Not since Anthony Hopkins first portrayed Hannibal Lector have I been so completely mesmerized by a screen villain. But that’s what happened when I watched Javier Bardem play Anton Chigurh in the new Coen Brothers movie “No Country For Old Men.” His portrayal of a ruthless, cold blooded killer is without a doubt one of the finest performances I’ve seen in a long time, and one that’s sure to be remembered at next years Oscar's. While I obviously don’t know if he’ll win, I’m positive he’ll at least get a nomination.
And while I single out Javier, I don’t mean to say anything but kind words for both the film and the other performances. Although we’ve all come to expect great movies from the Coen Brothers, “No Country” is a whole other level of great.
The movie begins when Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) finds a pickup truck filled with heroin and two million dollars in cash. The truck is surrounded by dead men. When Moss decides to take the money, he sets off a chain reaction of catastrophic violence that not even the law – in the person of aging, disillusioned Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) – can contain. As Moss tries to evade his pursuers – in particular a mysterious mastermind who flips coins for human lives (Javier Bardem) – he can only hope to outrun the people chasing him.
So to help promote the movie, the other day I got to participate in a roundtable interview with Javier Bardem. During our conversation we talked about all the movies he has coming up as well as the normal questions that get covered. As always, you can either read the transcript below or download the MP3 of the interview by clicking here. And if you missed the clips from the movie, you can watch them here.
“No Country For Old Men” is currently playing in limited release and will be everywhere on November 21st.
Javier Bardem: Do you mind if I smoke?
Question: Do you terrify yourself after watching the movie?
Javier: Ah, no. Not at all. No. I mean I terrify myself because I thought I was wrong, but not because I was scary. I mean I find the need of performing for an actor is something that is obvious. The need of watching the performance that he does is not something that is not obvious at all. You have to deal with that, but you don’t want it really bad. But I don’t know any actor or actress that really likes to see themselves. So, I’m like that. I prefer not to see it.
Q: Your English is so much better. Have you been practicing over the last year or so?
Javier: When I start this? Well, for that I worked really hard on trying to get rid of my Spanish accent as much as I could, which is not easy. But it doesn’t belong to anyone special, but we didn’t want to have a hard Spanish accent, so we tried to neutralize the accent as much as we could.
Q: Did you come up with a back story for your character at all?
Javier: None. None. No, that’s the point. I didn’t think it was necessary to do any back story for the guy since I see it as an accident. I see it as a logical, violent reaction to the violent action that some characters in this movie does. Like, I’m an accident out there and a kind of an icon. A violent icon that represents a violent fate that you have called by your actions.
Q: The Coens were saying you were initially hesitant to the look they came up to for the character. What was your reaction to the photo they showed you?
Javier: From the haircut and all that? It’s funny, because I saw that photo and I didn’t pay attention to the haircut because it was more of the way he was dressed as well as anything, but I guess they pay attention to the haircut. (Laughs.) So, I went to the trailer and they cut it and I saw it and I said, ‘What the hell is that?’ But that helped a lot actually, because in a way he gave this reality to the character this dimension of being very methodical. Everything is in place. It’s kind of mathematical. Like perfectly structured which is the way I thought the character should be. Perfectly clean. I thought this could help, but not for my private life though. (Laughs.)
Q: Kelly mentioned that when you first did the readings you were very intense and scary, but once you started getting into you started to see more of the humor. Did you always see it that way?
Javier: I saw that there was some comedy in there, but I didn’t want to pay attention to that. Because if there is comedy, it would have to be of the Coens to put it together in order for it to be funny, but the character had to be really damn serious in order to be funny in case the Coens choose him to funny. Not for what he says or how he says it, but the reaction of the other people listening to him appear on screen which is what makes him funny. Also, being funny in a foreign language is not easy, because being funny, being a good comedian isn’t easy in any language. Because you have to have a lot of control with the language and know the pace, the rhythm, the ‘boom’ – how to put the line in the right place and in a foreign language it is almost impossible. You have to have a huge control of the language which I don’t.
Q6: You probably have more dialogue in the movie than Josh, but how did you come up with all the body language to convey all the violence that was going about?
JV: It’s funny, because there is something in this movie that has to do with the fact that we don’t interact with each other. So, I was there shooting one or two days a week. With that hair cut. I was going there killing people ‘boom, boom, boom, boom.’ Going back to the hotel to sleep. I didn’t know what movie we were doing. So, yes, sometimes they do a shot of you thinking or you going into the room, but you put it together, but you put it together because it’s like, ‘What is my role in this movie? What do I have to bring with me to tell the story?’ So, I wasn’t really conscious of how to do it. Rather than being loyal all the time of being a machine. A guy who is totally numb to other people’s feelings and even his own feelings. And with a beauty to make, no? But, I didn’t know how to perform somebody who is always on the chase. I didn’t know what they were doing. I didn’t know what kind of movie they were doing, because I was only one, two days a week.
Q: Was there ever a point where you’re like, ‘Now I get it. I’m like this…’?
Q: How do you get through a whole film feeling that way?
Javier: All the time man. I haven’t done any movie that I haven’t felt that way. I mean, I remember one moment in ‘The Sea Inside’ where I felt like ‘gluck.’ ‘Boom,’ my whole thing put itself in place and now I can…
Q: Do you feel like you have to be uncomfortable in a film?
Javier: Well, that’s part of your life actually. I learned something with Woody Allen now. Which is Woody Allen you have to really be present, because you are doing 5, 6 pages of long dialogue, improvised, one take – in a foreign language. So, you really have to be like, fuck it. Don’t think it, be. Just be and just go back to the roots of performing which is to be understood. To be understood by your colleague of what you are saying and what you mean with what you are saying. And that taught me that most of the time, we the actors are over thinking too much what we do and that’s what creates the uncomfortableness. Because if we just react, which comes along with act, then we will be able to free ourselves and go back to the roots of why we do this, which is to bring the feelings when we were kids and we were just playing with our friends and just acting and not thinking of what we were doing. But most of the time we are unable to do that, because as mature people, theoretically, we always judge every act we do. So, be uncomfortable it’s something that comes with that as we grow old. We are not comfortable, that’s why we are always searching for something. You want to be comfortable you have to go to the Tibet and pray for hours.
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Q: So, even when your directors say, ‘Great job.’ You don’t believe them?
Javier: No, I don’t believe them. (Laughs.) I mean, you know when you’ve done something good because your instinct tells you that was right, but a lot of time you see that take and you go, ‘Wow, that was bad.’ And the other one you thought was horrible, it works. I don’t understand anything.
Q: Can you watch yourself on screen?
Javier: I can watch myself on screen as long as it’s been a long time after I did the movie. Like, now I can see ‘The Sea Inside,’ four years after. Now I cannot see this. Because it’s too recent for me to know quite what I tried to achieve and most of the time I didn’t. It’s not being humble, it’s true.
Q: Even though all the critics have loved your performance, you still think it’s wrong?
Javier: Of course, yes.
Q: But you can appreciate the film itself right?
Javier: Yes, because I’m not in it all the time. (Laughs.) But I can now watch the “The Sea Inside.” Because you are there all the time, you go, ‘Omigod, omigod, here comes my nose and my funny, stupid eyes. Look at that big face, come on.’ I mean I have my ego, but it’s weird to see yourself on screen man. I mean your eyes are like this big….but you want to be on screen at the same time, because you want to perform.
Q: Did you have any preconceived notions about the Coen bros. and did you speak to anyone else who had worked with them?
Javier: No, but this is a dream come true for me. This is a promotion time, I know, and we usually speak good about each other, but this is different. The first moment I saw ‘Blood Simple’ I was hit by it in a way I wasn’t hit by any other directors. They are great masters in filmmaking history, but the Coens are truly particular and truly unique. And I am a huge fan and Spain, is one of the countries where most people go to see Coen brothers movies. Like you go to a bar and you say, ‘I’m going to do a movie with the Coen bros’ And a good 60 or 70% of the bars will turn around and say, ‘Really?’ Which is – and so, when it happened, I went like, ‘I can’t believe this. I can’t. Believe. This.” So, for me it’s like an honor. I have to pinch myself sometimes. I mean, really, physically. And no, even more because I knew the people and met them and they are amazing. They are so nice and respectful and funny and careful and creative, no, they really are great. Because they are not disappointing at all, they are the opposite.
Q: How did you transform physically? What do you pay attention to most?
JV: I’m obsessed with the body language. Not obsessed, but I pay attention to that because I think one of the things I like most is because you’re recognized more on the street is to watch. The only thing I can bring with me is the fact that I think that I know how to watch and bring what a watch to a performance. We all speak by our body language, probably more than we’d like to. One guy comes into a room and you know where’s he’s coming from and his background by the way he talks, sits and moves his hands. One of the funniest and most enjoyable things for me to perform is that: to bring behaviors. That’s what I always pay attention to. My dream is when I retire to put all the characters in a room that no one can really have a conversation with each other because they don’t understand each other. They’re so different that they don’t really get it. That’s a dream, almost impossible, but I don’t want to stop trying it.
Q: Both your characters in “Love in the Time of Cholera” and this are single-minded of purpose. Did that occur to you while doing these roles? One is focused on love and the other death.
Javier: Yes, both of them are insane, actually. One of the things I like about characters is that I like to perform characters that are close to me, otherwise I get bored. One of the challenged of my character, not in “Love” but in (“No Country…”) is that there is no struggle in it. And I like people who have to struggle because I myself have struggled like everybody, and I like to see that on the screen. People who have doubts and performing a character that is so driven and straight, I have a problem with. So I tried in this case to bring something that I could relate to which is his clumsy way of dealing with day-by-day life. Let’s say, opening a bottle or answering the phone or opening an envelope, he will have problem with that. He’s out of sync with that. He’s not good at that—having a normal life, but once he gets a gun, he’s like a shark. With “Love,” I just wanted to add what he feels which is pain, pain of not being loved by the person he loves.
Q: Is the Woody Allen film a comedy?
Javier: I don't know. It really depends on how he put it together. I think it's a very Woody Allen movie though. It's about relationships but I think it will depend on how he put it together. It's not a huge comedy though.
Q: Because you said it was hard to do comedy in a foreign language?
Javier: There are funny moments, moments where I was laughing myself. Like fuck, that's good.
Q: What are you working on next?
Javier: I may do a musical. Is that weird, or what? Good, always an uncomfortable soul.
Q: In English or Spanish?
Javier: English. I'm taking care of myself.