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Benjamin Levy Aguilar as Dante Torres on `Chicago P.D.` (NBC photo by Lori Allen)
Benjamin Levy Aguilar as Dante Torres on "Chicago P.D." (NBC photo by Lori Allen)

Q&A: Benjamin Levi Aguilar on origin of Dante Torres, opportunity to work on 'Chicago P.D.'

by jmaloni
Mon, Feb 5th 2024 02:45 pm

Behind the Screens with Joshua Maloni


One of the side effects of success on a television show is that, the longer a series runs, the more cast members will depart.

On NBC’s “Chicago P.D.” – now in its 11th season – myriad stories have been written about the exits of former stars Sophia Bush, Elias Koteas, Jon Seda and, most recently, Jesse Lee Soffer. Each actor was key in making the show a success (any series that eclipses 10 seasons is in rarified air), and each character is sorely missed.

But legendary creator Dick Wolf (“Law & Order,” “FBI”) and his team of producers have met this challenge and overcome it by finding worthy cast additions.

Tracy Spiridakos joined the team as Det. Hailey Upton at the end of season four. Almost immediately, she became central to the storyline. Now the second-in-command for Sgt. Hank Voight (Jason Beghe), Upton is as essential to the intelligence unit as Spiridakos is to “Chicago P.D.” Her moral conflicts, personal pain and rocky relationships have yielded some of the best episodes in recent years.

Benjamin Levi Aguilar was asked to reprise his role as officer Dante Torres in season 10.

That followed a guest-starring turn in season nine. In fact, the actor first appeared as a criminal in season seven, so it wasn’t hard for audiences to initially doubt his new persona’s intentions when the quiet Torres was introduced as someone who could be a “great cop. … Or we’re hiring a psycho.”

Growing up in Pilsen, Torres was enveloped in rich Latino culture. He had a neighborhood of people who became his extended family. He lived with his single mother and grew close to childhood friend Mia. But when street gangs threatened his loved ones, Torres was forced to resort to violence to keep the peace. He quickly developed a reputation as someone to be feared – and his turf not to be crossed – though Torres was keenly aware of right and wrong.

It was justice, and not vengeance, that served as his guiding light.

Torres became a perfect fit with the intelligence unit, a squad known just as much for its ethical flexibilities as its high rate of closing cases and removing Chicago’s worst offenders.

In this week’s episode, Torres’ two worlds will again collide when he’s called to go undercover.

Aguilar, a Guatemala-born actor, whose IMDb page notes prior time as a soccer star and a high-level political protector, shared more in this edited Q&A.

Benjamin Levy Aguilar as Dante Torres (NBC photo by Chris Haston)


Q: Benjamin, knowing that you are, of course, limited on what you can say about this upcoming storyline, I want to ask you about everything that led to this episode. And so, of course, the character I want to talk about first is Franco Chavaro.

Benjamin Levi Aguilar: Oh wow, yeah.

Q: That was your “P.D.” debut, in season seven. Even though that was a one-off, what did you see at that time that impressed you about this show and the team behind it?

Benjamin Levi Aguilar: Definitely the first thing that impressed me was the lead of the show, Voight, or Jason. He was a fantastic leader, and I saw it. I had just come out of my first job ever, which was “Filthy Rich,” that I had shot in New Orleans, and that was my second job I had ever booked. And he took so much attention to me, and to making sure that I was comfortable, and we connected and became friends since that moment. I remember him saying, “I'm going to remember you,” and I said, “Cool.”

I did that whole episode and it was so fun for me. And you know, I was able to go kind of crazy in some scenes, and I was so lucky to be a part of, I think, a scene where everyone was there and, if I remember correctly, they were kind of like arresting me. I was trying to run away, but it was like the whole team. So, I got to kind of meet them all on set. And I was just this very kind of shy and new actor, you know, that was just really starting out.

That was the first thing that I remember catching my eye was Jason.

Q: You came back for a second episode, two seasons later, this time as Dante Torres. At that time, was that also intended to be a one-time appearance?

Benjamin Levi Aguilar: I think it had some sort of potential to recur, but never talked about as a lead or series regular of any sort. You know, it was really just that one episode.

A beautiful character that I think was created by (showrunner) Gwen (Sigan), if I'm not mistaken. Incredibly layered character. I was shooting a movie in Guatemala at that time, and I got a call from them, if I could be there on I think it was like a Wednesday or something. I shaved my head, because I had my long hair, and the role was mine.

I got there and Chad (Saxton), one of our executive producers, and Jason, they both greeted me again. And Jason, I remember him saying, “I told you I was going to remember you.” And they had both thought of me for this role when they were creating it. I think they had auditioned people, but they still had me in mind.

I was so grateful. I felt really, really, really grateful to have the opportunity to do that character because, when I actually read the script, it was like, “Wow, this Torres guy, he's real.” It really caught my eye, and it was kind of like I knew I could do that. It was like he was me.

And so, really, honestly, good instinct on them, because that's literally the way I felt when I first read it. I was like, “That's me. That's in there. All of that is in there.”

We shot that, I had a great time again. Jesse and I became such good friends. I really miss him. Once I finished that episode, Jason, we went out to dinner, and he told me that he wanted me to join his show – unofficially. He kind of brought it up.

I had had such fun the first time, and then this second time, everything just seemed so aligned. And then, a few months after, I was doing other work and auditioning and stuff, and then the official offer came in.

It was beautiful, and I'm having so much fun.

In the season 10 episode "New Life," Dante Torres (Benjamin Levy Aguilar) has to call upon a past persona to crack a current case. (NBC photo by Lori Allen)


Q: Like you said, Torres is a great, three-dimensional character. We know he has a past – and we know that involves violence. But we also know that his acts were often in defense of his family and of his neighborhood. Now that he's with the intelligence unit, how does that past inform his current pursuit for justice?

Benjamin Levi Aguilar: I think it's everything. I think he's wired that way. Like, the reason he became a cop was to correct the things that maybe people couldn't do for him in the past, or for his family and for the people that he saw and loved around himself. So, I think it's everything. Everything that drives him is deeply rooted on who he was and how he grew up. So, it makes him a very, very skilled and talented undercover officer, police. … But it also gets him into trouble when he can't seem to be in full control of those parts of him.

Q: And that's a great segue, I think, into what we're going to see in this upcoming episode. What can you legally say about this episode to tease it for the audience?

Benjamin Levi Aguilar: (Laughs) Well, we're going to see Torres going undercover for a very complex case, and getting caught up in in situations, of sorts, where he's going to have to try to get out at some point, of a very complicated relationship.

In the episode "Escape," Dante Torres (Benjamin Levy Aguilar) gets mixed up with Gloria Perez (Yara Martinez) while working an uncover assignment for the intelligence unit. (NBC photos by Lori Allen)


Q: All right, fair enough.

You, Benjamin, have an interesting past, as well. Of course, your deeds are much more commendable than that of your character’s. How do your varied and interesting life experiences inform your approach to acting?

Benjamin Levi Aguilar: That's a really good question. It's everything.

When I came to Los Angeles, and I tried to learn how to act, I realized that I was getting worse, when I had to act because, truly, the instinct was already there. And if I would just allow myself to go there, then there was nothing else I needed to do.

And the more that I grow in my craft, the more I realize that it's all about just trusting everything: about the moment, about yourself, about what instinctually comes up – even if you feel like it doesn't make sense. If it's truthful in the moment, it's truthful.

So, I think that my experiences in life, and my pain that I lived through, and my adventures and stuff, they come out exactly when I need them to. If I can just let everything else be – like, keep my head out of it; if I can just walk through sets day by day, allowing everything that I perceive into my experience, then it seems kind of effortless. But the hard thing is to just allow.

That's the beauty of acting, that anything that you bring from your life will help you and make you deeper, allow you to have more layers in your characters, because of what you've lived.

“Chicago P.D.” airs at 10 p.m. Wednesdays on NBC (WGRZ-TV Channel 2) and is streaming on Peacock.

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