If Benicio Del Toro had had his way, his latest movie 21 Grams would never have been an ensemble vehicle. "I tried to muscle my way in and tell the director, 'This is my movie,'" jokes the Oscar-winning actor. Obviously he didn't try hard enough, but that's probably for the best. After all, if he had succeeded, he wouldn't have had the chance to act opposite fellow powerhouses Sean Penn and Naomi Watts.

In the film, which opens in limited release on Nov. 21, Del Toro plays Jack, an ex-con turned born-again Christian, who undergoes a crisis of faith when he's involved in a terrible automobile accident. It's another intense, challenging role for the actor who has made a career out of playing lost souls.

While he and Watts shared little screen time together, Del Toro had several scenes with Penn, who actually directed him in two earlier films, The Pledge and The Indian Runner. To describe the experience of working with the critically acclaimed but notoriously prickly actor/director, the thesp busts out a sports metaphor. "In basketball, there's a position called the point guard; he knows every position on the court and that's the same thing with Sean. He knows movies, he's a terrific writer, a terrific filmmaker and a terrific actor, too. He sees the whole picture, not just this one scene."

For his next project, Del Toro hopes to work with another well-known perfectionist, press-shy director Terrence Malick (Badlands, The Thin Red Line). The two have been planning a biopic of Cuban revolutionary Che Guevera for several years, but "we can't get the money," Del Toro says sadly. Still, the actor isn't thinking about abandoning the project anytime soon. "It's not only about doing a movie," he says. "It's about doing it with a filmmaker you care about, a story you care about and a subject that you care about."