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Scarface - Steven Bauer interview (exclusive)

Scarface

Interview by Rob Carnevale

STEVEN Bauer talks about playing the iconic role of Manny Ribera in Brian De Palma’s Scarface and the pleasure and fun of hanging out with and badgering Al Pacino.

He also talks about being one of only two Cubans on set and what that meant to him, as well as hearing Martin Scorsese endorse the film and deliver a warning. And he talks about appearing on the iconic show Breaking Bad and concentrating more on his music career.

Q. Did you ever imagine back in 1983 that Scarface would take on such a life of its own and become a huge part of pop culture?
Steven Bauer: I know, right? There was no way to know back then how everything would turn out. We did have some idea that our lives would change because of the nature of the film and the extreme nature of the content [laughs]. And I do remember that I was young and precocious enough that I would bug Al [Pacino] all the time… we were always together on the set and I was always needling him with questions about the future. We sort of had this little game we’d play about what it would be like [after its release] and what the response would be [to it]. We did these sort of little mini interview games with each other and he’s very funny.

Q. How long did you have to work together on building the chemistry that exists between you? You’re like brothers…
Steven Bauer: Thank you. The thing was, when I first met him we were put together in a room and the chemistry was there immediately – and that was at least two or maybe even three months or so before we actually started shooting. But it meant that he and I had a really nice opportunity to get to know each other and each other’s characters. We spent a lot of time together and talked extensively about the place we were from, Cuba, especially because I had some of that knowledge and could offer that. Being of Cuban heritage, I could provide that knowledge of Cuban culture and the Cuban sense of humour.

Q. You were the only real Cuban on set, weren’t you?
Steven Bauer: I was one of two. The other one is not as well known or mentioned as much but that was Angel Salazar, who plays Chi Chi with the hat. And he’s very much alive still today. He does stand up comedy in New York and all over the country. He is also from Cuba… from Guantanamo. He used to tell us a story about how he swam from Guantanamo around the shark infested waters to the naval base when he was a little kid. They sent him from Guantanamo to New Jersey, where he grew up and went to school. But he didn’t ever remove his accent. In fact, he still has that to this day. So, we were the two Cubans in the production and that was fun to be able to have that and be singled out and offer that as two individuals.

Q. You came to America at the age of three, didn’t you? How much do you remember about that experience, if anything? Or did you ask your parents about it as part of any research you did for Scarface?
Steven Bauer: Well, the interesting thing for me surrounds the irony of my life and my character’s life. I was born in Cuba, like Manolo [Manny] but grew up in the US, albeit in a Cuban environment in a home with [Cuban] grandparents, uncles and aunts and cousins. So, I was able to retain that culture and had that to draw from. Manny came to the US and immediately starts trying to become an American. But he’s doing it as an adult and so is his pal, Tony Montana. They really wanted to be seen as American.

In fact, it’s reminded me of a very interesting scene in the first screenplay that Oliver Stone wrote… the scene eventually got cut because it just didn’t fit the flow of the story. But the scene in question came upon their arrival in Miami, in the internment camp, and it’s a very, very pointed scene where a bunch of guys are sitting in a boathouse around a black and white TV watching The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. In that scene, you get two elements… the first is their love for American movies and for American icons like Humphrey Bogart, who he [Tony] then mentions in his first scene – the interrogation scene. He acknowledges that they taught him how to talk. And then there’s the gold lust element and how they start talking about the lust for gold and the greed and paranoia that comes with it. He talks about conscience. So, when the movie ends and we’re walking away from the TV, Manny says to Tony: “Wow, that Bogart was crazy… really paranoid… all that gold made him crazy.” And Tony goes: “Yeah, I saw that, it’ll make you crazy.”

It has a nice irony and Oliver had written it to help set up the character and to highlight the differences between Manny and Tony. That acknowledgement frightens my character, but not his [Al]’s character. I think the scene has been added to the DVD that was released to mark the film’s 20 year anniversary and I think it will be on the Blu-ray.

Scarface

Q. How much do you feel you learned from Al Pacino as a young actor working alongside him?
Steven Bauer: I’ll tell you, I had a lot of fun. Every day, going to work was fun because instead of this tremendous pressure that I should have been feeling, I was just able to enjoy myself. And that’s amazing. I mean, he’s such a great actor and he was also one of my heroes. Growing up, it was Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Gerard Depardieu… those were my favourites at the time, besides other classic actors. But those two American actors were the real deal for me, so I should have felt some kind of pressure. But I didn’t feel anything like that because of the three months we had together beforehand and because of how well we got on. We’d seen each other almost every day and we almost had a ritual where we prepared for filming and were almost living the characters. So, when they said ‘action’ we were just being Tony and Manny. It was a tremendous first experience in a feature film for me. I’d done some films for TV but this was absolutely different. It was a rollercoaster ride but it was great. Every day was hilarious and exciting and inspiring for me.

Q. Do you still see Al?
Steven Bauer: Not as much as I’d like to… but he’s a very busy guy. He has a lot going on all the time. And besides that fact he also has two young kids at this point in his life… he has twins – a boy and a girl – and he spends as much time as he has available with them. So, when he’s not with them, he’s working. And he really works and works and works. He has such a tremendous body of work anyway but he’s always adding to it. That being said, I have seen him on a few occasions and I will see him in a couple of weeks when we get together for the Scarface event in LA. So, I’m looking forward to that. But he’s just so incredibly busy.

Q. As are you… your CV is full of work, including the latest season of Breaking Bad
Steven Bauer: Oh man, that’s such a great show. Season four has really started with a bang over here. And I’ve been told by the producers that my episodes are a particular favourite of theirs. I’m in 8 and 10. But as with most of the episodes, from the first strains of the first scene to the last act, every single episode is just kick ass. And it’s completely unpredictable. So, I’m very excited and looking forward to seeing that. Breaking Bad has taken on a whole personality of its own over here… much in the same way as The Sopranos achieved an iconic status during the course of its run.

Q. So, what do you play?
Steven Bauer: [Laughs] I can’t tell you that. I’m sworn to secrecy like everyone is on the show! They don’t want to give any of the story away. And you might guess something if I tell you who I’m playing. What I will tell you, however, is that I speak Spanish in the show. It’s very exciting. My stuff was just brilliant to do and my scenes are just insane.

Q. You’re also concentrating more on your music now?
Steven Bauer: Yes, I am devoting some time to music. I’m finding a balance in my life right now so that when I’m not acting I’m really working on the music side of things… producing and writing and recording and also getting to do some live shows. It’s a really exciting thing. My long-time partner, Glen, and I have created this sound which is very American and very melodic. We call it American gypsy music, or Americana. You can hear it if you go to undergroundjunction.net – that’s the name of the band, Underground Junction. So, if you head over to the website you can see some photos of the band live and you can hear some of our early recordings. We’re currently recording our first EP and it should be out around the same time as the Scarface Blu-ray. Hopefully, I’ll be able to play some of the material on some of the talk shows I’m being lined up to do.

Scarface Reunion, LA

Q. What are some of your favourite memories of Scarface?
Steven Bauer: [Pauses to think] Just the daily badgering with Al. I spent a lot of time in his trailer really just talking and hanging out. And a lot of the scenes stand out. Firstly, the scene out in the parking lot with F Murray Abraham. That was fun to do. We shot that in LA and not in Miami. There’s also a great scene that marked my sort of homecoming to Miami. I’d been gone for a while and we came back to shoot two sequences on location in Miami because we couldn’t shoot the whole film there. So, when we were pulling up in Miami Beach for the motel room scene. That whole day was incredible, shooting Tony’s arrival and his dramatic departure… where he shoots the guy in the street while covered in blood.

We’d actually shot the interior scenes already in LA at Universal, six months beforehand – basically, the whole chainsaw sequence was shot indoors at Universal. And then, we pulled up in Miami and shot those two book-end scenes. And then, of course, I love the sequence where I have to stick my tongue out at the girl and try to pick her up only to be slapped in the face. I loved shooting that scene because we had a laugh.

Q. And how psyched were you to get an early seal of approval from Martin Scorsese?
Steven Bauer: Oh, you heard about that? I like telling that story. When I was sitting there in the theatre in New York, Martin Scorsese was literally sitting right in front of me and he turned around near the beginning of the film and said… he was blown away right away and he turned around and said: “You know they’re going to hate it in Hollywood…” I said: “Why would you say that?” And he said: “Because it’s about them…” [Laughs] It was a great forecast of things to come and, indeed, Scarface was rejected by Hollywood for years and years. We had to fight so hard to get it released and to prevent the X rating. Now it’s quite the thing. But it took a long time to get out there.

View photos from the Scarface reunion or read our review

Scarface is released on Blu-ray on Monday, September 5, 2011.