main thing to understand, I have to make everyone else believe, and if I can get someone that knows a little bit about blades to believe that I know how to use it, then I’m in. And it was all done right there on the spot pretty much. We were shooting it and we were working on it, no month before of prep or anything like that.

TVW – What has been your experience working with fight choreography?

BDT – I’ve been lucky. I worked with a guy named Chick Daniels on The Way of the Gun. And then on the Hunted with Tom and Raf, so I’ve been lucky to work with the best of the best. And I think it’s essential when you’re doing a movie about something, to be with people who know about that something. You’re not born knowing it all. That’s the fun of it – to be with people that know how to do something and to learn a little bit about it. That’s what makes making movies really exciting. You go on a journey – and I don’t mean one location to another – a physical and mental journey – learning about the Philippines, meeting interesting people, even learning how to collect your blood in your hand so you can throw it at someone’s face as a way of defense.”

TVW – What are your favorite action movies? What makes a good action film?

BDT – My idea of a good action film is that the action is realistic. I can like action movies where people fly – like the Matrix – I like that movie. But I like it when there is logic – when a punch or a knife or a gun is used with a brain behind it, not just for the hell of it. When the action is part of the story and isn’t only justified by the location or temperature. That it’s based on reality, on the moment, on the circumstances of the story. I think Scorsese has done some great action stuff in his movies. Some of the Bruce Lee films have some great stuff. Enter the Dragon. Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, that’s got some great stuff! What’s your favorite action movie?

TVW – I thought Once Were Warriors had some gritty real time fights.

BDT – Yeah, there’s some good work in Once Were Warriors – I liked it. But Raging Bull keeps coming back – the scene where DeNiro walks into the house and Joe Pesci who plays his brother – that’s pretty intense, that keeps jumping out as one of the craziest – and it’s all real. I like action when it’s not glamorized. There are no weird kicks coming out of nowhere, that could happen I guess, but it’s more like a real fight. They’re not doing somersaults in the air and defying gravity.

TVW - So I guess Crouching Tiger was your favorite action movie (laughs)?

BDT – It’s great for what it is. I liked ET too. But for real action, films like Jaws had some moments. Saving Private Ryan had some amazing sequences, when they take the beach at Normandy – that’s intense. Like in The Hunted the actual knife fighting at the end – even though we know it’s a little bit too long for two people who really know how to use the knife – it’s extended, but it’s not glamorized. It’s the Blues versus Techno, it’s straight up, nothing is hiding. That’s what I liked about the fight sequences in The Hunted.

* The Hunted DVD and Video are available on August 12, 2003