The center of the lucky ring he wears is wood, not stone. "What I like is that I can knock on wood anytime," Benicio Del Toro, 35, recently told Talk
magazine. He needn't bother. The Oscar, the Golden Globe and the Screen Actors Guild awards that he won for playing Traffic
's mournfully righteous Mexican police officer had little to do with luck. "He treats every role as though it's the performance of a lifetime," says Juliette Lewis, who costarred with Del Toro in last year's The Way of the Gun
. "But he still makes it fun. There's always a little smirk there, like the cat that swallowed the canary, excpept he's no cat, he's a tiger." She's not the only one hearing the call of the wild. Traffic
's Marisol Padilla Sanchez compares the perpetually disheveled actor to "a panther or lion—you can't help but feel the strength of his sensuality." Born in Puerto Rico, Del Toro moved to rural Pennsylvania at age 14, when his lawyer father, Gustavo, enrolled him in the Mercers-burg Academy boarding school. (Del "faro's mother, Fausta, died in 1975 from hepatitis.) After dropping out of the University of California at San Diego, he studied acting in an LA. Workshop with actress Tina Lifford (Pay It Forward
), who recalls, "He was so beautiful, I'd stare at him with my mouth open. We all did." The 6'2" Dei Toro, who lives in L.A., has been linked m the past with actresses Claire Forlani, Alicia Silverstone and Chiara Mastroianni. But now he's too busy for a girlfriend. Somebody is; definitely missing out. "Benicio has a really good time with things," says his Traffic
costar Jacob Vargas. "You can tell he's just out there enjoying life."