INTERVIEW WITH ALEJANDRO AMENABAR:
How long did you work on this story before shooting the film?
About two or three years. I heard about the story in the 90s but I never thought about making the movie. It was interesting and a very famous case in Spain, but when I researched more about Ramóns personal life, I found all these stories that surrounded him, all these women falling in love with him, and at that moment I decided to make the movie. I thought he would make a fascinating character.
What has been the reaction of his family to the movie?
We approached them and at first they were kind of reluctant. I hadnt written the script yet and wanted to know what they thought about the idea. I wasnt sure about making the real story or just being inspired by it. But the more I researched, the more impressed I was by the real story and decided to use the real names. The family members were very supportive and told me all their stories, but I tried to have different perspectives, not only the familys but Lola Dueñas, the woman from the village that Rosa is based on, and some friends of Ramóns. All of them said he had an incredible sense of humor, so these were things that I needed in the character.
Whats the reaction been from the handicapped community?
[Theres] more impact by the church because of the scene with the priest. But I was very aware of disabled people when writing because I tried to put myself in his position and thought about what I would want to do with my life. I think I wouldnt want to die, but I think Ramón was right when he said his life belonged to him. So I didnt want any disabled person to feel offended by the movie.
Its not like saying to people you have to kill yourselves because youre a burden. I wanted to leave that very clear in the movie. Its about a personal question, and I think we show both paths to life. It would be unfair to encourage disabled or old people to die, and to force people who were insane and depressed and to tell them you have to go on living against your will.
How did you choose Javier Bardem?
It was my producers suggestion. I really wanted to work with him but I never thought this would be a character for him, basically because hes 35 and the character is in his 50s. I thought it was a bad idea for someone younger to play someone older. In a film in which I want to play the work of actors and actresses, I want it to be absolutely realistic. I dont want anything to disturb the audience. But hes the best actor in Spain so I told him what he should think about it, to feel confident about playing someone in his 50s. It took him a few weeks to make up his mind, and of course, we knew that we needed very good makeup.
Was he enthusiastic once he got into the film?
Yes, he fell in love with the character. We had several interviews to make sure how the character was. I know he had a problem building the character, because Ramón doesnt evolve. Hes like rock, the people evolve around him. That, for an actor, is difficult to perform because thats almost unbelievable for the audience. So when he realized that the big psychological and philosophical journey for Ramón had taken place in that place, he was able to perform that state of mind, very peaceful, very relaxed.
What was your shooting time and budget?
12 weeks - $9 mil final shooting script. I started researching in the summer and had a script by the end of the year. We did rewrites but used that version of the script. We were sure from the beginning what each character meant in the story.
Did the set have the feel of the theater?
Yeah, that was an obsession for me. I didnt want the story to feel like a play, and considering Ramón, who refused to move from his bed, [that] created a problem. It wasnt about just moving the camera, we needed to move the perception of the audience, and that was in the script already. Every time the writer, Mateo Gil and I felt trapped in that room, we found a way to focus on some other character, maybe only for a few minutes so the audience would feel like they were in a different place, so it was psychological.
I was very concerned about it. After writing the script we made sure we would have different places than the room. Also, everything in this story took me to a journey somehow. When you think about death and life, life is a journey and life for Ramón had been a journey when he was young. He was a sailor and traveled around the world, which was something that really shocked me. I wanted to keep that concept of journey in the story.