Call Him 'Red Shield': Benicio Del Toro Interview, Part II

Dominique Godreche

Jimmy P: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian opened on Tuesday at the New York Film Festival, and stars Benicio Del Toro as a Blackfeet Indian and veteran who has returned from World War II with a mysterious form of post-traumatic stress disorder. The film charts the relationship between Del Toro's titular character and a French psychoanalyst (played by Mathieru Amalric), and was directed by Arnaud Desplechin. This is the second part of our interview with Del Toro; to read the first part click to "Benicio Del Toro: 'Native Americans Are the Real Americans'".

RELATED: Jimmy P. Director: "I Was Obsessed With Not Betraying the Community"

Why did you accept this role?

The director was a big issue; I read the script, and I had seen Arnaud’s movies. When I talked to him, I felt he had a lot of guts to do a movie about two guys, speaking about psychoanalysis, one of them being a Native American. It was too original–usually, movies like this are about two white guys talking about their problems. That combination made me decide to make the film. Given the originality, I saw the possibility for a good movie.

When you say, “two white guys talking about their problems” -- like de Niro, playing a Mafioso going through psychotherapy in Analyze This?

Ah yes, so funny! And The Sopranos had it too. But yes, with a Native American character, it was different, and very serious.

In the film, Jimmy Picard expresses himself with a specific phrasing, and also speaks his Native language–how did you prepare for the performance linguistically?

I worked with Marvin Weatherwax, my language coach from Browning, Montana, who was very informative, and with Alan Shaterian, my coach for years. I listened to tapes, worked a lot, repeating, listening, on and on.

Was it hard to learn Piikani?

Yes, it takes work. I listened to the tapes of Native people, doing a lot of repetition. And while you do that, you cannot think about it–either it works, or it does not.

What was it like working with a multi-cultural team?

I just see human beings–cultural differences, color, do not influence me. We do a movie, that‘s all. What happens there is what goes on within any relationships–an interaction between people trying to understand each other, with their specific process.

Did you know much about Native culture?

I knew a little bit. I read about their history, and I watched an interesting movie called The Exiles that Arnaud passed on to me, and I had read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. For this movie, I read Devereux’s book. It’s long! But I enjoyed it, because I am interested in Jung and Freud–as an actor, you study human behavior. You are either an actor by instinct, or indirectly, by studying, to a certain extent, human beings.

You were give an Indian name–what is it?

Yes! I love my Indian name, Red Shield. And I was given its history–the Native culture is amazing–the spirituality, the history, the stories, and the concepts about the other world, the spirit world, and spiritual aspects. I found that very interesting. Also the connection with the Earth, the respect for it–it is powerful, important. The spiritual world and that relation to the Earth really struck me. 

For your next role, as Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, you will need to speak in a particular way – using a Colombian accent, and slang specific to Escobar’s criminal underworld.

Yes, I try! It is very different from the Puerto Rican, but the emotional feeling is similar whether Caribbean or Latin. And human beings are just human beings. As when I played Jimmy P, in the beginning, I thought, How will I play this? Well, just play it as a human being–with dignity.



Nathan's picture
Submitted by Nathan on

I like how Del Toro approaches the subject of working with other cultures. So true. No one is special. I look forward to the movie. Although, if any book should ever be read by another culture trying to understand modern american indians, it should be "Custer Died for Your Sins" or any of the books written by the best american indian thinker and write ever, Vine Deloria Jr. RIP.

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on

I like Benecio del Toro as an actor and this interview makes me like him as a human being. As a mniority actor he can certainly appreciate what other minorities suffer and his interest in Native culture and religion earned him a notch of respect.

I share his philosophy of not seeing color in dealing with others. I give everyone I meet 100% of the respect they deserve as human beings. Their actions thereafter determine if that changes.

Still, I wish Hollywood would support any of the fine Native American actors available. Hollywood seems to realize that we minorities share an empathy amongst each other, but they still believe that minorities are interchangeable.

To Nathan: I loved Vine Deloria's book and would recommend nearly any written by his son, Philip as well. My personal favorite Native author is Sherman Alexie and in particular his book, "Flight."

Good to meet another reader on the website. :)