director Alejandro González Iñárritu is a very demanding filmmaker
and takes long time to make a movie. Thankfully he has found a very
compliant actor in Academy Award winner Javier
Bardem – one who effectively immersed himself in the
character of Uxbal and sustained him while working nearly half a
year to finish the controversial
And now that
role has garnered him another Oscar nomination.
Uxbal is a tragic character, a father of two with a bi-polar
ex-wife, who straddles the line between villain and good-guy; he
conceals that he is terminally ill with cancer while trying to cope
with his impending conclusion. He struggles with a tainted life, a
fate that works against him and an effort to both forgive and be
Bardem can be a surprising actor not just because he is the
handsome, charismatic Spaniard he is known to be but for how
villainous and conflicted he can become with the right character as
the framework for his imagination. Take his Oscar-winning
performance as killer Anton Chigurh in the Coen brothers' No
Country for Old Men. It's about as different a character From
Uxbal as can be, but yet both are distinct and compelling in their
the 41-year-old husband of Penelope Cruz defied expectations and
turns in a performance that prompts unqualified praise even though
the film has accrued mixed critical reaction. So when he came to New
York to do a few interviews and roundtables before all the award
noms and birth of his child, he detailed his experience making this
Alejandro tell you he wrote this material for you?
Yeah, he told
me that; he's a very wise man. He said, "I wrote this with you in my
mind, but you are free to decline it." There is a lot of pressure
when [someone] tells you that they wrote this with you in mind. I'm
like, "Oh, I cannot say no to this.” But he's wise and said, "You
can do it and somebody else can do it also. But I would like you to
I read it and
am a huge fan of his work; some of the greatest actors of all time
have worked with him and have done some of their best work with him.
So as an actor I was really interested in the process of how this
man brings out some of the best performances of some of the best
I know why.
It's working really hard and putting you against the wall in a good
way. He works hard. He doesn't stop. The material and what he
proposes to you is a life journey. It's not a performance. It's
like, "Do you want to jump in with me or not? You decide." I decided
I would among many other things because of the things that I was
talking to you about, that this is worth it. This for me is worth
making for people to see.
affected you deeply...
In many ways.
It was a long shoot, about five months. On a movie set you always
have to be in tension. You have to create something yourself where
you are totally aware, but also create a relaxation in that
awareness. Otherwise, you'll be a very tense actor. But you can't
lose the track because you never know when they are ready to shoot.
To be in that
state for so long with such heavy material was exhausting. Although,
I lost myself in a very dramatic [way], but it's just that you feel
yourself disappearing more and more from who you know you are – from
what you know you are – and are becoming more the person you
That's not to
say that I was suffering what he suffered. I'm not him. But it is to
say that there was no room for something else… other than being him.
And because you're portraying somebody in a movie like this – who
goes through so many personal, emotional, heavy journeys – there's
no way that you can escape, to be honest. So [I made] the
transformation from being an actor trying to pretend to be someone
else to becoming that person for a good three months.
But I'm not
him. Thank God, I'm not. Yet there's no way or I don't know a way to
portray him without putting yourself in that place. That's what we
[actors] do; that's our job. Some characters are easier [like the
one I played in] Eat Pray Love. You go there, have fun and
you do the tone of the movie; some others are different. Some are
the ones that really leave marks on your skin and this is one. It's
for sure the hardest that I've done.
this chronologically and with the length of the shoot, what did that
take out of you all?
me in the very beginning that it was going to be chronological and I
thank him for that because it would be a mess otherwise. It would be
impossible. There's a very well described arc that has to happen and
it sustains little details.
something big going on which is the disease and the effect that it
has in the mind, body and soul, but also little details of behavior
that have to do with the chronological order of being affected by
that. It's a great luxury for any actor, but I couldn't imagine
doing this any other way. I don't know if it would've been
impossible; it would've been extremely difficult for everybody.
for that period of time. It seems like an exhausting thing, working
on it for five months...
What is there
to say? It is. It's the longest movie I've done so far. It has to be
How do you
get out of that role after being with it for so long?
When they said, "Okay, wrap it up" and you say, "Okay. What do I do
with this now?" You have to let it go [over] time. There are certain
roles, like, when I did Before Night Falls or The Sea
Inside, based on real people, great human beings, both of them
in different ways, but great people. They sacrificed their lives in
order to say something to somebody, to all of us actually and when
they said wrap it up, I had to do a process of letting go.
In a way I was
calling them towards me in spirit and they showed up. Beyond my
belief or not, it's about that. It's about something that I felt,
like, "Okay, he's here and he allows me to do it." Sometimes I felt
like, "What would he think?" When those things are going on and
you're in love with them for what they represent it's hard to say
goodbye, but it's also a nice thing because it's like, "Thank you
for allowing me to be you." In this case it was different. It was
like we created this out of nothing, out of nowhere and it's
difficult to detach from something that you have created because it
has a lot of you in there. When I do Before Night Falls or
The Sea Inside there's [a real person] in there. This was a
with Argentine performance artist Maricel Álvarez who played your
wife. How did she influence your character and what you ended up
doing with him?
opposite [to her character]. She's very healthy in every way.
Alejandro and I had a lot of actresses from Spain read for that
role. We put ourselves in a room for hours and hours, days and days
and some of the greatest actresses in Spain showed up and did a
great job. But this character is not a simple one. You have to
really be able to go on an emotional rollercoaster that easy. From
one second to the next, she is a different person. It's based
unfortunately on a real disease, bipolar.
All of them
did a great job and then she showed up, the last one. Actually
Alejandro thought that we were going to stop the whole process and
give ourselves a good two or three months to keep on searching,
looking for the actress. She was the last hope. She showed up and
she did the scene and we were both like shaking. She hadn't done a
movie before but who cares. She's an amazing actress and her
approach to it was amazing. It was like a tennis game, throwing the
ball to each other.
change your approach to the role because of her performance?
No, I think
all actors are the same. We want always to create somebody else. The
way to get to that is different in everybody, in each person, but
the object is always the same for everybody. I'm talking about
people who really want to do that. Some people don't care and that's
fine. They do great jobs, but this is not the movie
How was it
working with the two kids who play your children?
That was the
first time they were on a movie set. Alejandro and I talked very
seriously [with them]. One of the most serious things that we took
in this movie was, "We have to protect those kids. We want to make
sure that those kids know in every moment that we're doing fiction"
because they're going to see things. They're going to have images
like their parents having a fight with one son in the middle being
pulled off. That's hard for a six year old.
exhausting because the director and I tried to give a lot of
attention to that, but he was directing which is a lot of things.
That's why I'm not a director. He has to answer so many questions. I
was with the kids, trying to be there, playing with them, doing kid
things, throwing the ball and then he would say action and we would
get into the fiction.
They would do
it so easily and so well it made me think, "That's the way to go."
That's the way it should be, but it was hard for me because I had to
be on both sides.
to be a fight with my wife. It's going to be a fucking hard scene
and I have the feeling that it's going to be... But you have to
create that fiction. At the same time you're doing this for them.
That was very exhausting so when I saw the kids on set I was like,
At the same
time it was very rewarding because – I don't know – the purity of
them, of how they played the game without any weight on it. It was
like, "Thank you," because they taught you how to do it.
physically transform throughout this movie or did you take time off
to lose the weight?
It was a lot
of diet, exercise, but also a lot of shooting that really makes you
feel like losing weight.
parts of the city that you went into that enhanced the character for
Yeah. I live
in Spain. I live in Madrid. Barcelona is like Madrid, London, Paris,
or New York. It's not only in Barcelona these things happen. They
happen all around, but I have awareness. I had awareness of how the
world is going on in those cities about immigration and all these
illegal factories that are treating people like modern slaves, but
hear it. You see it from a distance. You read about it. In this case
you are obliged to live with it and so I spent, like, a good month
in those places with those people, talking to them and what is more
important, listening to them.
becomes personal, an emotional rather than an intellectual
experience. That's the difference between having comprehension about
an issue and really being affected by it. So of course after the
movie my awareness of the whole ambiance of those worlds was much
more powerful. I wasn't surprised because there are a lot of things
going on in the backyard of any big town and Barcelona is no
different from that.
want to get more involved with these people and help them in their
It's not that
easy. How do you help people that are really in the middle of...?
No, in the bottom of their existence because we don't allow them to
have sometimes even the rights to express. So it's not something...
You can do things, but it's about putting, for example, this movie
out there and making people realize that there is something that we
have to pay attention to which is the world that we create.
I think our
very comfortable way of life has constructed or is based in the
misery of a lot of people. Just the awareness of it means a lot to
them and this movie is important for that among many other things,
but for me, for everybody.
For me it's
important to put this out there. People in Barcelona or Spain, or in
the world [at large] will see that behind those numbers that show up
in the paper are people.
people with needs and it's important for them to see that Uxbal, a
Spanish person, goes through the same problem of necessity as a
person from Senegal. So in the end they are both the same. It's not
about color or race or origin. It's about people.
sleep for a year after making this film?
Yeah, I did.