CANNES, France (AFP) — Oscar-winner Benicio Del Toro, the Puerto Rican-born star often dubbed the "Latino Brad Pitt", won Cannes' Best Actor award Sunday for his role as "Che" Guevara in Steven Soderbergh's film on the revolutionary hero.
"I'd like to dedicate this to the man himself, Che Guevara," said the actor, after accepting his second big award under the US director's helmsmanship.
"I wouldn't be here without Che Guevera, and through all the awards the movie gets you'll have to pay your respects to the man."
And taking one reporter's question after Cannes' red-carpet awards ceremony, all Del Toro saw was her "Che" T-shirt. "I like the shirt," he said several times.
Del Toro, 41, transmutes into a larger-than-life Che in the marathon four-hours-plus movie.
"Che" charts two episodes in the life of the guerrilla hero -- the late 1950s ouster of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista alongside Fidel Castro, and Che's subsequent aborted bid to bring the Cuban revolution to Bolivia.
Some critics slammed the film shot in Spanish for its length and meticulous documentary-style presentation, as well as for failing to focus on the politically controversial aspects of the Cuban revolution.
Soderbergh needed to tighten it for average movie-goers, they said.
The US director back in 2000 propelled Del Toro into the movie limelight, when he bagged best supporting Oscar for his role as a restrained Mexican police officer walking the moral high ground in "Traffic".
Del Toro, original name Benicio Monserrate Rafael Del Toro Sanchez, also played five years earlier in the blockbuster "The Usual Suspects", where he was the mumbling gangster Fenster.
He has also been directed by the head of this year's Cannes jury Sean Penn, in 1990 "The Indian Runner" and "The Pledge", 2001.
Born in Puerto Rico to lawyer parents, he moved to the United States at the age of nine when his mother died and studied commerce before deciding, secretly, to change to acting.
Del Toro, who has a quiet but immensely strong presence, was involved from the start on the "Che" film, which took nine years of research and 60 million dollars to complete.
In Cannes for the screening, he recounted how like the average American he grew up with a bad guy image of Cuba's hero until stumbling on a book on the guerrilla leader in Mexico.
"He had a really warm smile. I bought the book and then read more. The love people had for this man made me more interested," he said.
Del Toro started his career on television before playing the youngest James Bond villain ever in "Licence To Kill".
One of his most recent star roles was in the much-noticed 2002 movie by Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu "21 Grams" where he plays a former convict-turned-religious fanatic who kills two children and their father in a road accident.
Other major roles have been as a corrupt cop in "Sin City" by Robert Rodriguez in 2005, and as a drugged-out lawyer playing alongside Johnny Depp in Terry Gilliam's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas", a 1998 movie about journalist Hunter S. Thompson.
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