Javier Bardem is the character actor who steals the screen so often that he basically becomes the lead by default, even if it’s often as the bad guy.
As the 53-year old reveals to RSNG, even though he’s won an Oscar, he sees awards as a lottery, and is more focused on staying hungry and stretching his abilities by searching for new kinds of roles…
RSNG You hit the 20-year anniversary recently of your first English-speaking film. Do you feel the passing of time?
JAVIER BARDEM, VILLAINOUS ACTOR OR NICE GUY? “It’s interesting; I have always counted my achievements in decades. I will always look back and gauge what I have achieved in the previous 10 years.
“It is a regimented way of appraising a life, but it keeps me fresh and I feel it empowers me in two ways – firstly I can appreciate what I have done; and secondly it keeps me feeling young. Getting older is something a lot of people my age think about and I don’t think it is particularly helpful.
“We need to stem the tide somewhat and remind ourselves how long life is, how much we achieve, and how much we can go on to achieve. I am a big believer in this because retaining our own mental health is the very best fuel and the best stimulus for ensuring we can keep the appetite and the drive to carry on doing good things.
“When you lose that appetite you lose the enthusiasm, and that is where deterioration begins. And let’s just say I don’t want to go there!”
RSNG Of all the projects you’ve been involved in, which would you say has been the biggest?
JAVIER BARDEM “Pirates of the Caribbean has been the biggest. I don't know if you can get bigger than that. Dune was big and Bond was obviously big but Pirates just had another element to it. You were on a huge film in a big environment, and every single scene encapsulated that.
“I also think the Pirates series had become something quite iconic, and unusually that put pressure on me I hadn’t experienced before.”
With every new job it's a new type of muscle – it's a new journey
RSNG Was that a surprise for you?
JAVIER BARDEM “I think you suss out a film when you read the material – that’s when you know if the film is going to lead you to a place where you feel the pressure, or not.”
RSNG Do you want that pressure at this stage in your life?
JAVIER BARDEM “Yes and no. You want meaningful movies, but then also you don't want to be overwhelmed by the feeling that you're working on an iconic franchise. Those aren't good thoughts.
“But that changes when you go to the set and you see this amazing construction.”
RSNG How do you circumnavigate nerves?
JAVIER BARDEM “You just have to concentrate on yourself, it's the only part of the process you have control over. Even when you walk onto the set for a smaller project, you still need to give it the credit and respect it deserves.
“It's still all the same process in that you're stretching and exercising your acting muscles, it's just with every new job, it's a new type of muscle. It's a new journey, I have to learn new steps.
“Some can be more fun than others – obviously a lot depends on whether the material is light, heavy, dark.”
RSNG You’re used to playing the bad guy. Is that your favorite type of role?
JAVIER BARDEM “Playing the bad guy is the most fun you can have. End of!
“You get to unleash the beast and put your anger into someone else and it's good therapy. Releasing the aggression within.”
RSNG Have you ever worried about being typecast?
JAVIER BARDEM “I'll always try to do different roles, but you have to remember, it's not my choice. You need the invitation from the director, from the writer, from the producer… It's not my decision. They can offer and then I decide. If I like where the script takes me, if I like that place, I'll say yes.
“My dream, for when I die, and at my funeral, is that all my characters that I've played in my life, in my career, will come to my funeral, and they will all be in the same room and they won't say a word because they will have nothing in common. They sit with each other and stare and know by looking, 'I have nothing to say to you. I don't know where to start.’”
Given the choice I would work in Spanish – the thought process with English can obstruct the choice to let go and absorb the character
RSNG Do you feel you’re proving your versatility to a certain extent by taking on a role such as Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile?
JAVIER BARDEM “Well, when I find myself in a kids’ movie that’s also an action musical, I have to consider – maybe I am evolving, and this next decade will hold in wait some very different experiences and opportunities [laughs].
“It’s very different for me and the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was something I needed to do.”
RSNG You work in both English and Spanish – do you prefer one over the other?
JAVIER BARDEM “Given the choice, I would work in Spanish. It's my first language, it's what I'm most comfortable working with. The thought process with English can obstruct the choice to let go and absorb the character, the moment. It can be an internal battle - it’s something I am still working on
“So Spanish is where I'm most free, most myself. It allows me to be entirely connected with the reactions and responses, instantaneously.”
RSNG Did winning the Oscar for Best Actor In A Supporting Role – for No Country For Old Men in 2008 – change your career?
JAVIER BARDEM “I don't think it changed me. It certainly shapes a little bit your reality for a second, but then everything goes back to normal, whatever normal means. It was a great honor and something I never expected. But it's a lottery, it's impossible to define who does it best – it's art.
“How can you quantify art? If you're lucky enough to get into that arena, if they decide to give it to you for whatever reason, ‘thank you’ but you can never make it a big thing. It's not fair. When I see the award at home, I think ‘I won the lottery, now what's next?’”
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Photos: Shutterstock/ Moviestillsdb