In the drama Biutiful, actor Javier Bardem gives a complex, conflicted and multi-layered performance as Uxbal, a man on a tragic journey to reconcile the love for his children with the criminal underworld he has gotten caught up in. In Barcelona, his livelihood is earned by less than savory means, but when he is faced with his own mortality, he set out to find redemption and seeks solace in the sacrifices he is willing to make for the ones he loves.
At the film’s press day, Bardem talked about playing a role with such emotional intensity, working so closely with filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu (read an interview with Inarritu here), how being an actor enables him to see the world with different eyes, and how he prefers to play multi-layers characters. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
JAVIER BARDEM: Many things. I’m a huge fan of the director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, and his work, and I knew he was going to be an amazing actor’s director, based on the performances that I saw in his movies. But, more important than that, because I’m not the kind of actor that gets crazy with names, what draws me toward a project is the material itself. This script was beautifully written by him and the character was very complex. There were so many layers to convey that I knew it was going to be a hard task and a rewarding one.
How did you establish this complex character?
BARDEM: On this movie, Alejandro and I were holding each other’s hands and we climbed the highest mountain that we’ve ever climbed. For him, it was new to have only one actor, for five months. And for me, it was new to have a character like this, for five months. So, we really had to back each other and be aware that it was going to be a very intense journey, but a rewarding one, creatively speaking. The themes we were talking about are important. We knew that. That’s where the whole focus was. It was worth it, to make this journey, and we survived.
After this amazing performance, has it made you see life differently?
BARDEM: The good thing about being an actor, and the gift of being an actor, is that you are beautifully forced to see the world with different eyes. Death, for Uxbal, is not the same for someone else. For Uxbal, it’s a wake-up call for him to realize and re-evaluate his life. You cannot get attached to what that character feels about some issues. You have to pull yourself away and be him, but you know that you are being somebody else who’s not you. It never changed my idea of death, but we all understand things intellectually. We hear the news, we read the papers, we see people from the street and we understand the world, but the actor has the obligation to experience it. It’s very lucky for me to have had the chance to be in that place and pretend that. In pretending, I was able to be there, for real. It’s not that I know how it feels, but I know that experience in a very emotional way. That’s different from knowing it intellectually.
BARDEM: I don’t know how you do it. I just did it, but I don’t know how to do it.
Did it help that this film was done chronologically?
BARDEM: Yeah, that helped a lot. Otherwise, it would have been too crazy to be able to go through that journey randomly. That was one of the great luxuries of this shoot. I also had the whole crew with me. Everybody was on the journey together.
What was it like to work with Maricel Álvarez, who played Marambra?
BARDEM: She’s an actress, but it was the first time that she’d done a movie. She was very nervous, but she did a great job. She’s the opposite of her character. She’s very clear and rational and healthy, mentally, emotionally and physically. And then, they would call action and she would turn into this monster. It was great. Good actors are good actors, wherever they are. It doesn’t matter if it’s TV, theater, the circus or movies. I had the chance to work with some of the best actors in this film. The relationship is based on pain and passion. All of these extreme situations cannot sustain a relationship. It’s like a Greek tragedy. This person has to overcome a very strong circumstance to find grace, compassion, forgiveness and love.
What do you think about the themes that Alejandro is presenting with this film?
BARDEM: We are speaking a different language here. This is not a movie that’s so easy to translate. It’s not an easy movie to say, “It’s about this, and then you take home this other thing.” It’s more deep than that. You have to see it and really have the courage to make the journey. If you take the journey, you’re going to bring back with you a lot of good things. But, if I name them, that will downsize the journey itself.
How was Alejandro, as a director?
BARDEM: He’s one of the greatest directors of all time, with the way he films and the way he puts together the filming. You have to have talent to film and also to put it together. He’s also an actor’s director. You can tear apart your heart in pieces, but if the camera is not in the right place, it doesn’t matter. He knows where to put the camera. He knows how to hold the silence. He knows how to put the music in the right place. He knows how to cut and how to work the cut. All of that helps you to put the best performance out there. That’s how good he is. When you’re working with the best, it helps you to be good because then you are focusing on what you have to do, instead of where the camera is. We were all on the same page.
Did you approach this character by seeing the good and bad in him?
BARDEM: I saw him as a human being. I don’t believe in stereotypes. Most of the time, stereotypes are just that. But, the world is different. We are doing right and wrong, at least 20 times per day. As an actor, you can’t judge. A great actress from Spain said, “We, the actors, are lawyers of the characters we play. We have to defend them, no matter what.”
What do you think it says about Uxbal that he’s surrounded by all these unreliable people?
BARDEM: Uxbal didn’t have any choice. Many people out there don’t have a choice, in choosing their friends and the people they’re being manipulated by. Thank god, I have that choice. I can use my judgement and choose. He couldn’t because that was the people he was dealing with.
How would you feel, if you got nominated for an Oscar for this role?
BARDEM: It’s great fun. It’s a great honor. It’s something that you never dream of. And then, it happens and you are there, and you try to share it with all the people that are so meaningful to you, but you don’t have the time, so you have to choose which people. But, they understand. They’re your people because they understand.
What did you learn about acting from your mother?
BARDEM: She’s 71 years old now, and she’s been acting since she was 15, so I learned a lot of things from her. I learned that you can’t buy either the gold or the failure because none of them are truth.
How do you pick your characters?
BARDEM: I don’t know. It happens. You feel driven to it. You’re like, “Okay, this is interesting.” But, it’s less about playing one-sided people and more about playing multi-layered people. That’s what the world is about. I did No Country For Old Men, which was a one-sided person, but I did it because it was the Coen brothers in a film from Cormac McCarthy’s book, and I knew I was going to be protected and safe. But, even though I knew I had to play a one-colored kind of guy, he was full of many other things that could not be seen, but had to be felt.
BARDEM: I would love to. I had great fun with them. I hated them, but had great fun. They did that awful haircut on me. Everybody thought it was a wig, but it was my hair.
When are you going to do Glee?
BARDEM: I don’t know. I talked to (show creator) Ryan [Murphy] and he seems to be very excited about the idea, but that was a long time ago. I don’t know anything, I swear.
Are you ready to sing?
BARDEM: I don’t know. I have to read something first.
BIUTIFUL opens in limited release on December 29th and nationwide January 28th