Today is Benicio del Toro’s 48th birthday, and to mark the occasion, I’ve dug up some facts on one of his most critically acclaimed movies: Traffic. Don’t get me wrong, Del Toro’s got no shortage of great films under his belt. He’s one of the most versatile actors working and seems to completely transform himself into his onscreen characters, whether he’s playing a weirdo in Big Top Pee-Wee, a weirdo in The Usual Suspects, or a drugged out weirdo attorney in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Signing on to the cast of Steven Soderbergh’s saga about three different storylines tied to the drug war would land del Toro an Oscar and lead to highly praised roles in 21 Grams and Che. Traffic — which celebrates its 15th anniversary this year — picked up three additional Academy Awards and landed on the top 10 lists of many critics for its camerawork and handling of drug issues without getting too preachy. So, here’s 10 things you might not have known about one of the early 2000s best dramas.
1. The film had ties to a movie that hadn’t even been made yet. Steven Soderbergh wanted to do a movie about the drug war, but he didn’t want it to focus on drug addicts, so he based it on the 1989 U.K. mini series Traffik. While looking for a screenwriter, Soderbergh read a script called Havoc by Stephen Gaghan about privileged white kids who got hooked on drugs. Soderbergh and Gaghan agreed to merge the two projects together for Traffic, and Gaghan would later have his original screenplay, Havoc, made five years later.
2. The teens achieved the look of being high by having dust blown in their faces. To prep for the scenes in which Topher Grace and Erika Christensen were stoned, filmmakers blew peppermint dust in their faces to irritate their eyes (the same effect was also used for scenes in Super Troopers).
3. Screenwriter Stephen Gaghan based part of the story on his own personal history. When a movie critic took issue that it seemed unrealistic that Erika Christensen’s character had an perfect report card while being addicted to drugs, Gaghan pointed out that this was based on his own high school life at the time, and he had a perfect record as a high school drug user.
4. Benicio del Toro’s Oscar win put him in select company. Del Toro is one of only five actors to have won an Academy Award for a role spoken mainly in a foreign language. Sophia Loren, Robert De Niro, Marion Cotillard and Roberto Benigni are the other four. He’s also the only person to have won an Oscar for the movie not named Stephen or Steven: Steven Soderbergh (Best Director), Stephen Gaghan (Best Adapted Screenplay), Stephen Mirrione (Best Editing).
5. Actor James Brolin put his military uniform to good use. While during a break from filming, James Brolin noticed two youths trying to break into his car. Still wearing his generals uniform, Brolin was an intimidating presence and frightened away the would-be thieves.