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Del Toro says he learned life lessons at Mercersburg

January 26, 2001

Del Toro says he learned life lessons at Mercersburg



By KEVIN CLAPP / Staff Writer


Debra Collins, with the Mercersburg Academy communications office, had some bad news: Due to a scheduling glitch, actor Benicio Del Toro would not be calling for another hour.

But that didn't bother academy junior Peter Baker.

"I can wait," the 16-year-old said quickly.

Del Toro, 33, who received a supporting actor Golden Globe Sunday for his role as a Mexican narcotics officer in director Steven Soderbergh's film "Traffic" spoke with Peter and others during a conference call Friday afternoon.

The actor, who attended Mercersburg Academy from 1981 to 1985, said his time their was memorable for the lessons he learned and has applied to his career.

"It was the first time I really spent time looking inside and there were many moments where I was alone and looking inside and discovering who I was," Del Toro said. "If I would tell the story of my life, Mercersburg would be a big section. I don't know if I could articulate the power of the place."

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Based in part on the strength of his Golden Globe win, Del Toro is a favorite to be nominated for an Academy Award on Tuesday, Feb. 13. The Oscars will be presented Sunday, March 25, in Los Angeles.

Roles in "The Usual Suspects" (1995) and "Basquiat" (1996) helped make his name in Hollywood, but it is "Traffic" that has earned the most critical acclaim of Del Toro's career. In addition, he has cameos in two films released last week: "The Pledge" and "Snatch."

Despite a series of roles that have required him to play a tough guy, Del Toro is something else entirely, according to Tim Rockwell, dean of students when the actor attended the boarding school.

"If you took that persona and thought 'that's the person' you'd be wildly wrong," Rockwell said.

During a 1998 visit to the school, Rockwell escorted Del Toro around campus. He was most impressed by the actor's willingness to speak with students and relate his career to experiences at the academy.

From Del Toro's perspective, giving something back to Mercersburg Academy was only right.

"It's great to give back and I would do it again in a second," he said. "When you do get to a point where kids are looking up to you, one way or another. ... I think it's essential to give back."

Kristin Sell and Vicky Sgagias, both 18, were freshmen when they met Del Toro during his 1998 visit. Both aspiring actors, the seniors said meeting someone who has hit it big in Hollywood put their experiences as students and career aspirations in perspective.

"It was kind of surreal that he walked in these rooms and went to the dining hall and had to listen to the announcements and had to go to class," Sell said. "(Celebrities) are all people that came from somewhere. They all went to high school somewhere. I just feel like it is possible and I am going to make it now."

Peter, who is writing a story about his interview for the school newspaper, said he was impressed that Del Toro took the time to speak with a member of his alma mater.

"It was exciting, the journalistic opportunity of my life to date," the teen said. "For him to do it is extremely generous."

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