Benicio Del Toro's always seemed a little uneasy with the idea of stardom. He's been working in the big leagues, on-and-off, since "Licence To Kill" in 1989, and took a big leap up with his near-incomprehensible performance in "The Usual Suspects," but every time he steps towards the A-list, he seems to take two steps back. After "The Usual Suspects?" Botched Alicia Silverstone rom-com "Excess Baggage." After his Oscar-winning performance in "Traffic?" The mediocre "Fugitive"-riff "The Hunted." After his titanic lead in "Che?" Seemingly falling asleep through most of "The Wolfman."
The actor will crop up next year in Oliver Stone's "Savages," but had a pretty big offer made to him of late that promised to be his highest profile role to date; he was J.J. Abrams' choice to play the villain in the sequel to "Star Trek." More fuss was kicked up in the last few days, when one site reported that Del Toro was to play Khan Noonien Singh, the deep-frozen superhuman who, in the form of Ricardo Montalban, tormented the crew of the Enterprise in the best-loved Trek film "The Wrath of Khan," but another was told by J.J. Abrams that it was definitively not true.
Well, it looks as if neither source were wrong; Vulture are reporting that Khan will indeed be the villain in the sequel. But they also report that Del Toro is now out of the project, discussions having fallen apart in the middle of last week over the paycheck (and bearing in mind how wasted Eric Bana was in the original, it might have been a smart move). This means that Latino Review were correct in reporting that Khan was the bad guy, but also that J.J. Abrams was factually correct when he told HitFix that it was 'not true' that Del Toro would play Khan. Unless, of course, Vulture have been led astray by Abrams' scoop-busting smoke monster. Yes, we're confused too.
Assuming Vulture are on the money, and they usually are, it looks like Abrams is in the market for a new Khan. The interesting thing will be to see where he goes from here. The pick of Del Toro seemed indebted to Montalban, in hiring a Hispanic actor to play a role who is meant to be Indian in origin. Will Abrams continue down the same path? Clifton Collins Jr was unfortunately used in the last "Star Trek" film, while Oscar Isaac would be a good choice, but is likely to be busy on the Coen Brothers' "Inside Llewyn Davis." So who's left? Edgar Ramirez? Antonio Banderas? Luis Guzman?
Or the director could change tack with a more authentic take than the any-ethnicity-will-do version of the original series, and go for an actor like Anil Kapoor or Irrfhan Khan, who've racked up tentpole experience in the last year in, respectively, "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" (produced by Abrams, let's not forget), and "The Amazing Spider-Man." With shooting set to start in January, and a May 15, 2013 release getting ever closer, he doesn't have much time to decide.