Bardem on Working with the Coen Brothers Javier Bardem just won a Golden Globe for his superbly frightening performance in No Country for Old Men. Bardem shares his thoughts on violence and facial expressions.
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Bardem on Working with the Coen Brothers

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Bardem on Working with the Coen Brothers

Bardem on Working with the Coen Brothers

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Back now with DAY TO DAY.

(Soundbite of movie "No Country for Old Men")

Mr. JAVIER BARDEM (Actor): (As Anton Chigurh) What's the most you ever lost in a coin toss?

Unidentified Man (Actor): (As character) Sir?

Mr. BARDEM: (As Anton Chigurh) The most you ever lost in a coin toss.

Unidentified Man: (As character) I don't know. I couldn't say.

(Soundbite of coin flipping)

Mr. BARDEM: Call it.

COHEN: In the film "No Country for Old Men," actor Javier Bardem plays a vicious killer named Anton Chigurh. Never before in the history of film has a simple coin toss been so utterly terrifying. Javier Bardem just won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor for that performance and he joins me now from NPR's New York Bureau.

Welcome to the program, Mr. Bardem, and congratulations.

Mr. BARDEM: Thank you very much. Thank you.

COHEN: The film "No Country for Old Men" is based on a book by Cormac McCarthy, and in the book there's very little description of your character - only that he has blue lapis eyes. How did you take that brief description and turned it into a character?

Mr. BARDEM: Well, I guess there was the challenge, which is to try to bring what he represents, which is kind of an icon of a symbolic figure of what violence is and put that into in a human behavior.

COHEN: I understand that at first you were a little bit concerned about the violence in this film. How did you make peace with that violence?

Mr. BARDEM: It's not that I make peace. It's like that - the Coens are the Coens, and you know...

COHEN: The Coen brothers, who directed this film.

Mr. BARDEM: Yes, and I know they are taking very good care of that, like you're not going to be empty violence or violence that it's just gratuitous. It's a violence that is really telling us something because there's a statement behind it.

COHEN: One of the things that to me was most frightening about this character is that you had no idea how or why he became so violent. You know, you don't get any sense of something terrible happened to him in his childhood, something like that. Did you as an actor have in your mind an understanding of why he behaves like he does?

Mr. BARDEM: Basically we are talking about a character that comes out of nowhere, goes back to nowhere, and he's kind of a force of nature, kind of a violent fate that the rest of the characters have to face. So basically it was not important what happened to him before, but what he creates in people in this very moment.

COHEN: The character seems to have a certain code or a set of rules that he abides by in terms of who he kills and who he doesn't kill. What were those rules for you?

Mr. BARDEM: Well, those rules were pretty good described in the book of Cormac McCarthy, and I guess it has to do with fate. And the think also, I read also, maybe it was my own reading of it, that what Chigurh represents is the logical violent reaction to violent actions taken by some of the characters, which is to say violence doesn't fix any situation, doesn't get things better. All it creates, more misery and pain, and it's something that will always come back to you, no matter what. So I think that basically he brings that philosophy with him, which is I'm here because you called me.

COHEN: Hmm. I was recently watching another one of your films, the film "Before Night Falls," and you play the Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas. And there is a scene in that film where you're being talked to about the great literature in the world.

(Soundbite of movie "Before Night Falls")

Mr. BARDEM: (As Reinaldo Arenas) I'll tell you what. I'm going to give you five books. Correction, I'm going to lend you five books. You return them and then I'll give you five more. Okay?

"Moby Dick," Melville; Robert Lou Stevenson's "Treasure Island," Proust, "Remembrance of Things Past"; Kafka's "Metamorphosis"; Flaubert, "Sentimental Education."

COHEN: And there's this look on your face as if you're listening not with your ears, but with your eyes. I'm curious, are you conscious at all of what - your eyes is such a distinct feature - are you conscious of what you're doing with them when you act?

Mr. BARDEM: Thank you very much, that was a nice compliment, I have to say. Not really. I guess one of the things that we - all the actors, we try to achieve is to not be aware of ourselves at all. When we act, we try to embody somebody else. And maybe Reinaldo Arenas in that very moment that you described right now, he was really listening with a heart, with a soul, with a hope of becoming one of those great literature figures one day. Maybe Javier myself (unintelligible) that way. You know? Those were the eyes of Reinaldo. They were not mine.

COHEN: You recently won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. You've been nominated for Golden Globe twice before. This year you finally win and there was no award ceremony because of the writers strike. Was that a disappointment?

Mr. BARDEM: No, just the opposite.

COHEN: How so?

Mr. BARDEM: I mean, because at the end you are on the sofa watching the TV, very comfortable, and you don't have to put a suit and do a carpet. That's why. But I understand why people will complain, and of course there is a lot of people out there that deserve the recognition. But at the end, awards and these things are not important compared to the whole thing that is going on with that strike, where a lot of people are really having a lot of trouble. I mean, who cares about awards? They really need to get to an agreement because things are going to get tougher and tougher as every day passes.

COHEN: Were you on the couch watching during the Golden Globe Awards?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BARDEM: Yeah.

COHEN: You were?

Mr. BARDEM: Yeah, I was watching TV.

COHEN: Did you celebrate at all?

Mr. BARDEM: The funny thing is that I was watching one channel and then my mom from Spain called me and told me you won. I said no. I'm watching the channel and they haven't say anything. She said yes, you won because they put it on Internet. I said okay. So basically she told me that I won, which was great news.

COHEN: Javier Bardem, if there's one character that you've played that you think is closest to who you are as a person off-screen, what would that character be?

Mr. BARDEM: If there was any, I wouldn't tell you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BARDEM: You want yourself pride - you want to give yourself pride. But I guess we all - the answer is, no matter how hard we try, we always, unfortunately, bring a lot of ourselves into it. And I say unfortunately because I know that almost every actor's dream is to really be able to disappear in somebody else's, but it's hard. Only the great geniuses, which are few of them, can do that. So the answer is a lot of me is in everywhere, but not in Chigurh.

COHEN: Not in Chigurh. Yes, I would hope not. Thank you. I take great comfort in knowing that. Javier Bardem, thank you so very much.

Mr. BARDEM: Thank you.

COHEN: DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News with contributions from I'm Alex Cohen.

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