Up Close and Personal
With Benjamin Bratt
Award-winning actor Benjamin
Bratt co-stars with
Bryan Cranston in The Infiltrator." Courtesy
Benjamin Bratt has been a successful actor for over two decades,
winning a Spirit Award for his work as producer and star of "La
Mission," written and directed by his younger brother Peter.
The film also earned a Best Indie Film nomination from the NAACP
and GLAAD, as well as multiple Imagen Awards for Best Picture
and Best Actor. His work in Piñero received high
praise while "Traffic" received five Academy Award
nominations and a Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Ensemble
Cast. Bratt has over 25 films to his credit some of
which include: "The River Wild," "Blood In,
Blood Out," "Clear and Present Danger," "Miss
Congeniality," "Love In The Time of Cholera,"
"Snitch," and did the voice of Manny in "Cloudy
with a Chance of Meatballs." Bratt first became most
recognizable when he co-starred with the late Jerry Orbach in
the iconic "Law & Order" series. Other television
credits include: "The Cleaner," "Private Practice,"
"Modern Family," and "24: Live Another Day."
Bratt, the son of a Peruvian mother
and a father of English, German, and Austrian descent,
grew up in San Francisco where he attended Lowell High School,
continuing his education at the University of California at Santa
Barbara and received theatre training at the American Conservatory
Theater in San Francisco. He is married to actress Taliso
Soto, has two children, Sophia and Mateo, and resides
in Los Angeles.
A most charming and fun, and might I add very handsome
Bratt recently sat down with a select group of journalists to discuss
his latest film, "The Infiltrator," along with other
very personal topics.
The following has been edited for content and continuity
for print purposes.
Bratt: I see some familiar faces here.
We never leave. (Laughter)
Bratt: You've been here for a lot of years. (Laughter)
Server brings in cup of coffee.
Bratt: This is nice. Who's picking up that tab? (Laughter)
L-R: The late Jerry Orbach
with Benjamin Bratt in the iconic "Law & Order"
series. Courtesy photo
How did you get involved with "The Infiltrator?"
Bratt: I was surprisingly quite unfamiliar with the
story. I think most of us are, which is shocking if you consider that
it is one of the largest drug busts ever put on record. Brad Furman
is a long-time friend of mine. I knew Brad when he was a kid.
He was the 19-year-old assistant to my agent at ICM in
New York when I was working on "Law & Order"
back in the 1990s. He use to run scripts down to me and was kind
of wet behind the ears, but very enthusiastic. Who knew that he would
grow up into this very insightful, skilled, thoughtful director. I'm
super proud of what he's accomplished as a director, obviously starting
with "The Lincoln Lawyer." He's still young and has
clearly demonstrated to all of us that he has so much more potential
that is still untapped.
Did you have to audition for the role of the drug
lord Roberto Alcaino?
Bratt: (Laughing & Joking) Yes. Can you believe
the bastard made me audition? (Laughter). No, of course not.
One of the many things I appreciate about Brad is that he is
deeply loyal and that is one of the themes we explore in the film. He's
worked with Yul Vazquez quite a few times as well as John
Leguizamo and, of course, Bryan (Cranston)
who was in "The Lincoln Lawyer." So what you have is
a pattern of mutual respect and loyalty playing out in a professional
scenario. Who doesn't want to work with people you respect and like?
What is the advantage of having a tribe of actors
who have the director in common?
Bratt: Comfortability is certainly an aspect of the
desire to create such a tribe, but you also have to be entirely trusting
of what their abilities are and have a firm belief that they can deliver
what is expected of them. It's not like he gave me the role because
he thought I was a nice guy or due to our personal history.
Did you have any trepidations about accepting
Bratt: In a way Brad courted me. I had done a
number of jobs where I walked in similar territory and I was reluctant,
on some level, to step into a role of yet another cartel leader. But,
the thing that convinced me to take on the role was that he was very
interested in showing an aspect of the humanness of a person like that.
In fact, although my character sees his business from the prospective
of the mere practicality of supply and demand, his individual actions
have consequences, and we see that for Bryan's character of Bob
Musella, as well. While you're achieving your agenda of taking down
a criminal, there's fallout all around you. In both cases, I think on
some level these men are mirror images of each other. They are both
family men and while their business life is a separate entity from their
personal life, there's potential danger for their respective loved ones.
Benjamin Bratts character of drug lord Roberto
Alcaino begins to form a close bond with Bryan Cranston as the undercover
government agent Bob Musella. Photo: Courtesy of Broad
What are their similarities?
Bratt: They expect of themselves, and seek within others
that they want to have in their social circles, a kind of integrity
or kind of principle, which begins with trustworthiness. That's why
they're drawn to each other. But, through their actions, through their
choices, how they conduct themselves, there is often times collateral
What kind of research did you do in preparation?
Bratt: Well for one, you start with the book, which
the screenplay is based upon. It's kind of a bible of actual information
on what really went down. The real Bob Mazur is a fantastic raconteur.
His memory is practically photographic. The way he tells it, it could
make for very dry reading. You're reading about all the bureaucracy
and the hoops they have to jump through, but when you get right down
to the nitty gritty of what he did, how deeply undercover he went to
pull off this operation, it's nothing less than thrilling. I think the
book came out in 2010 and it seemed like such an obvious choice
to translate to film, it's surprising to me that it took so long because
it's so cinematic in nature. When you actually see it rendered in the
film, it's almost unbelievable.
(Bryan Cranston as undercover agent Bob Mazur listens
to secret recordings) Bratt on developing the character of Roberto Alcaino:
Although I didn't have access to any of the photographs, I got
a clear picture of how I wanted to play him from listening to his voice.
Photo: Courtesy of Broad Green Pictures
How much character direction did you get from
Bratt: Beyond his sharing his feelings on how he wanted
to bring an honesty and humanity to the character, what I found incredibly
helpful, in addition to the material I sourced from the book, were the
personal stories that Bob shared with me. But the real ace in the hole
were the actual secret recordings he gave me of meetings he had with
Alcaino. Although I didn't have access to any of the photographs
or video images of what this man looked like, and to this day I don't
really have a solid idea of what he looks like, I got a clear picture
of how I wanted to play him from listening to his voice, the gregariousness
of his nature, to the inherent charm of how he communicated about anything
from something as mundane as the meal he had the night before
to when the "baby" is going to be delivered in Philadelphia.
His girlfriend is about to deliver the "baby." Of course,
that's all secret code talk for the drug shipment that's going to arrive
any day. So, that proved invaluable to me. For all the charm, sophistication,
and worldliness that he exhibits, Brad and I wanted to make sure
that there was always the presence of danger because, for all of his
charm, this man is truly dangerous.
How dangerous was he?
Despite his charming social demeanor, Benjamin Bratts
Roberto Alcaino is a very dangerous man. Photo: Courtesy
of Broad Green Pictures
Bratt: He was one of the top lieutenants within Roberto
Escobar's Medellín Cartel. What I do know is that he had
direct contact with board members of the cartel and one can only imagine
some of the things that went on during those meetings.
L-R: Benjamin Bratt's Roberto Alcaino forms a close
friendship with undercover federal agent Bob Mazur. Photo:
Courtesy of Broad Green Pictures
Was it your intention to make this bad guy really
likeable and what were the character choices you made?
Bratt: Well it was a bit of a conundrum because his
actions in his kind of business had a real ugliness. It's power and
violence and murder and mayhem and menace. And yet, I thought it was
a mistake as an actor to predetermine or prejudge whether he's a good
guy or a bad guy. You can't go into any characterization with that opinion
or attitude or approach because it's sudden death. What it will convey
ultimately is a one-dimensional character the figure in the black
hat that you've you seen countless time. What I was more interested
in, and it fell in line obviously with what Brad's desire was
as the director, was to make him far more complex and that's there on
the page thankfully. I thought it would be more interesting to highlight
those human qualities. I had to find something lovable that I could
appreciate in this person. What we all discover, as we watch the film,
is that he possesses a slew of qualities that we all wish for ourselves
and actually seek out in our social circles. He's a loyal friend. He's
a man of faith. He's a devoted family man. He's a loving husband and
father. He's a very successful and charming businessman. What's not
to like? Yes. He's engaged in criminal activity and is quite dangerous,
but he has a twisted logic in how he rationalizes his world. He sees
it as an issue of supply and demand. "I wouldn't be what I am unless
America made me this way. I didn't force drugs on anyone. You all want
drugs? I'm the man to supply them." "I could be sweating my
balls off in a restaurant somewhere," he says, "but this is
a smarter choice for me." So, that's his twisted logic that justifies
Was there a particularly difficulty in making
Bratt: Not actually. The one thing that I'm really happy
about, having seen the film now only once, is that it does have a very
international, grand feel to it, but that being said, it's likely that
it's no secret that we had limitations in terms of budget, location,
and various other challenges that accompany independent film making
so time was not a luxury and that's what actors need more than anything
time and space to create. But oftentimes you're thrown right
into it and you have to sort of do it on the fly because there's not
a lot of rehearsal time. The good news is when you're working alongside
someone like Bryan or Diane Kruger or Amy Ryan
or Yul Vazquez or John Leguizamo, these are folks at the
top of their game. The best advice Brad gave me before we started
shooting was that I was going to meet Bryan and you're going
to be charmed by how kind and how sweet he is and he is all of those
things. He's probably one of the nicest men you're ever going to meet
but don't be lulled into it because he is a heavyweight fighter and
he's going to come out swinging so do not show up and think it's going
to be a cakewalk. It's not. I really took that to heart. It maybe even
scared me a little bit. The result is something that I'm actually pretty
Was there one seminal moment when you knew you
wanted to be an actor?
Bratt: I just remember the first time I got on stage.
At my dad's encouragement, I auditioned for a high school production
and got cast as the devil in "The Devil and Daniel Webster."
I have to confess that the moment I stepped on stage, I felt a surge
of energy and creativity and an electricity that I never felt before
not from sports, not from academics, not from anything else,
and thought I should check this out. Incidentally, I don't know if there's
a connection, but my grandfather, George Bratt, was in the "Grand
Street Follies" which opened on Broadway in 1924.
He also worked with James Cagney. So, it was part of the family
lore that acting is in our blood, but no one really bought that. (Laughter)
Family lore or not, just keep on doing what you're
Bratt: Thanks everyone. This was fun.
Stay tuned for Part 2 in which, among other topics,
Bratt talks about family matters and the most outrageous thing he's
ever done on film.