I recently got the chance to talk to Miguel Del Toro about his role in new film, ‘Keep The Lights On’. Here, Miguel talks about how he got involved in the project and what it was like working with the cast and crew on-set…
Hey Miguel. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me about your new film, ‘Keep The Lights On’.
What’s the general plotline surrounding the film?
The film chronicles a 10-year story that starts in 1997 Manhattan, when filmmaker Erik (Thure Lindhardt) meets a closeted lawyer named Paul (Zachary Booth). After having an initial fling, their relationship quickly develops as the two of them start building a life together. The relationship is eventually put to the test by Paul’s addictions and Erik’s obsessive behavior.
Tell us a bit about the character you play in the movie…
My character, Igor, comes near the midpoint of the movie so you could say I’m the subplot haha. He is a painter from Ecuador who has lived most of his life in NYC. He meets Erik in a club and they immediately find each other attractive but eventually drift apart only to run into each other a few years later. Igor severs as an optimistic reminder that there is a world outside the relationship Erik finds himself engulfed in. The character is loosely based on Ira’s current husband Boris, who actually created the artwork that is seen at the begging of the film. I met with him before filming took place in order to better understand the initial emotional impulse that Boris had when he first met Ira and that helped me a great deal in the way I approached the character.
How did you get involved in the project in the first place?
It’s a funny story. I was first going to be an extra in the movie but because they were going for such a specific, naturalistic style, they were actually meeting the extras in person, which is something that is usually not done. When I got there, I had the opportunity to meet with Ira and after talking to him for a few minutes; he gave me some sides and told me I had five minutes to memorize it, come back, and read it to the camera. That was my first audition. I remember thinking that I had one terribly and even asked if I could still be an extra in the film haha. I later got a callback and had to audition for Avy Kaufman and Ira, which was an exhilarating experience in the sense that I was extremely nervous. A week later or so one of the producers called me and told me I had the part. I was so existed I almost ran around the block naked.
How would you say this film is different and unique?
Although it’s a love story between two men, I think the problems they encounter throughout the film are problems that any relationship has to deal with. The film has this universal aspect to it, where it taps into emotions that lie at the core of the human spirit. More than that the film is shot beautifully and directed with a sensitivity and authenticity that is almost palpable. I don’t think there is one false note in the movie; mainly because of how much the story matters to the director.
The film stars Thure Lindhardt, Zachary Booth, Marilyn Neimark, Paprika Steen, Sebastian La Cause, Julianne Nicholson, Sarah Hess and Roberta Kirshbaum – with Ira Sachs onboard as director – what was it like working with the cast and crew on-set? Any good anecdotes?
There are many. Ira is such a subtle director; he gives you a lot of freedom but knows exactly what he wants. He also doesn’t rehearse his actors but instead you meet with him in pre-production and go through the script. We had agreed that because my character was oblivious to the rest of the story, I would only read my part of the script and not the whole thing. And that is how I approached it. It is acting theory, if there is such a thing, that every character thinks they are the protagonists of the film, and I embraced this notion to the fullest. Although the movie is shot though Erik’s POV, I was thinking that all of this was happening to me, because when you think of it, that’s how you experience life. Everything that you have ever done or seen, you have been at the center of that experience. It is impossible to detach the ego, the I, from everyday experience, and so the same can be said when playing a supporting character in a film. I remember Thure and I had an extremely simple scene where we had just left the club and where deciding on what to do next. Extremely simple scene, three lines each, half a page. We ended up doing around 15 takes and I honestly had no idea why it wasn’t working. Eventually Ira, quite frustrated, came to me and just whispered “more romantic”. I was terrified and had no idea what that meant but I got in right in the next take.
Let’s talk a bit about you Miguel. What made you want to get into the industry in the first place?
Well I’ve always played sports, and back in Mexico I used to play semi-professional soccer, which is another way of saying you’re going to get injured a lot. So whenever I was hurt and couldn’t train I would join the drama club and do a bunch of theater. Eventually this became my main interest and so I went to Ohio to study film and drama at Kenyon College. They say most actors a frustrated athletes and I very much believe that now.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to pursue a career in the industry?
I’ve always loved the quote that says, “You miss 100% of the chances you don’t take”. In this industry I think it’s especially true. A lot of it is skill and talent and training, but another huge part of it is just showing up and not being afraid of trying out something new. Confidence in what you are doing goes a long way.
What’s currently on your I-Pod right now?
Eskimo by Damien Rice.
If you could have dinner with three guests – (living or dead), who would you choose and why?
The first one that comes to mind is David Foster Wallace. He was one of the greatest minds of the 21-century and his novel Infinite Jest; I think very much resembles the structure of film in a way that he was able to disrupt the linearity of the narrative by using endnotes. He gave one of the best commencement speeches at my school not to long before he committed suicide.
Another person is Jim Morrison. Not only are The Doors my favorite band, but he also had this way about him that would suck the air out of the room. I think just watching him would be a crash coarse in stage and screen presence.
I think ultimately I would love to meet Javier Bardem. He is my favourite actor and has had my ideal career. He has worked with Almodovar and Woody Allen and Iñárritu. A truly human actor and one I can relate to very much.
If you could choose a literary character to will into existence, who would you choose and why?
Maybe someone like Willy Wonka. I can see him being a sort of new-age Andy Warhol, although Andy Warhol was pretty new age himself haha.
What’s coming up for you in 2013?
Finishing college. Right now I’m starting pre-production on a short film that I’m going do direct and star in. My manager and I are also in the process of choosing an agent so we have to evaluate our options. I also have to decide if I want to live in NY or LA, which is a terrifying thing, but in the meantime reading and writing a lot. I’m close to finishing a novel in Spanish, which I hope will get distribution so we’ll see…
Thanks for the interview!