Javier Bardem addressed a packed Salle Bunuel on Friday as part of the Cannes Film Festival’s 75th birthday celebrations. Dressed down, relaxed and very, very funny, the actor addressed a wide range of topics in a Q&A that covered a lot of ground, from his marriage to Penélope Cruz to his experience on the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
Asked about Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming Dune sequel, he was surprisingly forthcoming. “I’ve read the new draft,” he said, “and I think they’ve done an amazing job of putting together the pieces in a way that is gonna surprise people. They won’t be surprised [by what happens], obviously, because they’ve read the book, but they’ll be surprised by the way they put it together. I was very moved by it. It’s a movie that is full, and you can feel the weight of it, and at the same time [you can enjoy] the spectacularity of it. [I can’t wait] to go back to the desert with those people, and I’m so happy to go back with Denis, who is one of the greatest directors ever. He’s a lovely man.”
Asked to cast his mind back to the early days, Bardem, a four-time Oscar nominee and winner for playing Anton Chigurh in the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men, pointed out that he made his debut at a time when celluloid was the norm. “I was 20 years old and life was different,” he said, “and also the way of making movies was different. Movies were an event, an event that would open in a theater and might last for a year if it went well. Today, the most a movie can last onscreen is a month-and-a-half or two months. So we live in a different time of speed and lack of—I don’t know—some kind of attention [span], because we have so many choices to put our attention to that it’s hard to define just one.
“But when I started, it was different. You would do a role and you would spend the whole time preparing that role, and you would do the movie. It was a sacred thing, and then it would open and it would create a climate—it would mean something. Now, we are going so fast, and I feel sorry for the people who are starting out now. I don’t know what it means to be trying to make movies today as an actor, or director, or producer, or writer, because the rhythm is so different from where I started. So what I remember the most from those days is the pace. It was a different pace.”
As for his craft, Bardem revealed that his process is much like any other actor’s. “Well, I guess that every actor’s dream is to erase themselves into their character,” he mused. “I don’t think that can ever happen. Some people say they’ve done it, but it never happened to me. But even if it doesn’t happen, that’s the aim. That’s what you’re aiming for when you play a role: to try to find the psychology and the behavior and personality traits that makes that person unique. That’s the part of my job that I love so much.”
To illustrate his point, Bardem explained that is also a budding artist and avid people-watcher. “I also like to draw,” he said, “and I always draw faces—faces and bodies. I’m not interested in landscapes. I like expressions. I like the eyes. I’m addicted to seeing people’s behavior on the street. Obviously, it’s hard for me sometimes, because people recognize me, but with a mask on [they don’t]. The only good thing about the f*cking pandemic sh*t is that I can have a mask on—and then I can watch them!”
When the interview went to audience questions, there was an audible intake of breath at the mention of Sean Penn’s 2016 Cannes Competition entry The Last Face, a critically panned love story in which Bardem played a relief worker. Luckily, the actor burst into a smile.
“It was a disaster!” he beamed. “But, let me tell you, it was a great disaster. It’s good to come to a festival like Cannes and be booed and be reminded that what we do can be horrific, because otherwise we think of ourselves too highly. I have my own idea about what that movie was. We worked hard on making that movie—I haven’t done any movie where people didn’t work hard. But it was a missed [opportunity]. I mean, it was a [misfire] of a movie, in my opinion. People saw that, people shared that, and the whole rules of the festival changed after that. Right? Now [critics] cannot post reviews on the same day of the opening, because the opening of that movie that day was like a funeral. But I was laughing. I was like, ‘Yes—this is what it is to make movies.’ Sometimes you do No Country for Old Men, sometimes you do [a film like] this one, and it is not important whether it’s great or bad. You keep on doing what you need to do. I mean, it’s like life.”
Unusually outspoken for a famous actor, Bardem put that fact down to his upbringing. “I guess I was born into it,” he said. “My mom was very [politically] active, and my uncle, and I saw that when I was little, so I guess it comes [naturally] with me. Sometimes it creates enemies, but it’s fine to have enemies. It’s OK to have opposition, otherwise it’s impossible to grow up. It’s good to have conflict—life is conflict. I am comfortable with the idea of having an opinion rather than shutting up, especially today. [People] are very sensitive about everything, and to have an opinion today is very risky. But I think we have to have opinions about things, because otherwise there is no discussion.”