Javier Bardem: Acting, Fame Are Contradictory

Javier Bardem
Actor Javier Bardem
With such films as "Eat, Pray, Love" - in which he played opposite Julia Roberts - Javier Bardem is winning over audiences a long ways away from his native Spain. Here's Kelly Cobiella with a Sunday Profile:

The way Javier Bardem sees it, actors should be like lawyers … defending the characters they play, not judging them.

"When you are doing a character, you have to put your judgments aside," he said. "It's not me, it's him that matters."

"So you can't bring yourself into it?" Cobiella asked.

"No. Otherwise, you are portraying yourself on and on, and when you portray on and on yourself, it's kind of boring."

Gallery: Javier Bardem

Bardem's chilling performance as the cold-hearted killer in "No Country for Old Men" brought home a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

He said he never expected his performance on the Coen Brothers thriller to be an Oscar-winning role:

"Never. You never think that. I never dream of getting an Oscar. I mean, it's impossible. I'm from Spain. It's so far away from what I ever dream of.

"But it was a fun night!" he added.

"That was a long night, from what I heard," said Cobiella.

"Spaniards, yeah - when you put more than two Spaniards together, usually are long nights," Bardem said.

Bardem returned to his native Spain for his latest film, "Biutiful." He plays a hustler with a heart, dealing in black market immigrants and trying to make a life for his two children, even as he learns he's facing death.

Mexican director Alexandro Gonzalez Inarritu ("Babel") wrote the film with Bardem in mind.

The actor said that when he first read the script, his initial reaction was fear. "Responsibilties!" he laughed.

"Why?" asked Cobiella.

"Because I knew it was going to be a long journey," Bardem said.

The film runs through the back alleys of Barcelona, deep into a grim part of the city you don't see in the travel brochures … and deep into the soul of a character full of conflicts and contradictions.

"There are roles where you go to the set and you deliver the lines and you have fun and you go back home - this is not one of them," Bardem said. "That's why I was scared when I read it, because I knew this was more about a life journey that you have to take."

Bardem loves the challenge of playing someone he's not, like the quadriplegic fighting for the right to die in "The Sea Inside," or the jailed Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas in "Before Night Falls."

Even Julia Roberts' love in "Eat, Pray, Love."

"They offered me this opportunity of going with Julia to Bali," Bardem said.

"And I read the book and I said, 'What's wrong with that? I'm going!'" he laughed.

He'd played the heartthrob before, in Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona."

"You have three beautiful women falling for you, how is it? It's insane!" he said.

"You don't see yourself as the handsome leading man?" Cobiella asked.

"No, no, because you don't see yourself like that."

Though he grew up in a family full of actors, Bardem didn't see himself going into the family business.

On a visit to the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, he explained that painting was his first love: "It was a way for me to try to express things that I felt. But I was a very bad painter. Otherwise I would've keep on painting. It's not it was bad or good. It was like, I felt it was not my place to be."

He took acting jobs to support his painting, and listened to music to learn English. He credits the group AC/DC for his fluency in English, in some respects: "I love heavy metal music. That's why I know how to curse!"

By age 20 Bardem turned to acting full time. His first international hit, "Jamon Jamon," cast him opposite a beautiful teenager, Penelope Cruz.

Years later, they would reconnect while making "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." The two married last summer, and are expecting a child.

(Roadside Attractions)
Last spring Bardem won Best Acting honors for "Biutiful" at the Cannes Film Festival.

(Left: Javier Bardem faces mortality in the film "Biutiful.")

He dedicated the award to Cruz - "My joy, my friend, my companion, my love" - a rare public display for the famously private couple.

The two are famously private and won't talk about their personal lives.

When asked if he were comfortable being famous, Bardem said, "I don't think there is anything natural in being observed by other people."

"But as an actor, that's what you do," said Cobiella.

"Yeah, that's the contradiction," he said. "I have the need to express myself through my work. That's a need that I have as a performer. That doesn't mean that I have the need to enjoy the performance, to watch the performance and to enjoy the life of a performer. That's the contradiction."

"So do you like being famous?"

"I don't think anybody likes to be famous, but those who [do] are a******s, really," said Bardem. "Yeah. There's nothing there to like."

Like it or not, fame has found Javier Bardem, but he keeps it in perspective.

"It doesn't help to create a better world, no? When people are talking about themselves on and on? He said. "Which I'm doing, by the way, in this moment," he laughed.

"Yeah, but it's allowed, because we have a story to put together," Cobiella laughed,

"Yeah, okay."

For more info:
"Biutiful" (Official Movie Website)