Gorgeous cinematography and masterful direction aside, a key highlight of Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario was the performance offered by the Academy Award-winning Benicio Del Toro.
Wielding tension like a switchblade, the character of grieving prosecutor turned CIA assassin Alejandro Gillick proved to be intimidating beyond his job description, a complex mixture of humanity and the lack thereof. And as cinematographer Roger Deakins revealed in this week’s instalment of his podcast – Team Deakins – a decent portion of what the audience witnessed was improvised by Del Toro himself.
Del Toro apparently had some ideas about modifying the script. Often throughout the production, the actor would consult Villeneuve about throwing away a fair bit of dialogue and silently expressing what was relevant using body language instead. “A fair bit”, in this case, referring to entire scenes.
“‘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,” Deakins remarked on the podcast.
“But we had never heard an actor say that before, ‘Take away the dialogue.’… The film is telling you but it doesn’t feel like you’re being talked to.”
This particular episode of Deakins’ podcast also included the guest appearances of both Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan. Dano recounted experiencing something similar during his time working with Del Toro in the Showtime series Escape at Dannemora.
“It was a real lesson to me as well in some way,” says Dano.
“I prefer to work a scene until it’s dead and bloody on the ground… 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… I had never seen or heard that before either.”
I think we can all agree the decision to let Benicio Del Toro have free rein of Alejandro in Sicario was the correct one, resulting in something nuanced, memorable, and most importantly, menacing.
You can check out the full episode of Team Deakins with Paul Dano & Zoe Kazan – as well as every past episode – in the link below.