Toronto: Benicio Del Toro on Romanticizing Drug Lord Pablo Escobar

Courtesy of TIFF

"People are attracted to characters that go against the law."

Benicio Del Toro didn't set out to portray the late Columbian cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar as the Latin Robin Hood in Andrea Di Stefano's Escobar: Paradise Lost.

Still, he understands why audiences embrace that myth. "People are attracted to characters that go against the law since the beginning of film," Del Toro said during the film's Wednesday press conference at the Toronto International Film Festival. The actor pointed in particular to the continuing appeal of gangster movies. "Perhaps one of the most successful is Scarface, with Al Pacino. You go anywhere and it feels like the movie came out last year."

Escobar: Paradise Lost has Del Toro in the titular role and Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games) playing Nick, an American surfer who meets the girl of his dreams (played by Claudia Traisac), before slowly awakening to the horrors of Columbia's deadly drug trade when he meets her uncle, Escobar.

Di Stefano's romantic thriller diverges from the gangster film genre by not portraying a criminal organization, and instead uses Nick's point of view to show Escobar as a family man first, before he becomes a psychopathic cartel enforcer. "When you put the camera on him [Escobar], making him the protagonist, there's always something romantic," Di Stefano said, before adding: "I wanted to make a journey into the hell of what it means to be against Pablo Escobar."

Hutcherson said his character offered a "fresh perspective" on Escobar, one unbundled from the popular myth of the drug kingpin as a friend of the people. The Toronto Film Festival runs through Sept. 14.

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