Javier Bardem’s first acting job was at the age of six, but his career has heated up since the mid-1980s not only in a number of notable films in his native Spain for such directors as Pedro Almodovar but now as a full-fledged international star. Nominated twice for Oscars, first in 2000 for Before Night Falls and then winning Best Supporting Actor in 2007 for No Country For Old Men, Bardem has an impressive list of credits including The Sea Inside, Vicky Christina Barcelona, and earlier this year in Eat Pray Love. But his most challenging role to date is as a man whose life is in freefall in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Biutiful and now has earned him Best Actor nominations for Spain’s Goya, England’s BAFTA, and his third nod for an Oscar. It returns him to Spanish languageIt returns him to Spanish language filmmaking and won him Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival. Although the film’s uncompromisingly depressing subject matter scared off potential distributors at first, Roadside Attractions eventually picked up the movie for the U.S. market and released it on January 29:
DEADLINE: This is the first time you worked with Alejandro and it is a challenging role in every way imaginable. What was it that made you want to get involved?
JAVIER BARDEM: First of all, I am a very huge fan of his prior films. But I read it like three times in a row before I said yes. Because I knew that what he was proposing to me was not a performance. It was proposing me a life journey. And I called him after the third reading, and I said well, ‘I don’t know if I can achieve all of this, but, I’ll try. Let’s get daring,. Let’s see how we end up.’ And it was a different scenario, where with any other script you go, hmm, yes, I like it. This was not the case of that.
DEADLINE: I talked to Alejandro and he said the whole experience of making this movie nearly killed him and nearly killed you.
BARDEM: Whoa, I don’t know about the killing, but there were moments where you have to put yourself at risk emotionally and psychologically and physically. And this was the biggest in my 23 years of acting. This was the biggest case of that, of putting yourself in a place where you really have to deal with a lot which is why we do this job. But it’s worth it.
DEADLINE: What would you say about the major contradictions in this complex character you are playing and how difficult it was to weave that?
BARDEM: There are many things going on at the same time. But the core of the movie is his relationship with those two kids. And what he wants those kids to have is a legacy. And there’s a physical need, which is to feed them, and there’s also a psychological, emotional, and spiritual need of something that will stay with them forever. And all this against the background of a world that is thoroughly upside down that he himself has created, actually. So that contradiction is always the thing. You have to play someone that really is not bad or good. He’s a person who is trying to do his best in the worst moment of all. And that was very well written and explained and exposed in the script. And I’m always saying that when you have a good character, a really well written character, you have 50% of a good performance. So the other 50% is about you putting that in flesh and bone.
DEADLINE: Did you shoot this in sequence because of all the physical transformations?
BARDEM: Thank god it was shot chronologically. Because otherwise it would have been impossible. It was five months of shooting and that was a long time to live with this.
DEADLINE: And how did you lose the weight to show how this man is disintegrating?
BARDEM: It’s about sacrifice. It’s about putting in the effort. That’s something that you have to do because it’s on the page. This guy has to look thinner, so, OK, then you start to run and eat chicken all the time. I mean, you have to have a strong will in order to lose weight, but you have to have a great makeup artist, too. That’s not something that has to do with talent at all.
DEADLINE: There are people who will resist seeing Biutiful because it goes to such dark places.
BARDEM: This is not a movie that you like or don’t like. It’s a movie that offers you a journey. And I respect that some people may be ready and some may not. And I perfectly understand both sides. And I think that, if you ask me, it is worth it. Why? Because this is like a Greek tragedy: it’s about how the gods are trying always to stress the human beings to find their own strength. I believe in human beings first of all, and I believe that there can be generosity, and that’s what the payback of the movie is. If you look beyond the strokes, you see the soul. And the soul of this movie, I think, is a brilliant one.
DEADLINE: How much was winning the Oscar for No Country For Old Men a big deal for you?
BARDEM: It is a great deal for many reasons. First of all, because you feel honored by your colleagues and that’s huge. It’s like they are embracing you, telling you, ‘yes, keep on going.’ Also it’s a great chance for you to celebrate it with the people that really helped you to be who you are, which are friends and family. And express your gratitude to all of them, and thank them for doing what they’ve done to make you be what you are in that moment. This being said, you really need to put the value of it in perspective. Any award is a lottery. It depends on so many things. One prize doesn’t make you a better actor at all, and one bad review doesn’t make you a worse actor. So you have to be a little bit careful with all of the ups and downs, because none of those are real. The only real thing is to keep on doing what you do for the reasons you think are worth doing it. And sometimes it’s difficult because you get lost, and awards can be one of the things that get you lost.
DEADLINE: But it would be helpful for Biutiful to get that kind of attention.
BARDEM: Yes, of course, of course it will. But again, it won’t make the movie better. It will help the movie to be seen. And yes, this is a movie that is a very special piece of work that demands attention. It’s not something that you go to see and eat popcorn, get out, and say, ‘well, yes, I enjoyed that.’ No, this is a different thing. The recognition that comes with being awarded brings more people to the movie. It also makes the movie more talked about so that when people enter the movie theater they know what they are going to see and they want to make the trek.