Benicio Del Toro takes a look out the window from his suite at the Hotel Eventi, but his gaze sees past the New York City skyline — to a campsite somewhere on Mona Island in his home island of Puerto Rico. “Someday I’ll make it out there,” he says, taking a sip of a Heineken (the beer he is now an ambassador for) and leaning back into his chair. He planned on making the trip in the fall with his brother Gustavo, but it looks like that is when he will be filming the follow up to last year’s dramatic hit Sicario, reprising his acclaimed role of prosecutor-turned-triggerman, Alejandro. “I’ve never done a sequel to any of my movies, but we have a great script and a director that I like.” As firsts go, this is a good one. Given the last film’s Oscar contention, his scene-stealing performance, and the reunion with longtime friend Josh Brolin. “We have always got along great,” Del Toro says. “He’s the loud one and I’m the quiet one.”
Until then, he’s being kept too busy for camping trips, playing a to-be-determined villain in Star Wars: Episode VIII and prepping upcoming gangster pic The Corporation. Still, the draw of his birthplace is strong, and he lights up when the discussion turns to those farmlands of his youth.
What do you love about Puerto Rico?
It’s an amazing place. My dad lives up by the rainforest in El Yunque, and I do make it to San Juan a bit. Sometimes I get to the West Coast of the island too, like Rincon. That whole west side is beautiful between Aguadilla and Cabo Rojo.
What was your childhood like there?
I grew up more of a country kid. People think of the beach when they think of the island, but there are actually a lot of mountains. My dad is from the mountains, so we grew up with a farm with cows and pigs. I didn’t make it out to the water enough to become a surfer kid or anything like that, but I always loved SCUBA diving. When I was a growing up, my dad had a permit. So I would shoot some of his rifles — I’ve been around them all of my life, which is good because almost every other movie I do I have a gun.
How do you feel about the economic trouble that the country is going through now?
It should be considered a shared problem between Puerto Rico and the United States government. Puerto Rico can’t make the decisions necessary without the United States. They need to get involved and help. It’s not a state officially yet, and that needs to change as well. In one year it is going to be 100 years that the people of Puerto Rico have also been American citizens.
Have you seen the impacts of this on the island?
There are a lot of people leaving right now. Critical people to the country like doctors. It is a little concerning. I live in L.A. But I have family in Puerto Rico. Hopefully Obama will do the right thing. It seems like it is going to happen.
You're planning to travel to Mona Island. Tell me about it.
They call Mona the Galapagos of Puerto Rico. There are a few species of the animal kingdom that only live on that island and nowhere else in the world. There is a lighthouse there that was designed by the man who designed the Eiffel Tower. It is this weird place that is completely unique and beautiful. It’s completely protected.
Is it difficult to get out there?
You take a boat out. There are no hotels, so you have to camp on the island. There are actually a lot of people who get lost on the island. While it is a relatively small one, it is big enough to get turned around. Nobody lives there, so if you get lost, you are on your own. You definitely have to be fully prepared. You have to make sure that you bring plenty of water, because people absolutely get dehydrated.
What do you like to tell people to do when they make it to Puerto Rico?
You need to open a cold beer, have some fried pork chops with some rice and beans. Then just find the closest hammock.