From director Fernando León de Aranoa and based on events described in the book Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar by Virginia Vallejo, the biographical crime drama Loving Pablo chronicles the rise and fall of the world’s most feared drug lord, Pablo Escobar (Javier Bardem, who is also a producer on the film). The story is told from the point of view of famous Colombian journalist Virginia Vallejo (Penélope Cruz), who had a volatile love affair with Pablo for five years, as his greed and desire for power turned into a reign of terror.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Javier Bardem talked about having to go to some dark places for Loving Pablo, why this was a version of the man that he was interested in exploring, what he personally thinks of Pablo Escobar, and the biggest challenge of making this with his wife, Penélope Cruz. He also talked about where things are at with the Cortés mini-series for Amazon, the status of Bride of Frankenstein, and what gets him to sign on for a project, at this point in his career.
Collider: Really incredible work, and a tremendous performance in this. Is it both intimidating and exciting to play someone like Pablo Escobar?
JAVIER BARDEM: Well, you have to get into some dark places, for sure. You go there and enjoy it. You have to remind yourself that you’re doing this because you love it. One of the greatest things about performing is that you are obliged to face all of your dark corners. You get in there and see them and identify them, and you have to be at peace with them being there. I’m not saying that I am Pablo Escobar, but we all have things that can trigger our emotions, for us to become violent, for us to have rage, and for us to have sensational greed. We have that. Whether it’s heated or not, and whether we are at peace with that or we just pretend that we are not that kind of person, it’s up to us. An actor has to be in tune with all of that and say, “Okay, that’s my job.” It’s good, if you can go there and identify that space and play with that.
You’ve said that, over the last 20 years, you’ve been offered the opportunity to play Pablo Escobar a number of times, but you’ve always refused. What was it in those versions that made you keep saying no, and what was it about this telling of his story that not only made you want to sign on, but also be a producer?
BARDEM: The one-color kind of character in those offers was truly a very plain villain. What’s even more dangerous was the figure that was made to be an icon with the pop icon symbolism of how cool and fun it was. That is fucking dangerous! I wanted to bring who I thought was the real Escobar, in the sense that he’s a human being, and we have to perceive that he is human and understand that he is one of us. We created him. We helped to create him, as we helped to create many others like him, by voting for corrupted governments that allow for people like him, or by consuming their product, or by the turning a blind eye to those horrible actions. In those other roles that I was offered, I didn’t see any human aspect in him, not to excuse or define him, but to understand that we are him and he is us. That’s the scary thing. When you do Skyfall or No Country for Old Men, it’s fiction. This one is real. This one killed real people.
In the film, Virginia Vallejo (Penélope Cruz) says, “I love Pablo, but I hate Escobar.” Did you ever get to a point where you had sympathy or understanding for him? Were you able to separate Pablo from Escobar, for yourself?
BARDEM: No. That’s something that Virginia used for the title of the book, Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar, to make a point that there was a man there, in the beginning, that we thought had a great purpose and good reasons to do what he was doing, but then he became this horrible monster. I never loved Pablo or Escobar. I thought both of them were very selfish, cruel, emotionally detached, greedy people that created so much pain around them.
What do you most enjoy about working with Penélope, and what are the biggest challenges of working with someone that you know so well?
BARDEM: Well, the biggest challenge is to make sure that life and fiction doesn’t mix, and I think we’re good at that. We actually started together in the same movie, Jamón, Jamón, when she was 16 and I was 21. We’ve been doing this already, for more than 30 years, and we understand that being in character 24/7 doesn’t make you a better actor. It only makes you more psychotic and more upset. That’s what we both think. So, we are good at jumping into the fiction, and then going back to reality. That being said, there are moments. There were a couple of scenes in the movie that were tense and, of course, it takes a couple or three days to wipe it out of your system. But, that’s part of our job.
Earlier this year, it was announced that Amazon had greenlit Cortés, with you in the title role, as Hernán Cortés. What’s going on with that? Is that something that you’re still planning on doing?
BARDEM: Yeah, that is a passion project of mine, as well, like Loving Pablo has been. I’ve been working close to Steven Spielberg for a long time, and that’s going to happen. I’m hopeful that it’s going to happen next year, and I can’t wait to start shooting. Still, there are things to be decided, like the director and other things, but Amazon and Amblin and I are very, very highly excited, along with Steve Zaillian, who wrote the script. It’s going to be something very unique because this story hasn’t been told yet. It’s a very powerful story with so much relevance to it because it’s speaking of greed and religious fanaticism, and the horror of what people can do to others, in the name of greed and religion.