My time spent talking with actor Javier Bardem ranks high on my list of favorite interviews. The man is gracious, humble, passionate, and extremely well-spoken. No matter what question I threw at him, Bardem was able to wax eloquent in a language in which he's only recently become fluent.
In this exclusive interview, Bardem discusses working with John Malkovich, his personal techniques for getting into character, and what he looks for in a script.
What research did you do for your role as a police officer?
Basically, it's based on a true character so what I did was try to get as much information as I could in order to try to understand the character. I read a lot of books about the time, about those times in Peru. There was a moment where I had to stop researching the character and start working with John Malkovich, the director, and creating the character. I had a lot of information already and we had to be able to make that information work out.
Is it more difficult to play a role when it's based upon a real person?
Yes, it always is because in a sense you feel responsible for trying not to betray that person, and what his life was, and also not betray the people who knew him - especially when you are playing a contemporary character like this one. If you are playing Chopin, you don't have that problem. But if you are playing a man from the 80s, somebody is going to watch your work and try to figure out if you are right or wrong, because maybe he knew him, you know?
Do you worry more about portraying the physical side of the character or the emotional side? What is it you look for first when you are taking on a character based on a real person?
The most important thing is to try to find the essence of that character, the thing that goes within himself and motivates him to move, to react. That's the thing I have to really figure out. It's also really important to construct his body language. Every one of us has a unique body language, which is very particular. That's what I have to pay attention to.
Your character seems so happily married, yet he's attracted to this other woman. How do you justify that part of the character and how difficult is it to portray those feelings?
I think that at any moment life can come to you and surprise you. And once you feel that your life is under control and that your life is already all set, somebody can come into your life and create chaos. That is very easy to happen. The thing that I did was try to imagine the situation where you can really love two people. We are not talking about here the moral aspect, we are talking about here the human being that cannot control what they feel for the person. Once you are in there, you are in trouble because even if your mind is telling you what you should do, your heart doesn't respond to that command. You are divided between what you are and what you should be. The struggle within is a huge struggle, it's a painful struggle, but it's normal and it can happen to all of us.
Could you relate to this character?
Yes, some parts. I am a man who tries as I can to construct my surroundings, to make them as peaceful and healthy as possible. In that sense, I related to him. And also, he's a man who is always attached to find the truth. Me, as an actor and as a person, I cannot avoid to be attached to the truth in order to be a better actor and be a better person. So in those two things, we are related. The rest, no because if I were him, I would have failed in the sense of not being able to control the amount of pressure that he's living with. I'm weaker than him.