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‘Escobar: Paradise Lost’ Chemistry Served Hutcherson & Del Toro: “Benicio seduced me”

'Escobar: Paradise Lost' Chemistry Served Hutcherson & Del Toro: "Benicio seduced me"

He stars in Andrea Di Stefano’s romance-thriller as Canadian surfer Nick, living the beach life in Colombia with his older brother (Brady Corbet) before being drawn into Escobar’s inner circle when he falls for the so-called King of Cocaine’s niece (Spanish newcomer Claudia Traisac).

“I’ve seen his movies, I know what he does on set,” added Hutcherson, who first worked with Del Toro when he took the lead role in the actor’s segment of portmanteau pic “Seven Days In Havana.” “It’s pretty intense. So I was nervous about that. But having met him before, and getting to know him on a personal level… Nick can’t see that Pablo’s a bad guy in the beginning. He gets lured in; he gets seduced. And I think that knowing Benicio personally helped him seduce me.”

For Del Toro’s part, he was drawn to the role in part because of Hutcherson’s involvement, crediting his co-star with being a “very truthful” actor. Del Toro came on board only 10 weeks before the shoot began and admits he would liked to have had more time to prepare for the challenge of portraying Escobar, whom he insists wasn’t all evil despite his terrible notoriety.

“I have pity for him. I think he was a talented man, a wasted talent, but I don’t like him, I don’t like what he did. He brought a lot of suffering to a lot of people. The character in the movie, as it’s written, is a bad guy,” says the actor, who recalled in my interview following the press conference that the first time he was ever linked to the role of Escobar was shooting the HBO series “Entourage.” “Movies interest me, not necessarily as a character, but it’s weird because this role has had interest in me. Other than that, I’ve never been approached with a script until Andrea brought ‘Paradise Lost’ to me.”

Del Toro also insisted that, despite playing a number of so-called “bad” characters — from “License To Kill,” his second film, right up to “Guardians Of The Galaxy” –over the course of his career, they aren’t roles he seeks out: “I don’t find the movies, the movies find me. So you could ask that question: why do they find me? But I’d say with characters like that, you can be boundless in your imagination more than other characters.”

“The movie makes it clear: there were two faces to Escobar,” he added. “There was a family man, the man that could seduce a whole country. And at the same, he brings it down. He became a false hero, a Robin Hood, to a whole country, but at the same time he bled it out. I felt that Andrea and this movie did justice to the person that really lived, because he was a contradiction. But at the end the bad outweighs the good by far.”

The $17-million co-production, which marks the feature debut of Italian actor-turned-director Andrea Di Stefano (“Before Night Falls”, “Life Of Pi”) and played Telluride, Toronto and San Sebastian before arriving in Zurich, is still seeking distribution in most major territories (Radius-TWC picked up North American rights in Berlin). Reviews have been mostly positive; even at the Zurich press screening, where a technical glitch meant no English subtitles for the numerous scenes in which Spanish is spoken, “Escobar: Paradise Lost” still played well.

Di Stefano insists his film is predominantly factual in its presentation of Escobar, including some of Del Toro’s dialogue. Although Hutcherson’s character is fictional, Escobar really did have a favorite niece whose boyfriend fell foul of the feared criminal, and Di Stefano was further inspired by the tale of a man who helped hide some of Pablo’s bounty, only to be murdered for his efforts so he could never reveal their whereabouts — a nightmarish scenario Nick finds himself trapped in.

Even though Del Toro’s magnetic turn will be the film’s chief selling point, there’s a strong performance too from “The Hunger Games” star as he seeks to diversify beyond YA franchises and family-friendly fare. Hutcherson felt in awe of his co-star, and even inferior at times: “Sometimes you feel like, ‘What am I doing?’ next to him. He’s so talented and goes so deep… It’s incredible being in scenes with him but it makes me self-conscious in a way because he’s so good and you want to be that good, too. And you’re kind of like, I’m not [that good]. He is Pablo in the scenes. He lives and breathes the character.”

Di Stefano’s film is the first major production to focus on Escobar, whose notorious actions include orchestrating the assassinations of three Colombian presidential candidates and having tens of thousands of people murdered over the years. But Di Stefano opted for “a biopsy of his evilness” rather than a biopic, admitting similarities to “The Last King Of Scotland” in its focus on an innocent falling under the spell of a criminal psychotic (or, in Greek tragedy terms, Icarus flying too close to the sun). But despite charting a dark and tragic course, Di Stefano deliberately avoids showing any overt violence — bar one climactic moment – on camera. Nor is there any sign of the product that made Escobar, in his Medellin cartel heyday, the most powerful man in his country and one of the richest men in the world.

The writer-director admitted his unusual approach took some convincing with most investors. “It’s the first movie made about Pablo Escobar: everybody wants to see Scarface 2,” he said. “But when people talk about Pablo Escobar, they don’t know much. They think he was Scarface. He never did cocaine in his life. He used to kill people around him who did. He used to smoke pot at times but there is a lot about Pablo Escobar that is very different from what people think.”

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