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Federico Luppi, 83, actor known for del Toro films

By Daniel E. Slotnik New York Times  

NEW YORK — Federico Luppi, a dignified Argentine actor well known for his complex performances in the dark fantasy films of Guillermo del Toro, died Oct. 20 in Buenos Aires. He was 83.

The cause was complications of a subdural hematoma, said his wife, actress Susana Hornos.

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Mr. Luppi’s career, which began in the mid-1960s, included dozens of film and television roles, often in Argentine productions. Slim and stately with a shock of white hair, he endowed his characters with a sense of gravity.

One of those characters was Jesus Gris, the protagonist of the Mexican horror film “Cronos” (1993), del Toro’s directorial debut. In that film, which also starred Ron Perlman, Gris, an antiques dealer, finds a clockwork device that turns him into a vampire.

Mr. Luppi played the monstrous Gris with touches of pathos — at one point in the film, he sinks to a bathroom floor to lap up a spot of blood.

Reviewing “Cronos” in The New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote that del Toro had “a considerable asset in Mr. Luppi, who remains soigné and reasonably calm no matter what happens to him, in a role that would also have been perfect for Vincent Price.”

Mr. Luppi appeared in two more of del Toro’s films, both set in Franco’s Spain. He was a leftist sympathizer who ran a haunted orphanage in “The Devil’s Backbone” (2001), and the monarch of a fairy kingdom in “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006), which won three Academy Awards in 2007.

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After Mr. Luppi’s death was reported, del Toro, writing in Spanish on Twitter, called him “Our Olivier, our Day Lewis, our genius, my dear friend.”

Federico José Luppi Malacalza was born on Feb. 23, 1934, to Alberto and Clementina Malacalza, poor Italian immigrants, in Ramallo, a river town about 135 miles northwest of Buenos Aires. He studied architecture and worked in a slaughterhouse and a bank before he was able to support himself as an actor. He was blacklisted from Argentine productions for some years after he was openly critical of the government.

Despite those difficulties, he remained a prolific actor, active in theater, television, and film.

His other films included many by Argentine director Adolfo Aristarain. He played a demolitions expert goaded into committing fraud in “Time for Revenge” (1981); a literature professor who tries to start a new life in “Common Ground” (2002); and a political idealist who organized rural shepherds in “A Place in the World” (1992).

He also played a doctor who becomes entangled in violent conflict in Latin America in John Sayles’ “Men With Guns” (1997). His most recent film was “Black Snow,” an Argentine crime drama directed by Martin Hodara that was released this spring.