Javier Bardem On A 'Biutiful' Acting Career The Spanish actor received his third Academy Award nomination for his performance in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's new film. Bardem reflects on his role in Biutiful, as well as his performances in Before Night Falls and No Country for Old Men.

Javier Bardem On A 'Biutiful' Acting Career

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This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Our guest, the Spanish actor Javier Bardem, won an Oscar for his performance as a psychopathic serial killer in the 2007 Coen Brothers film "No Country for Old Men." He played a seductive Spanish artist in the Woody Allen film "Vicky Cristina Barcelona."

Bardem has been a respected actor in international cinema for years. He's earned seven nominations for the Goya, known as the Spanish Oscars, and he's won four times. His films include "Live Flesh," "Before Night Falls," and "The Sea Inside." He's earned his third Academy Award nomination for his performance in the new film "Biutiful," by Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. It's nominated for best foreign film.

In "Biutiful," Bardem plays a small-time criminal in Barcelona who runs a crew of African immigrants selling knockoff goods on the street. He also has connections to a sweat shop with illegal Chinese immigrants. But he's a loving and attentive father to his two children. Their mother, his wife, suffers from bipolar disorder. And on top of it all, he learns that he has a life-threatening illness.

Javier Bardem spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies.


Well, Javier Bardem, welcome to FRESH AIR. You really carry this film. This film is really about your character, Uxbal. And he is a really rich and complex character. I read that when you read the script that you felt you really connected with this guy.

Mr. JAVIER BARDEM (Actor): Yes. I think as in life, most of us, we do right and wrong 15 times per day in the same day. So what I mean is I believe in contradiction. I believe that the world is not black and white. And that's why I like to portray characters like this, which is - there's a human being there going through a lot of conflicts and contradictions and that is not easy to read at the first moment. But as we go along and see the movie, we understand better who he is, and we care for him.

And that's what I like about Uxbal, my character. You have to create a normal person under strange circumstances, and that's always, I mean, challenging because you don't have a - how do you say - a stereotype to create. You have to really go to the bottom of the heart of this man and try to live with him for five months, which is what the whole shoot last.

What I mean by this is yes, he was very challenging, and I was scared to death to do it, but I thought it was going to be a very rewarding experience, which it was, not only at a professional level but also a personal level.

DAVIES: And why at a personal level?

Mr. BARDEM: Because you have to face yourself. It's impossible to do a character like this from the outside. It's impossible to be five months, almost 12 to 14 hours per day, six days per week, submerged in this emotional state and not be affected.

So you're affected by it in a way that is like you're putting a mirror in front of you, and you are watching the things that you don't like about yourself or that you are afraid to look within yourself, like death.

Then you have to really be able to overcome yourself and be him, be that person rather than getting stuck in your own fears, on your own needs, on your ghosts. You have to really transcend that and be somebody else.

And that's also very rewarding because as we know, we need some vacation of ourselves.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BARDEM: I mean, we need to take some holidays from ourselves. But in this case, it was not easy because when you jumped into this fiction, these men, you realized how hard that must be to be this person. And I met people like him, and I know they are real, and I know that they are walking around the streets.

DAVIES: Right. And this character, I mean, I don't want to give away the whole story, but he's under enormous pressures with his kids and with the little criminal enterprises and things that go wrong with him, some of them quite terribly wrong and then his own very serious health issues.

Did you find, as you went through this five months of inhabiting this guy, that it affected your relationships with other people at all? I mean, did you become a different person?

Mr. BARDEM: Totally, yes. When I was doing "No Country for Old Men," and I was wearing that weird haircut, and that cattle gun, killing people, I was shooting in New Mexico and in Texas, and the crew was fantastic.

The Coens are the greatest. And Josh Brolin, which is a good friend of mine and really helped me to have a good laugh, but still I felt isolated. I felt I didn't belong to that world because it was my first time when I was working with a whole foreign crew.

I was the only one speaking Spanish. I was in the heartland, no. So I felt really out of place. But that was not the only reason why I felt like that way. In a way, unconsciously, my character was putting me there, which is to be in a place where you do not belong to any world, you don't belong to anyone. You are isolated. You are by yourself.

And that happened unconsciously. And in "Biutiful," it happened the same. When you are portraying somebody that has a very, I don't know, I mean, specific weight, emotional weight, you feel like you're starting to really, I don't know, to abandon your own body and go to someplace else.

And then when you come back to yourself, people that know you well, family and friends, they know. It's like: Why did you say that, or why are you doing this, or why are you behaving this way? You are not like that. But you, yourself, you don't realize because it's so unconsciously, it's so unconscious that you don't have control over it.

DAVIES: Yeah, can you think of an example of what you just described, having an interaction, and someone says: Hey, that doesn't seem like you?

Mr. BARDEM: Well, I start to feel very anxious. I start to feel very like in a rush, like I have to close things in my life, not important things. I'm not speaking about important things.

But, like, for example, my refrigerator at home was not working, and I felt like it has to be fixed immediately. And sometimes I won't care that much. I will call the guy to try to fix it, and if he doesn't show up tomorrow or in two days, I won't get mad.

And I got mad because I need the things to be done now, which is in a way what happened to him because he has limited time. So...

DAVIES: Right, there's a sense of urgency about every day.

Mr. BARDEM: Exactly. So like that. A lot of things happen. And it's funny because I'm not like that way at all.

DAVIES: Now to the director, the Mexican, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, I know that you and he were friends before this, and he wrote this part with you in mind, in part. And he describes himself as a perfectionist.

And this is hard to believe, but I read that the scene in which you talk to your doctor, and your doctor informs you that you have cancer, your character. I read that you took 50 takes of that scene. Is that right?

Mr. BARDEM: I don't know if 50 but a lot, a lot. He likes to - yeah, he likes to shoot and shoot and shoot, which that explains why he's - I don't know. I would say he's the best actor-director I ever met. And why is that?

Well besides shooting 50 takes, which is very exhausting for everybody, it's about putting the camera in the right way, in the right place, at the right moment, and letting the actor breathe and letting the actor to take the time to take the journey.

Yes, he shoot, I don't know 50, but he shoot, like, 30, and it was very exhausting. But we both got to a place where we want to give the best of ourselves, and that's why we went through this journey together until the very end.

DAVIES: A lot of people saw you in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," a romantic comedy, in which Barcelona looks just terrific. I mean, the sun shines, and the scenery is beautiful, and the sea is glistening. In this film, "Biutiful," it's a very different side of Barcelona. Do you want to describe a little bit some of the neighborhoods that this takes place in?

Mr. BARDEM: Yes. This Barcelona is more the Barcelona of people and communities that are full of people that are coming from outside of Spain. It's more of a landscape of immigration. And it's around the exterior neighborhoods, out of the town.

But also, in the middle of the town, there are many places where you can walk through this major and very famous shops, and two doors down the street, there is a big building full of, I don't know, people that are trying to survive there.

But basically most of it happens out of the Barcelona that we know, which is the Barcelona that was portrayed in Woody Allen's movie, which by the way is a beautiful Barcelona. But as any other town in the world, it has two faces.

DAVIES: We're speaking with Javier Bardem. He stars in the new film "Biutiful." We'll talk more after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

DAVIES: If you're just joining us, our guest is actor Javier Bardem. He's been nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in the film "Biutiful."

Well, we have to talk about "No Country For Old Men," the Coen brothers' film, where you play Anton Chigurh, this truly scary, sociopathic killer. First of all, just explain how you got the look of this guy.

Mr. BARDEM: Well, Tommy Lee Jones brought a book, a photo book, of photos that were taken from the frontier - old Mexico. And there was this guy who was in the photo, it was kind of a black and white photo with a prostitute in a brothel in the frontier.

And Joel and Ethan Coen brought that picture to me, and they said: We want this. And the photo actually was very blurry, and I said: I don't know what you mean. They said: You'll know. You'll know soon.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BARDEM: So they put me in the makeup and hair trailer, and the hairdresser, which is a great, great man, he did this horrible haircut on my hair, with my hair.

And there was no mirror. So I turn, and I look at them, and they were laughing so hard that one of them fell off on the floor, ha, ha, ha, ha. And I said: I need a mirror. I need a mirror right now. What's going on here? And I saw it. And it was like: Wow, that's really insane.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BARDEM: But again, it's the Coen brothers. It so brilliant idea. I mean, it's so brilliant. I mean, I knew that they gave me 50 percent of my character with that haircut. It was their idea.

DAVIES: Right, and for people who haven't see it, it's - you have long hair. It's not particularly stylish. A.O. Scott of the New York Times called it the lost Beatle from hell.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BARDEM: That's a good one.

DAVIES: Right. So let's hear just a little bit of you in this character. We have a clip here from the film, and for those who haven't seen it, the plot involves, there was a bunch of drug dealers, and there was a shootout, and this guy who happens to be a welder, who's played by Josh Brolin, comes upon a satchel full of drug money and is running.

And your character, Anton Chigurh, is trying to track him down. And what we're going to listen to is a phone call between you and this guy who has the money, and one of the things that is referred to in the call is that you know where his wife lives and is headed to Odessa, Texas, and the clear intimation is that you will kill his wife if he doesn't bring you the money.

So let's just listen to this conversation. This is our guest, Javier Bardem, and Josh Brolin in "No Country for Old Men."

(Soundbite of film, "No Country for Old Men")

Mr. BARDEM: (As Anton Chigurh) You need to come see me.

Mr. JOSH BROLIN (Actor): (As Llewelyn Moss) Who is this?

Mr. BARDEM: (As Chigurh) You know who it is. You need to talk to me.

Mr. BROLIN: (As Moss) I don't need to talk to you.

Mr. BARDEM: (As Chigurh) I think you do. Do you know where I'm going?

Mr. BROLIN: (As Moss) Why would I care where you're going?

Mr. BARDEM: (As Chigurh) I know where you are.

Mr. BROLIN: (As Moss) Yeah? Where am I?

Mr. BARDEM: (As Chigurh) You're in the hospital across the river, but that's not where I'm going. Do you know where I'm going?

Mr. BROLIN: (As Moss) Yeah, I know where you're going.

Mr. BARDEM: (As Chigurh) All right.

Mr. BROLIN: (As Moss) You know she won't be there.

Mr. BARDEM: (As Chigurh) It doesn't make any difference where she is.

Mr. BROLIN: (As Moss) So what are you going up there for?

Mr. BARDEM: (As Chigurh) You know how this is going to turn out, don't you?

Mr. BROLIN: (As Moss) Nope.

Mr. BARDEM: (As Chigurh) I think you do. So this is what I'll offer: You bring me the money, and I'll let her go. Otherwise, she's accountable the same as you. That's the best deal you're going to get. I won't tell you you can save yourself because you can't.

DAVIES: And that's one of the 10 scariest guys I've ever seen in a movie. That's our guest, Javier Bardem from the film, the Coen brothers' film, "No Country for Old Men."

You know, your character, Anton Chigurh, we don't really know anything about him in the film, and I gather in the novel, the Cormac McCarthy novel, he's also not so clearly defined. Did you have a back-story in your head that told you how he became what he was?

Mr. BARDEM: That's a very funny and very interesting question. No, I didn't, and actually, that's one of the things I love to do the most, to create a story, a back-story, in my head that will help me to understand what I'm doing.

But in this case, I've prepared a role with my acting teacher, Juan Carlos Corazza, which has been my acting teacher since 22 years ago. And, of course, once - when I go there with Juan Carlos, with my acting teacher, I go based on the idea that the Coens wanted me to do. It's not something that he will direct me how to do it, and then I will go to a set and do what I want, no. It's like I took two good actors, they tell me what they want, I go there to the laboratory, try different things, come back to them, and they choose what they want.

And I was working with Juan Carlos, and we found, like, there is no way there's a back-story, and that's the great thing. He's not a human being. There is no back-story. He is a symbol. He is a symbolic idea of violence. He is a man that comes out of nowhere and goes to nowhere at the end. So he's death himself. He's violence himself.

And that's why we wanted to create this thing where you are not sure what is him, if he's a man or a machine or a Biblical plague or what. And that was funny to do but also very delicate to not cross past the line, and in that, the Coens had a lot to say because they were directing me on the set in a very, very, very subtle way but also without losing a sense of humor.

DAVIES: A sense of humor, huh?

Mr. BARDEM: Yeah, that look, that way of walking, that way of throwing one line here and there, that's something that the Coens were, I mean, they were pushing me - not pushing me, like, asking me to do. And sometimes I would go, like: Why, why? You don't need that. You don't need - why, why would he do that? And they were laughing.

And they'd say: You'll know. You'll know when you see the movie. And they are damn right. I mean, it's - one of the great things about the Coens is that they never forget the sense of humor.

DAVIES: Can you think of an example of one of those things that you said why do you want me to do that, and then it made sense later?

Mr. BARDEM: I don't know. There's a scene where I go to the trailer park, and I ask for Josh Brolin's character, and there's this woman there, and then I ask where he is, and she says: I cannot give that information.

And then I naturally look at her, and I went away, and they said no, no, no. You look at her, and you stay there for two minutes. And I was, like, what? Yes, we want you to look at her and stare at her for two minutes, I mean without blinking. I said OK, I'll do that.

And I thought at the moment he was a little bit too forced, you know, too pushy. But no, they knew exactly. And that's one of the moments where I think, and I know, people love the most, with that look. So that's - those are the things that the Coens know how to do the best.

DAVIES: Yeah, I remember that scene, too, and she says: Sir, we can't give out no information. And you just...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BARDEM: Exactly.

DAVIES: You stare right back at her. Earlier you were talking about reading the script for "Biutiful," and you connected with this guy, who is rich and complex. The character Anton Chigurh in "No Country for Old Men," as you said, is not really a human being. Did you connect with him in any way?

Mr. BARDEM: No. And, first of all...

DAVIES: That's reassuring, I guess.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BARDEM: Yes, yes, yes, thank God. I went to the Coens, which I've always, always dreamed of working with, and I never thought it was going to happen, and it happened.

And I went to him, to them, and I said: Listen, I cannot do this movie. I can't. I don't drive, I don't speak English, and I hate violence. And they said: You're perfect.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BARDEM: You're perfect for the movie. I said: OK, whatever. So they convinced me, and I went there, and I was so lost. There is nothing too much -and there's not much to hold on to because as we are talking, as we said, it's an idea rather than a human being.

But then there was a moment where I finally got the rhythm of him, of his. And I felt comfortable. And as I said, the Coens were always, I mean, helping me in finding the tone, in finding the humor in it, and that's why I had a great time doing it. Otherwise, it would've been too dark.

And it is too dark. It is very dark. But he also has these glimpses of humor that make the whole thing a little more easy for me.

DAVIES: You know, you had this long career of really interesting, complex roles in your international work. And, you know, millions of Americans really sort of got to know you through "No Country for Old Men." Is it weird for you to be introduced to a lot of American audiences as this creepy guy?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BARDEM: No, no, it's a pleasure. I would not make people have a second thought when they want to come and say hello.

(Soundbite of laughter)


Mr. BARDEM: No, it's like - it was - first of all, I never expected this movie to be the movie that it is, I mean, because as you know, we don't interact. We didn't ever interact, me and Josh Brolin or Tommy Lee Jones. So I was only aware of what I was doing on the set, which was walking around with that haircut and killing people with my cattle gun.

So I didn't really know what movie we were doing. Then when I saw it, I felt: Wow, this is something crazy and insane, but it's very Coen brothers. I love it. And then the movie went to this huge, high place. But you never know. You never know how it's going to be received.

GROSS: We'll hear more of Javier Bardem's interview with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies in the second half of the show. Bardem is nominated for an Oscar for his performance in the new film "Biutiful," which is nominated for best foreign language film.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to our interview with the Spanish actor Javier Bardem. He's nominated for an Oscar for his performance in the Spanish language film "Biutiful." He won a Goya, the Spanish equivalent of an Oscar, for that performance. Bardem also starred in "Before Night Falls," "The Sea Inside" and "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." He won an Oscar for his performance in "No Country for Old Men."

DAVIES: You come from a long line of actors. Your mom, right?

Mr. BARDEM: Yeah.

DAVIES: Your grandparents.

Mr. BARDEM: Mm-hmm.

DAVIES: Your brother, your sister. When you were a kid did you see yourself becoming - going into the profession?

Mr. BARDEM: Not really. I actually wanted to go to the opposite direction because I was so used to see all of this in my daily life that there was no magic in it for me. It was no, I was not really intrigued about what that was. So I start to - well, I study as the kid, and then I start to work as a painter and I went to Bellas Artes to paint. But little by little, I got into the movies by doing some work as an extra so I could get some money and keep on painting.

And one day, they offered me these couple of lines, and I said well, why not? And I did it. And I felt great. I felt like wow, I know this place. I belong here. And then I start to study as an actor. I went to my acting school, which is the one that I'm still going, because I think it helps me a lot to really remind myself why do I love what I do because sometimes you get lost. Sometimes you are like is it worth it? Why am I doing this? Am I doing this for the right reasons, blah, blah, blah. So coming back to the acting school helps me to really put myself in the old shoes.

DAVIES: Mm-hmm.

Mr. BARDEM: And then one day they gave me this role where I had to speak more than two lines and I prepared myself and I enjoyed it. And I guess from that moment to today I've been very lucky. Very, very lucky. I'm very blessed by working with some of the greatest directors I ever dream of.

DAVIES: Well, you I mean you certainly had success at it. I mean you won the Goya Award for best actor for the film "Boca a Boca."

Mr. BARDEM: Mm-hmm.

DAVIES: That's I guess what people called the Spanish Oscars, right? Sort of the leading film award.

Mr. BARDEM: Yeah.

DAVIES: And you became a really leading actor in Spanish cinema. Did you aspire to act in English then at all?

Mr. BARDEM: Well, I'm 42 years old so I guess my generation, we all grew up with "Taxi Driver" and "Apocalypse Now" and great performances done in English, along with some of the great performance also in Italy, France and, of course, Spain, which I had the chance to work with some of them. But no, I never thought about going out of Spain and working in a foreign language ever, because that was totally out of my radar, no? It's like no, that's not going to happen. But it happened. That's the weirdest thing and if you ask me why I can't tell you.

There is this lovely man called Julian Schnabel, which I love and I adore, who had the guts to say I want you to do "Before Night Falls" and everybody around was like, why? Why? Who is that guy? Why? Why? Why him? But he said well, because I like him because he saw some of my movies in Spain. At that time I didn't speak any English and he said we are going to make this together. Don't worry. It's going to be fine. And I had one of the best experiences of my life doing that movie. I will never forget it and we worked hard and we made it and I guess that brought some attention.

DAVIES: You really didn't speak English before getting into that movie?

Mr. BARDEM: No. I mean just hello and give me a glass of water. That's all.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BARDEM: I'm always saying that know how to curse very well because I learn English listening to AC/DC.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BARDEM: So I'm a huge fan of AC/DC, and so I was translating the lyrics so I know how to curse.

DAVIES: You have to start somewhere, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BARDEM: Exactly.

DAVIES: Well, we should just pause a minute on this film because it was a real important one for you. "Before Night Falls" directed by Julian Schnabel, it's -you play the poet and novelist Reinaldo Arenas who...

Mr. BARDEM: Mm-hmm.

DAVIES: ...was a gay man persecuted in Cuba during the revolution. It kind of takes us through the '60s, through the Mariel boatlift when you, his character, ends up in New York and gets AIDS.

Mr. BARDEM: Mm-hmm.

DAVIES: I mean it's a really dramatic role. And one of the things that's fascinating to me about it is that it takes place in Cuba but much of the dialogue is in English. How is acting in English different from acting in Spanish for you?

Mr. BARDEM: It's a different, it's a totally different situation and it's like here, I'm trying to express myself and share some opinions and be relaxed and giving you what I think, giving you some thoughts about what I feel or what I think and there's this office in my brain full of people working at the same time that I'm talking to you trying to not, I mean, be wrong with the intonation, with the words and so it's very exhausting.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: The office is translating. Right. OK.

Mr. BARDEM: Exactly. If I speak Spanish that office is closed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BARDEM: There's nobody in the office. I mean I'm fine by my own.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. BARDEM: Funny enough, and that's something I discovered during "'Before Night Falls," it gives me also a different kind of freedom because I don't know how to say. It's not about not having respect to the words, of course, I have respect to the words. But since some of the words doesn't have an emotional resonance on me, I can play with them more freely. When you're speaking in your mother tongue, you may be more cautious of using some words or using some intonations. In English, I feel more free also to try and experiment things and experiment tones and the way of speaking, and so one thing gives you the other.

DAVIES: That's interesting. And I also thought we should talk a little bit about the film "The Sea Inside," "Mar Adentro," which you also won the Goya best actor award for. And it's based on the true story of Ramon Sampedro, who was a middle-aged man who had spent more than 20 years as a quadriplegic, he had a diving accident, seeking the legal right to die, to have assisted suicide.

When you tell that story it's not necessarily the kind of story that people might choose for a Saturday night movie, but it really is a terrific movie and a remarkable performance. You're heavier, you're bald balding, and you're pinned to a bed. I mean you can move yourself only from the neck. Talk a little about the physical transformation of that character.

Mr. BARDEM: That was a great story that I was once again scared to do and I guess those are the ones that are worth to do, the ones that brings you fear, the ones that gives you fear to do, because those are the ones that has a meaning to yourself. And this one was especially scary because this man was almost 50 years, or more than 50 years when he died and I was 34 when they're offering me. So we had a long, long process of trying to become that person through makeup and through, I don't know, physicality and then we found it. And once we found it was one of the greatest experiences, believe it or not. And yes, I was on the bed everyday, which is a good thing, no? I mean it's a great job to be on the bed all day.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BARDEM: But also Alejandro Amenabar, which is a director, which is an amazing director and great, great person - great sense of humor, we were having a blast doing the movie and everybody felt like oh, that must be very hard to do. No, actually it was fun.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BARDEM: And once again, I have to be everyday like for five to six hours on the makeup trailer to have the amazing makeup that Jo Allen, the makeup artist, did with me. That was five to six hours everyday lying down, and you cannot move because it's all on the face. Well, after a week, I understood perfectly what it's like to be on the bed confined without moving, because I guess I found the key of my role in that makeup chair when I couldn't even move or go to toilet because I have to be still for the makeup to take place on my face. And those are the things that you are not controlling and that can give you a lot of help. And beyond that, this character made an amazing bed for life, actually, for a dignified life and I think he was a - it is a great honor for me to have been in his skin for three months.

DAVIES: Yeah. I mean one of the fascinating things about the character is that he, it's not a story of constant suffering. I mean he has relationships with people around him and they are complicated. He smiles a lot, even when he talks about difficult things, which is a fascinating thing about him, I think.

Was it a controversial film? The case was certainly controversial. I mean did you feel comfortable with sort of the political issues that it was raising?

Mr. BARDEM: Yeah. I felt comfortable and I was so much into what he meant to a lot of people because that's the story; that's the point. The point is he was a very, I don't know, how do you say, smiley and fun person who was making fun of everybody, including himself, who had a big appetite for life. But, coming to his own terms, that wasn't enough for him. And what he was doing is to put people, to challenge people to understand that. Like, who owns my life? I own my life, and if all of this is not enough for me, who should tell me that I should keep on living? And that's a very powerful statement.

And, yes, the movie came out when he did that, when he took his life, of course, he brought a lot of I mean attention to euthanasia in Spain. And, of course, it's very, very complex matter. I mean it's not that easy. But there are certain cases like Ramon Sampedro which is very obvious and still, they - I mean he had to fight so long and so strong until he found his own way to do it.

DAVIES: We're speaking with Javier Bardem. He's starring in the new film "Biutiful." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: If you're just joining us, our guest is actor Javier Bardem. He's been nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in the new film "Biutiful."

You got to work with Woody Allen on "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." How did you get that role?

Mr. BARDEM: Well, I had a call from Mr. Woody Allen, which I was very impressed by. He told me briefly, I have a script for you. I want you to read it. And he hung up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BARDEM: And I said, OK. Whatever.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BARDEM: And then I read it. I read it and I thought it was fun and it was very, very smart, because it's about the stereotypes and the people behind those stereotypes. And then he called me back and said, do you like it? And I said, yes. OK, you are on. It was that easy.

DAVIES: So let's listen to a clip. This is a moment early in the film. You play this romantic painter, Juan Antonio, who approaches these two young American women who are in Barcelona, played here by Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson and make a pretty forward proposal. Let's listen.

(Soundbite of movie, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona")

Mr. BARDEM: (as Juan Antonio) American?

Ms. SCARLETT JOHANSSON (Actress): (as Cristina) I'm Cristina and this is my friend Vicky.

Mr. BARDEM: (as Juan Antonio) What color are your eyes?

Ms. JOHANSSON (Actress): (as Cristina) They're blue.

Mr. BARDEM: (as Juan Antonio) I'd like to invite you both to come with me to Oviedo.

Ms. REBECCA HALL (Actress): (as Vicky) To come where?

Mr. BARDEM: (as Juan Antonio) To Oviedo for the weekend. We leave in one hour.

(Soundbite of glass clinking)

Ms. JOHANSSON: (as Cristina) Where is Oviedo?

Mr. BARDEM: (as Juan Antonio) A very short flight.

Ms. HALL: (as Vicky) By plane?

Mr. BARDEM: (as Juan Antonio) Mm-hmm.

Ms. JOHANSSON: (as Cristina) What's in Oviedo?

Mr. BARDEM: (as Juan Antonio) I go to see a sculpture that is very inspiring to me, very beautiful sculpture. You'll love it.

Ms. HALL: (as Vicky) Oh right. You're asking us to fly to Oviedo and back?

Mr. BARDEM: (as Juan Antonio) No. We'll spend the weekend. I mean I'll show you around the city and we'll eat well, we'll drink good wine, we'll make love.

Ms. HALL: (as Vicky) Yeah. Who exactly is going to make love?

Mr. BARDEM: (as Juan Antonio) Hopefully the three of us.

Ms. JOHANSSON: (as Cristina) Oh, my God.

Mr. BARDEM: (as Juan Antonio) I'll get your (unintelligible).

Ms. HALL: (as Vicky) Jesus, this guy. He doesn't beat around the bush. Look, Senor, maybe in a different life.

Mr. BARDEM: (as Juan Antonio) Why not? Life is short. Life is (unintelligible). Life is full of pain and this is a chance for something special.

DAVIES: And that's our guest Javier Bardem...

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: ...putting moves on Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona."

You dog.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Have you ever done anything like that in real life?

Mr. BARDEM: No way.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BARDEM: Actually, I was shooting that scene and I say who in the world, who in the world is going to believe this? But Woody Allen did it right. I guess some people thought it was funny and those two girls were crazy enough to do it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Right. And then off goes romantic triangles, quadrangles and entangles.

Mr. BARDEM: I think it's a great movie and because it's really about, I was saying before about the stereotypes, about the cliches, the Spanish cliche and the American cliche, actually and the people behind those cliches - that basically, we are all the same, we have the same fears, needs. And the way it's put together I think it was very fun but also very pointed, very delightful to watch.

DAVIES: Right. And Penelope Cruz comes in in a terrific performance. Some people probably saw this as an antidote to the Anton Chigurh character where you're this, you know, psychopathic killer in "No Country for Old Men." Did you see it that way at all?

Mr. BARDEM: Not really. No, no, I don't see - I don't have a plan. I don't have a plan in my head. I mean if things happen, things have a meaning to you then you do it and there's no way that you can do a next step based on the previous one. That doesn't work that way in my opinion. I mean Woody Allen gave me this call, he showed me this. I thought it was going to be fun and a great cast, Barcelona and I said well, why not? Let's do it. And once again, Woody Allen was shooting one take, so...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BARDEM: ...it's a different experience, for 30 takes to one take and no reversals, so it was kind of jumping off the cliff for me. Because the scenes are very long and there's no cut so it was like kind of challenging for me to be speaking with Woody Allen's words that are jewels for the mouth. I mean because for the language part. He writes so beautifully, but you only have one chance so it was very challenging and also very and rewarding.

DAVIES: Yeah, I was going to ask you how he was different from some of the great international directors you've worked with. That's one way. One take, huh?

Mr. BARDEM: Yeah. Yeah. One take and no rehearsal and I don't know if I ever came to him and said I would like to speak about my character but I think I did that and he looked at me like I kill someone.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BARDEM: Like what? What is that? I said no, don't worry, I won't bother you again.

DAVIES: Really? You just...

Mr. BARDEM: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

DAVIES: You give me your interpretation and it will work, uh?

Mr. BARDEM: Exactly. He's one of those who says I do the cast and I do the cast because I know you can play it so don't come to me and bother me...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BARDEM: ...with your method questions, but in a very funny way. And, of course, it's Woody Allen so, of course, you say, of course, Mr. Allen. Whatever you want.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: You know, people who write about you comment a lot about your look, that you just have a compelling visual presence onscreen. You have heavy eyes. Do you think about what you look like at all?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BARDEM: No. Well, I've been 20 once and, of course, in that moment I looked at myself in the mirror trying to see what it was there. But I'm 42 now so I don't think I look at the mirror not even when I brush my teeth.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BARDEM: So what I mean by this is I can care less. And no. I mean what I try to do is to put my physicality into the character and sometimes it's impossible. Sometimes it's easier and sometimes it helps you to be in shape, actually for because in Barcelona I have to do a lot of sports and get on a diet and that's good.

DAVIES: What's next for you?

Mr. BARDEM: Well, I've done this movie with Terrence Malik, which once again, is a great honor for me to be in one of his movies. But because he's Terrence Malik, you never know what's going to happen. I may not be in the movie.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BARDEM: I may not end up in the movie. But it was a great experience and he is a very funny man, very smart. And now I'm reading some stuff. But I'm taking my time. I've always took my time. I've never rushed, not in Spain when I started 22 years ago. I really want to read something that has some meaning to me whatever the meaning is and that is what I do, and that's something that I haven't changed in the way I look material.

DAVIES: Well, Javier Bardem it's been really interesting. Thanks so much.

Mr. BARDEM: Thank you.

GROSS: Javier Bardem spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies. Bardem is nominated for an Oscar for his performance in the new film "Biutiful," which is nominated for best foreign language film.

Coming up, Lloyd Schwartz reviews a traveling exhibition of Venetian masterpieces, including two paintings by Titian, which are in the U.S. for the first time. This is FRESH AIR.

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