Christmas is over and now it’s time to get serious! Well at least it’s time to get some serious films. Leading the pack is Oscar winning director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s latest film, Biutiful. None could be more beautiful, mysterious and depressing than this film. It definitely needed someone with enough charisma to keep us interested and yet has enough depth to pull off such a complex character. Good thing Iñárritu found the right man for the job, another Oscar winner, Javier Bardem who has already won Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival for his performance in this film.
Bardem has the ability to make you empathsize with his character through anything. We caught up with the actor to find out exactly how he does it time and time again…
This is an incredible performance.
JB: Thank you.
What attracted you to the intricacies and what did you draw on to create Uxbal?
JB: Many things. The director, Alejandro, I’m a huge fan of his previous works and I knew he was going to be an amazing actor’s director based on the performances that I saw in his movies. But more important than that, because I’m not that kind of actor that gets crazy with names, I’m more always towards the material, was the material itself which is the script, beautifully written by him. And the character which was very complex. There were so many layers to convey that I knew it was going to be a hard task but a rewarding one.
What happens when you win an Oscar?
Javier Bardem: It’s good fun. It’s great fun. It’s a great honor. It’s a great honor, it’s a great honor, of course. It’s something you would never dream of, never. Then it happens and you’re there and you try to share it with all the people that are so meaningful to you but you don’t have the time so you have to
When you do something so dramatic, can you help thinking people will recognize it for awards? Can you keep your performance away from those thoughts?
JB: Yes, you have to. There is no way you can pretend that that thing that you felt or that you feel is good or bad, have to be seen the same way by others. That’s being pretentious.
This film deals with death in a very real way, was it hard for you as an actor to go there every year?
JB: In this one, Alejandro and I were holding each other’s hands and were like as he said climbing the mountain, the highest one that we ever climbed because for him it was new to have only one actor for five months. For me also it was new to have a character like this for five months. So we really had to back each other and be aware that it was a very intense journey but rewarding creatively speaking because the themes we were talking about are important to be talked about. We knew about it. That’s where the whole focus was. This is worth it. It’s worth it to make this journey and here we are. We survived.
After this performance, did it make you see life differently?
JB: No, not really. The good thing about being an actor, the gift of being an actor is that you are forced, beautifully forced because we choose to be forced, to see the world with different eyes. Death for Uxbal is not the same as death for Ramon Sampedro in The Sea Inside. For him it was a love story that never happened. For Uxbal it is a wake-up call for him to realize and re-evaluate his life. So you cannot get attached to what that character feels about some issues. You have to pull yourself away and be him, but you know you’re being somebody else. It is not you. So it never changed, neither Ramon’s in The Sea Inside or Uxbal, my idea of death.
But this being said, we all understand things intellectually. We hear the news, we see the news, we read the papers, we see people on the street and we understand the world. The actor has the obligation to experience it which is to say it’s very lucky for us to have had the chance, for me the actor, of being in that place, pretending that because in pretending, I was able to be there for real. So it’s not that I know how he feels, but I know that experience in a very emotional way which is different from knowing intellectually.
How do you maintain the emotional intensity over a five month shoot?
JB: I don’t know. I don’t know how you do it. I did it. I don’t know how to do it. Do you know what I mean?
Did it help that it was chronological?
JB: That helped a lot, otherwise it would have been too crazy to be able to go through that journey randomly. That was one of the great luxuries of this shooting that I knew that from A to B I had it all set with me. The whole crew, everyone was doing the journey together.
What are your feelings on the dark themes and the hope in Inarritu’s film?
JB: We are speaking a different language here. This is not a movie so easy to translate. It’s not. That’s his work. It’s not an easy movie to say it’s about this and then you take home this other thing. It’s more deep than that. You need to see it. You need to make the journey with it. You need to really have the courage to make the journey. And you take the journey ephemerally you’re going to bring back with you a lot of good things. But if I name them, that will downsize the journey itself.
What was it like working with Inarritu?
JB: He’s one of the greatest directors of all time. I mean, he is. The way he films, the way he puts together the filming because you have to have talent to film and also to put it together. That’s what I meant also as an actor’s director, you can tear apart your heart in pieces but if the camera is not in the right place, it doesn’t matter. He knows where to put the camera, he knows how to hold a silence, he knows how to put the music in the right place. He knows how to cut, where to cut and that helps you to have the best of your performance out there. That’s how good he is.
How do you approach this character as good or bad?
JB: I see it as a human being. I see it as a human being. I don’t believe in stereotypes. I don’t believe. I played a stereotype in Vicky Cristina Barcelona but it was a fun one and it was very well written. Behind the stereotype was something true which is the misery of him and the need of him and the childish behavior. Most of the time stereotypes are only that. There’s no behind the scenes. The world is different. The world, we are right and wrong at least 20 times a day. All of us, that’s life. This is one of them. So as an actor you can’t judge. A great actress from Spain, Victoria Abril said, “We the actors are lawyers of the characters we play. We have to defend them no matter what.”
Has the film changed how you view living in cities?
JB: Yeah, it’s Barcelona but it’s also the rest of the world. It’s L.A. No, I try to be up when I go to places to see different sides. In L.A. it’s difficult though because every time I come here is like an office. I come here to work and I go back home, so I see the L.A. that we all know but sometimes I get to get to downtown and see the L.A. that is not in the papers. Or maybe in the papers here but not in the papers around the world.
With Barcelona it was the same. Spain is my country. I smell things in a different way because I know. I know the language, I know the culture, I know the place and I knew about all those things but it was only until I got the chance to be in those situations, those people, those real places where I was saying before, it’s where the experience of being conscious of something instead of the intellectual aspect of it. It goes to the emotional level. When you are in an emotional level of an experience, that experience is read differently. It’s like we understand how bad things could be.
Well, until the moment you are there, when you feel it, you go like, “F***, this is bad.” Or good. How good it would be to be a millionaire. Then you win the lottery and you’re a millionaire and then you’re f***ed. Then a lot of those people you were mentioning would come to you, unreliable people.
How do you pick your characters?
JB: I don’t know, it happens. It’s like you feel driven. Okay, this is interesting. As I said, it’s less about playing one side kind of people rather than multi-layered people because that’s what I think the world is about. Also, I played No Country For Old Men which is only one side kind of people but the challenge there was I played it because it was the Coen Brothers in Cormac McCarthy’s book. I knew I was going to be protected and safe. It was not going to be a bang bang movie. It was something that would be translated for example in the Tommy Lee Jones characters’ last monologue he has about what do we do with this violence?
When violence is lack of meaning, if violence has any meaning at all, then it’s unstoppable because we cannot cut it from the roots because we don’t know where the roots are. But, even though I knew that I had to play one color kind of guy but full of many other things that cannot be seen, but it has to be felt.
Would you do another movie with the Coens?
JB: I would love to. I had great fun. I hate them but I had fun. They hurt me. Everybody thinks it was a wig. It was [my hair]. This is more attractive.
When are you going to do Glee?
JB: I don’t know. I don’t know. I talked to Ryan and Ryan seems to be very excited about the idea but that was a long time ago.
Can a comedic happy performance be as intense?
JB: Yes, there have been. Peter Sellers. He’s a great actor. He’s really deep. He’s really deep in his humor but he’s really deep. He’s not like fun fun. There’s a human being always in the performances, broken in some way that allows us to have a good laughter, but it’s a human being.
Check out Javier Bardem in Biutiful in theaters December 30th!