Benicio del Toro earned widespread critical acclaim for his supporting turn in Denis Villeneuve’s “Sicario,” a performance in which the “Traffic” Oscar winner builds nerve-wracking tension through long silences and intimidating gazes. Del Toro’s assassin character is a man of few words, and it turns out part of the reason is because the actor felt like he didn’t need any script to do his job for him. On this week’s “Team Deakins” podcast, Roger Deakins and his longtime collaborator and wife James Deakins revealed that del Toro would often consult “Sicario” director Denis Villeneuve about throwing out dialogue he could simply act with his body.
“It’s such a stronger film if you let the story be told not only through the actors or whatever but also the framing because then everything is working in sync,” James Deakins said. “The film is telling you but it doesn’t feel like you’re being talked to. When we worked on ‘Sicario,’ we worked with Benicio del Toro, who is such a great actor, and he would come up to Denis often and say, ‘You know what, there is a whole page of dialogue and I don’t think I need it because I think I can say it on my face.’ And he could, but we had never heard an actor say that before, ‘Take away the dialogue.'”
Roger and James Deakins were joined on the podcast episode by Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan. Dano shares with the Deakins family a history of working with Villeneuve. The actor played a crucial role in “Prisoners,” which Deakins shot for Villeneuve. Dano said the main reason he signed on to star in “Prisoners” is because Roger Deakins was attached to the project as a cinematographer. Dano also worked with del Toro on the Showtime series “Escape at Dannemora” and was inspired by how the actor trusted his actorly instincts over dialogue.
“I worked with Benicio del Toro and I was astounded by that as well,” Dano said. “It was a real lesson to me as well in some way. I think I was 34 at the time. I had done enough work at the time where I could probably trust myself a little more. I prefer to work a scene until it’s dead and bloody on the ground. You make sure you’re only there once and let’s fucking do it. I like doing takes. In seeing Benicio go, ‘No, I had a thought and I think you have that.’ I was like, ‘He’s trusting the work. He had the thought and he knows it passed through his body and his eyes and he trusts that that the camera got it. I had never seen or heard that before either.”
Click here to listen to Dano’s full appearance on this week’s “Team Deakins” podcast.