Uxbal is just the latest in a long line of difficult characters Bardem's tackled in his career. He's played a quadriplegic fighting for the right to end his life with dignity in The Sea Inside and a hired killer who has the peculiar habit of flipping a coin to decide whether he lets potential victims live in the Coen brothers' take on the Cormac McCarthy novel, No Country for Old Men. Bardem's not afraid of digging deep and embracing unique characters, and he delivers a truly mesmerizing performance in Biutiful.
At the LA press day for the Roadside Attractions film, Bardem sat down with reporters to discuss getting into the character, the appeal of the project, and his co-stars.
Javier Bardem Biutiful Roundtable InterviewOn what attracted him to Biutiful:
Javier Bardem: "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."
"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."
On comedic performances being as intense as dramatic performances:
Javier Bardem: "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 laugh, but it’s a human being."
Did this performance make you see life differently?
Javier Bardem: "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 wakeup 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."
On his approach to this conflicted, complicated character:
Javier Bardem: "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, ll 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.'"
On shooting the film chronologically:
Javier Bardem: "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."
On working with a variety of actors who are newcomers to feature films:
Javier Bardem: No one was pro there except my brother, the policeman, my wife were pros. The rest were not. How does it feel? It’s one of those things where you know that the actress who’s playing Ige, which is a hairdresser from Madrid, it was the first time she was in front of a camera. When she’s talking about the things that she’s talking about, you know that she’s talking about herself. She spent three years without seeing her kid when she was in Africa and she was talking to me, to all of us about all the struggle she has to go through every day. So when you’re listening to that and you know that she’s portraying that, you as an actor have to stop pretending and listen, be open. So it really helps you also to be in the right place."
On working with Maricel Alvarez who plays his ex-wife in Biutiful:
Javier Bardem: "She was an Argentine actress that it was the first time she did a movie. She was very nervous but she did a great job and amazingly well because she’s the opposite. She’s very clear and rational and very healthy, mentally and emotionally, and physically was very healthy. Then they would say action and she would turn into this monster. It was great."
"Good actors are good actors, whatever they are, under the water or flying in the sky. It doesn’t matter if it’s TV, theater, circus, movies. I had the chance to work with some of the best ones at this point. Relationship is based on pain - pain and passion. We know that all these extreme situations are not real. I mean, they’re real for a moment but they cannot sustain a relationship. That’s the whole failure of this relationship. But I think you said that, it’s true, like a Greek tragedy that is pulling this person in a very strong circumstance for him to overcome them and find grace. By grace, we understood compassion, forgiveness, love, empathy."
On the dark themes and the hope in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s film:
Javier Bardem: "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. "
On working with writer/director Inarritu:
Javier Bardem: "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."
Would he do another movie with the Coen brothers?:
Javier Bardem: "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. [Indicating his current hairstyle] This is more attractive."