Javier Bardem talks about The Sea Inside!
Javier Bardem delivers one of the great acting performances as Spanish quadriplegic, Ramon Sampedro in The Sea Inside. I have been a huge fan of his for years and was really looking forward to this interview. Javier was taking a nap when I arrived at the hotel. He'd been flying for two days straight and had television interviews earlier that day. He strolled in the room after his power nap, smoking a cigarette and looking very different from what I expected. He wore a designer suit and looked like a rock star with blonde streaks in his hair. The guy was as cool as running water. He didn't seem to be impressed by Hollywood or the lure of big-budget films. I was surprised to learn that Killing Pablo and Che are not confirmed. He claims to have heard nothing from the producers, but might still be in negotiations. I hope those films get made. Javier's an incredible actor and could definitely have a wider appeal if given the chance.
Ramon Sampedro was very popular in Spain, but his struggle could have taken place in any country. Can you give us a little back story on who he was and why he became famous?
Javier Bardem: He was very famous, because when he died in '98, it opened a huge debate. He became a very popular figure about the right to choose your life or death. He made a very open statement about institutions, political, medical, and religious institutions. He asked who rules our lives and are we as free as we are told. The debate was open when he died and went down a little. Now that the movie has opened, the debate is still there. Even the government is noticing that society wants to talk about it and change the law, to go ahead with the idea of legalizing euthanasia.
Did you ever get to meet Ramón, his family or friends?
Javier Bardem: His family and friends because he was already dead. I talked to them and some people in his organization, The Right to Die Dignified. All of them were very supportive. They read the script and they all thought it was very much what Ramon Sampedro meant.
You're basically lying down throughout the film. Talk about bringing the nuances of Ramon's character to life and why you portrayed him in such an understated way?
Javier Bardem: I always thought Ramon Sampedro was, how do you say, someone that was asking for attention. Even though he went far in the fight, he was, as you say, understated. It was to get other people to react. It wasn't about him making an explanation of his skills or ideas. People went to his bed and asked him things, that he answered. He wasn't leading any fight or putting his name under any flag. When I saw his interviews, I realized how he was very careful to not show himself a lot. Otherwise people would get the wrong idea. That gave me the idea for him to be very small, even the emotion.
Ramon falls in love and is deeply loved by two women in the film. What did they see in him that made him so desirable?
Javier Bardem: I think he had a very bright mind. He was a nice soul, a smart person, very tolerant with women in a macho society. He treated them equally. Also, I guess they didn't feel sexually threatened by him. They had a mothering instinct. He was more deeply committed to loving a person without possessing that person. That's what he was asking for himself. He was asking to be loved without being possessed.
Alejandro Amenabar does a brilliant job writing and directing this film. How did you two work together and what did you expect of him?
Javier Bardem: I need to work with the director very closely in the beginning. Just to know we are going in the same direction. Once we both know each other, I need a little bit of freedom to bring my ideas. But once I bring those ideas to set, I need the director to tell me which of those ideas to choose, where I should be economical and get to the point.
You are the preeminent Spanish actor, well known in film circles, but not as much to general American audiences. You had a small role in Collateral. Do you plan on doing other big Hollywood films?
Javier Bardem: No, not at all. As long as they are based on very good scripts and good roles, I will do it. But if I have to do something that I find plain or one-color, I would rather stay at home.
Sometimes actors do big-budget films so they can keep working on the smaller projects. As an example, Kevin Spacey told me he would play a role like Lex Luthor in Superman to continue doing the small films he loves?
Javier Bardem: Kevin Spacey is a great actor. He can play American characters. I am only a Latin actor. (Laughs) I don't think I will ever be asked to play Luthor. Maybe they ask me to play the bad guy. Those are very boring, even to watch.
It is rumored that you are playing Pablo Escobar in Killing Pablo and will star alongside Benecio Del Toro in Che. What's the status of those two films?
Javier Bardem: Killing Pablo and Che are roles that are up in the air.
They're not confirmed?
Javier Bardem: No. Those things are up in the air. We have to see where they go. Here, movies fall apart so easily. I have heard of them, but have not talked to the directors or producers still. They put my name out there but I've never talked to them. People put things out there and it makes things difficult, because it looks like I'm doing it or going to do it.
Do you think that Hollywood is getting better or worse in the way it depicts Latinos? Are the roles getting better for Latino actors in Hollywood?
Javier Bardem: I don't live here, so I don't have a good idea of what's happening. But from what I see, it's the same thing for black actors twenty years ago. They were related to small and bad roles, until they finally got their situation into place. They belong to America and the world and deserve to have their voice heard. I guess America realized that. Latin actors are following that path. Now we are the guys that clean the rooms and in some years we'll get lead roles. The community is getting bigger and bigger.
I have been told by South and Central American actors that Hollywood gives preference to the Spanish actors. Do you think this is true?
Javier Bardem: I don't know. I'm not too involved in this because I am an outsider. I come here only to promote and do things. I read stuff, but most of the time that stuff is not interesting enough for me give another thought. But I guess that should not be the way. They are not so many famous Spanish actors. There is only Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz.
This is your most praised role to date. You've received a lot of awards and recognition. Do you ever think about an Oscar nomination?
Javier Bardem: Let's put it this way, when we opened the film in Venice and it got all the attention, we were happy. You don't know how the people are going to react. When we came here to promote, the whole reaction is coming along, but you are not part of the people's opinion. You cannot control it. You cannot play that game. You can just defend what you've done and hope that people will see the movie. If those recognitions bring people to the movie, fine, but I will never put my energy into that. It's an honor to be nominated by actors. It's an honor to be one of those five people, but it doesn't concern or worry me. That would be a lost fight. I have no control over that.
Are you working on something now or have another film lined up?
Javier Bardem: Nothing yet, I'm reading some stuff but I have nothing for sure.
Here comes an abstract question. Can you think of a dream role that you want to play?
Javier Bardem: It's not something I'm looking for. It depends on what I find as an actor. I have to be employed. It's not like I can write my own stuff. I like to portray people going through some kind of a struggle. Where you can see the best and worst of the human spirit, people going through the range of emotions, people debating within themselves. Those are the roles that I like.
You would never write or direct your own film?
Javier Bardem: No, no, I don't have talent to write or direct.
What's the best film that you've seen this year?
Javier Bardem: Sideways, I thought it was a great movie. It's so smart and intelligent and subtle and brilliant performances. It's a beautiful movie.
Sideways is a great film and one of my favorites too. Would you like to work with Alexander Payne?
Javier Bardem: I would love to work with him. But I don't know if there would be a role for me in any of those movies. One of the great things about Alexander is that he portrays American society very good. I don't know if I have room in there.
Do you think you could ever play an American?
Javier Bardem: Maybe if I worked on my English for some years. But as long as the roles are great roles and well written, I don't care where they come from. I don't care if they're American, African, or Indian, as long as the story is interesting to tell.