Appearing at both the Venice Film Festival and the Toronto Film Festival with two films—Loving Pablo, from Spanish writer/director Fernando León de Aranoa, and Darren Aronofsky’s menacing Mother!Javier Bardem is having a banner year. Carrying the desire to portray infamous Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar for two decades, the actor finally got his chance with the former film.

Starring Bardem and Penélope Cruz—and based on a memoir by Virginia Vallejo titled Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar—the film displays Escobar as he has never quite been seen before, couched in Vallejo’s perspective about her long-term romantic relationship with the mythologized criminal. “We’ve been thinking about doing this project for several years. Actually, the first conversation about Pablo Escobar and the story that the film is dealing with came maybe even 10, 12 years ago, but it was like four years ago when, for the first time, we made the decision of doing this film, and I started working on the script,” Aranoa explained, sitting down opposite Bardem at Deadline’s Toronto Studio. “I think it’s a passion project for both of us—we’ve always been very interested in the real story of Pablo Escobar, and I think that what triggered this last stage, and the writing of the script, is when we found the right point of view for the story, which is the point of view of Virgina Vallejo, the journalist who had a long-term relationship with him.”

Known for bringing a brilliant, specific physicality to his characters—most memorably, No Country For Old Men‘s cold-blooded killer Anton Chigurh—Bardem brought the same thoughtful approach to his portrayal of Escobar. “The very first time I approached the character, the first thing that struck me the most was his physicality, and his contradiction, in terms of energy and action,” Bardem says. “He was a very low energy person—he was not anxious. In some ways, you could call it even passive towards a lot of situations. At the same time, he was capable of doing the most horrible things in the meantime. So that dichotomy always interested me.”

Waiting for his chance to play Escobar—and seeing so many tellings of the drug lord’s story over the years, including Netflix’s Narcos, which recently returned for its third season—Bardem had plenty of time to think about what his take on the man would be, and plenty of materials to look to as inspiration. “I read not only [Vallejo’s] memoirs, but also many other books, and I also saw [a lot of] footage about Pablo Escobar. That’s a gift that you have when you’re going to portray somebody real,” the actor reflects. “I would say it was 1998 when I first started to approach the character of Pablo Escobar as somebody that I would like to portray one day. I’ve been digesting that character for many, many years until I got to the choice of playing him.”

For more of Deadline’s conversation with Javier Bardem and Loving Pablo director Fernando León de Aranoa, click above.

Deadline Studio at TIFF 2017 is presented by Calii LoveWatford GroupPhilosophy Canada, and Equinox. Special thanks to Dan Gunam at Calii Love for location and production assistance; and Ontario Camera for equipment assistance. Video producer: Meaghan Gable; lighting and camera: Neil Hansen; design: Dialla Kawar; sound recording: Ida Jokinen.