Actor Javier Bardem

Oscar-winning actor explains why it was a scary proposition when he learned that the director had only him in mind for the lead role in the new film Biutiful.

Javier Bardem was a major star in his native Spain long before earning international acclaim. He initially wanted to be a painter, but eventually went into the family business—he's the youngest in a family of actors. For his role in Before Night Falls, he became the first Spanish actor ever to receive an Oscar nod and went on to become the first Spaniard to win an acting statuette in a non-foreign language film category (No Country for Old Men). Bardem was awarded "Best Actor" at the Cannes Film Festival for his performance in the new release Biutiful.


Tavis: Pleased to welcome Javier Bardem back to this program. In 2008 he took home the Oscar for best supporting actor for his role in the Cohn Brothers Film “No Country for Old Men,” just one of the many notable roles during his career.
His latest film is called “Biutiful,” which is now playing in select cities. Here now, some scenes from “Biutiful,” and no, I did not spell the word – that’s how it’s spelled, so play the clip. (Laughter)
Tavis: I had to mention up top that the movie has an interesting spelling to it, because we have a very, very, very, very bright audience here at PBS, and I’ll get 2,000 emails – “Negro, that ain’t how you spell ‘beautiful.'” (Laughter) I will hear about it 20,000 times.
So anyway, it is an interesting spelling of the title, but a beautiful film, so congratulations.
Javier Bardem: Thank you so much, Tavis.
Tavis: Speaking of congrats, I’ll just say this and leave it here – so much has happened to you in your world, as everybody knows, since you and she were last on this program, so let me just say, congratulations once, you got me?
Bardem: Thank you.
Tavis: And congratulations for the other thing.
Bardem: Thank you.
Tavis: You got me?
Bardem: Yes, I got you. Thank you so much.
Tavis: Okay. Is that okay? I’ll leave it at that.
Bardem: Of course, thank you.
Tavis: Okay. (Laughter) So double congratulations. That said, in the years I’ve been hosting this program I’ve had a chance to talk to some great actors, yourself included, and her as well, and everybody in this town gets turned on by a character that has complexity. Everybody wants to play a multidimensional, complex character. You got your wish this time around. It’s really a complex character.
Bardem: It is, because it’s – I think all the actors want the same thing, which is to have the chance to portray somebody that is real. Anything reality is very complex. There’s not one straight line. That’s why I’m not that interested in people that fly, some kind of superpowers. I don’t see myself doing that. (Laughs)
Tavis: You like these characters with these multiple layers.
Bardem: Yes, because like in “Biutiful,” this man has to really face his own end and that involves reevaluation of his life, of himself, and that is complex for everybody. But also, that is the chance for him to bring the best and the worst of himself, and face it. I think those characters are the ones who really – it speaks a lot, not only to the actor but to the people that sees it.
Tavis: So since you opened this door, I’m going to follow you in. How does playing a character who has to, over a period of time, reevaluate his own life while he’s dealing – I don’t want to give the storyline too much away – while he’s dealing with a particular health challenge? What does that say, how does that speak to Javier Bardem, since you suggested that it did.
Bardem: It speaks in the way that when you are facing that, when you are holding that emotional state for five months and sometimes six days per week and 12 hours per day, there’s a moment where there’s a click that you really become him. There’s no way you can escape out of that.
So the performance is really about trying to put yourself out of the way and be as honest as you can be, and that involves some emotional journey for yourself. This is not a performer. This is like a life journey that I had with Alejandro, the director – we both had.
That’s the challenge. The challenge is not only to do it, but to be able to get out of it, and I’m here today, thank God (laughter), talking to you about it.
Tavis: Yeah, you did get out safely. To your point now, though, is it the case in your career or has it been the case in your career thus far that you play characters, not just characters that you enjoy, not just characters you had fun with, but characters that for the rest of your life do, in fact, speak to you, change you? Put another way, have you played characters that are life-altering for you?
Bardem: Totally. I don’t think – not in my case – that movies or characters can really change the world, but it can take you to a different place, for you to see it from a different perspective and go back to your own self with a new – with some new answers to things, to issues that you knew intellectually but you didn’t have the chance to experience it.
The actor has the possibility to really live different lives, and that, I think, is great to grow up as a person with less judgmental thing, where they’re having more empathy to the things, to the people, because you’ve seen the world from different points of view, not only yours. That’s one of the greatest gifts of being an actor, I think.
Tavis: Must be awfully special when a writer/director comes to you and tells you, “I wrote this character specifically for you. You are the only person in the world who I had in mind when I wrote this particular piece.” That’s what happened for you on this piece, so tell me more about the character and why you think you were the guy that they thought could pull this off.
Bardem: Well, I don’t know. He told me that and that was very scary, because you don’t want to say no to that. (Laughter) It was like (unintelligible).
Tavis: Maybe it’s a sales pitch.
Bardem: Exactly. (Laughs)
Tavis: They pull you in – “You’re the only person in the whole world who I was thinking about when I did this. You must do this.”
Bardem: Exactly. (Laughter) But I think the character really is about a man who has to see himself in the mirror and face and embrace what he is, what he has done until that moment, and to realize what’s the legacy he wants to give to those children of his for the future in a very extreme situation.
So it’s a very internal journey of a man, and I think the audience – I know, because I’ve been in theaters with people – the way they respond to the material is very powerful, because they have an emotional journey with the character. It’s not a movie where you go and say, “Mm, I liked it.”
It’s like the director and me as an actor, we proposed both is take the audience from the hand and really make them do a journey with us. I think it’s very rewarding, because at the end what people want to do when they come out of the theater is to really go and run to the loved ones and hug them and kiss them and be grateful for what they are and for what they have.
That’s a beautiful feeling, because sometimes we are so lost in the rush of things that we don’t realize how important is what we are living in this very moment. I think that’s the legacy of the movie.
Tavis: Spain is about as beautiful a country as you’ll find anywhere on the planet; Barcelona as beautiful a city as you’ll ever want to find anywhere on the planet, and yet this film shows me a very seedy side of Barcelona that I didn’t even know existed.
Bardem: Yeah, yeah, yeah – the background, no?
Tavis: Yeah.
Bardem: Yeah. Woody Allen wasn’t there. (Laughter) I said to somebody on the city hall of Barcelona that I brought with Woody Allen’s movie a lot of tourism, and then with this movie, I take them back. (Laughter) But it’s Barcelona, and it is also any major town in the world, this reality that really affects all of us. It’s L.A., it’s New York, it’s London, it’s Berlin, it’s Madrid.
It’s about a city where it’s having people from other parts of the world that are trying to survive and struggle for a dignified life for his own and for their kids and how we deal with that, because it’s about immigration. But that’s like a background story. The real story is about the relation of this man with his kids.
Tavis: You suggested a few minutes ago in this conversation, Javier, that you’re pretty clear about what you want to play and what you don’t want to play. Put another way, you said you don’t – you know that you don’t see yourself as a guy with superpowers and flying through the air, et cetera, et cetera.
Have you always known that? Have you always been so clear about that, or did this clarity come with experience and time?
Bardem: I’ve always known, which is one of the great things that I – it may be the only thing that I know for sure. (Laughs) The other things in my life –
Tavis: That’s not a bad thing to be certain of if you’re going to be an actor.
Bardem: Exactly.
Tavis: This is what I do want to do; this is what I will not do.
Bardem: I guess I knew that because my mother is an actress and all my family have been full of actors, directors, screenwriters. I knew what it means to be committing yourself to something. You better do it in a way that you really love what you’re doing, otherwise it doesn’t have any meaning.
Tavis: When you come from a family that is so steeped in the genre, when you are growing up as part of the family business, one of two things tends to happen with people who are in that situation, and you know where I’m going with this.
Either they run as fast and far away as they can, have no interest in the family business, or it sucks them, it pulls them in. Was there ever a moment, ever a time when you thought about not being a part of this family business of acting and producing, et cetera, et cetera?
Bardem: Yes, because I saw my mother – my mother is 71 and she’s been acting since she was 15. She’s doing a play now. I’ve seen her going up and down and all this craziness that goes with this job, so I didn’t really want to be part of that.
But I guess it was in my blood, and I tried to escape out of it by painting and studying painting, but at the end I went to work as an extra in movies in order to get some money to keep on painting, and once I was there, I felt it was in my blood. I felt like whether I like it or not, this is where I belong. It’s in my nature.
So I quit painting, for the good of everybody, (laughter) because I was the worst, and I put my focus on performing.
Tavis: For the good of everybody.
Bardem: Well, that I know.
Tavis: No, we all appreciate you having made that choice. I haven’t seen your painting, but I’ve seen your work.
Bardem: You don’t want to see it.
Tavis: (Laughs) I’m glad you made this choice. So I’m laughing here because I’m trying to imagine, I’m trying to visualize what it must be like to be at a private screening of anybody in the family’s work in the Bardem household. (Laughter) So what’s it like that everybody in the family is in the business, and you all are screening the project at home? What’s that like?
Bardem: Well, everybody’s like (clears throat), and doing funny noises (laughter) to make you feel uncomfortable. That’s how family is. No, we support each other in a big, big way, but also as the way it has to be, they are strong in the way they critic. If they don’t like it, they say it, and I’m not only open to that but I’m really grateful for that.
Because the people that love you and care for you real, they have to push you for you to grow up. Without harming, if it’s possible, but they are really – they’ve been really very supportive of what I’m doing.
Tavis: Beautiful seems to be the word that is most apropos to the life that Javier Bardem is living now. The film is called “Biutiful,” he’s married to a woman who is beautiful, they got a baby on the way who’s going to be beautiful, all the women watching this show think he is beautiful. So it’s just a beautiful thing, Javier. (Laughter) I’m glad to have you on the program.
Bardem: Thank you very much, Tavis.
Tavis: All the best to you, sir. That’s our show for tonight.
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Last modified: April 26, 2011 at 12:28 pm