Roles in The Usual Suspects, Traffic, Snatch and Che have brought deserved critical acclaim to the boy from Puerto Rico who nearly gave up acting to become a lawyer.
Benicio Del Toro's mother died when he was just nine years old, and his father moved the family from Puerto Rico to a farm in Pennsylvania. Although he expressed an interest in acting, his family urged him to become a lawyer, because they felt there was no future in acting.
Consequently, he decided to study business at the University of California in San Diego. However, a drama class renewed the acting bug and he dropped out and began studying with legendary acting teacher Stella Adler in Los Angeles and at the Circle in the Square Theatre School in New York.
Pretending to his parents that he was taking courses in business, Del Toro hid his new studies from his family for a while. His big screen career got off to a slow start. His first role was in Big Top Pee-Wee in 1988.
Things looked better, however, when he landed the role as a baddie in the James Bond film Licence to Kill. Surprising his co-stars, Del Toro was the youngest actor ever to portray a Bond villain, only 21 years old at the time.
1995 proved to be a very successful year for Del Toro, as he starred alongside Kevin Spacey in two films, giving a strong performance in Swimming With Sharks, before taking critics by storm as a mysterious gangster in The Usual Suspects. An Oscar-winning film, Del Toro won an Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting actor for the role.
Further recognition came with 1996's Basquiat, which earned him an Independent Spirit Award for his supporting role, and Excess Baggage the next year, which landed Del Toro an ALMA Award nomination for Outstanding Individual Performance In A Crossover Role in A Feature Film. Cult hit Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) allowed Del Toro to work with Terry Gilliam, Johnny Depp, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci and Cameron Diaz.
Del Toro began an ongoing relationship with acclaimed director Steven Soderbergh on Traffic, a 2000 release featuring an ensemble cast including Michael Douglas, Don Cheadle, Dennis Quaid, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Salma Hayek. The crime drama earned Del Toro an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, as well as several other major accolades, including a Golden Globe, Bafta and Screen Actors' Guild gong.
After working on a number of other projects, including The Way of the Gun, Snatch and The Pledge, Del Toro went on to achieve more critical acclaim with his role in 2003 drama 21 Grams, which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. 2005's Sin City led to another award nomination for Del Toro, while Steven Soderbergh's two-part Che (2008) in which he portrayed Argentine Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara, earned him a Cannes Film Festival Best Actor Award. 2010 saw him star in The Wolfman.
In the summer of 2014 Del Toro will appear in Guardians Of The Galaxy as villain The Collector.