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Babel - Gael Garcia Bernal interview

Gael Garcia Bernal in Babel

Interview by Rob Carnevale

GAEL Garcia Bernal talks about his relationship with Babel director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and some of the challenges he faced when making the Golden Globe winning film…

Q. Has your working relationship with Alejandro [Gonzalez Inarritu, the director] changed since Amores Perros – if so how?
Gael Garcia Bernal: Yeah, we’re more good-looking and older and more wise [laughs]! No, I think that the first experience we had was a whirlwind where I participated in only five weeks of a 13-week shoot which was a great surprise for me to see when I went to Cannes for the first time. I had read the script I knew what the stories were about but obviously you don’t know the colour and the context and you had no idea of the impact it was going to have. So, that process was very instinctive and irrational in a way and incredibly organic.

Now what I can see is we’re a bit more aware of the craft itself and of the artistic rigour, the things that aren’t important that we shouldn’t bother about. Yet, at the same time, we have the same instinctive energy, the same stamina but with another bonus in that maybe now we’re more curious, because the more you do the more you think you don’t know anything.

Q. Your character is quite ambiguous especially in some of his actions. Did you think about what happened to him ultimately?
Gael Garcia Bernal: The character’s lines are very specific; Santiago is a kid that ends up in the dramatic structure being the catalyst of the tragedy that occurs in Tijuana. He provides the vehicle [car] and he’s the vehicle of this tragedy.

On a very immediate level, you can just say that his reaction was a mistake fuelled by alcohol. He is trying to see the imminent danger of the police discovering they crossed the border with these American kids and how they might take the kids from them… who knows what would happen with the kids?

So maybe he sees a little opportunity to escape in the whirlwind of alcohol. But you can see that he’s reacting in a very primal way against the resentment, or as Alejandro calls it, “the right of humiliation that you have to go through every time you cross the border”.

Q. Did working with the Mexican kids and American kids reinforce the feeling that we’re all the same under the skin?
Gael Garcia Bernal: There’s a point in the film where the kids were playing tag with Nathan [Gamble] and Elle [Fanning]. They were just mingling and as a kid you don’t question differences. I remember asking the kids what the differences they saw between Mexico and the United States and they said: “Um, the food; um, oh and the people that sell in the streets. In the United States there are no people that sell in the streets. Um, the language.”

And that’s it – those were the three basic differences! I mean they’re the first ones to reinforce the fact that we’re all the same. Elle Fanning does a great Paris Hilton imitation – amazing, I don’t know what Paris Hilton is like, but she does this character – it’s so good!

Q. Alejandro has said that if you work together again you’re going to be forbidden from driving any cars on set – why is that?
Gael Garcia Bernal: It’s documented – every time I drive a car in a film I crash! But it’s not as bad as Amores Perros; at the time I knew how to drive roughly, but we had a very innocent, special driving situation. The crash was great, but we were actually driving in the city being pulled by a crane, by a power plant and with no direction – it was pretty dangerous thinking about it now. But that’s one of the things that’s really good about Mexico – in the United States you wouldn’t be able to do that.

Read our review of Babel

Read our interview with Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu