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Biutiful - Javier Bardem interview

Javier Bardem in Biutiful

Interview by Rob Carnevale

JAVIER Bardem talks about the challenge of playing Uxbal, a drug dealer and father coming to terms with a terminal disease, in his latest film Biutiful and how much it took out of him.

He also discusses working with Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for the first time and what he looks for when taking on new roles.

Q. What did you find the most difficult challenge of finding your character, Uxbal, in Biutiful? He’s a man of so many contradictions…
Javier Bardem: Many things [laughs]! One of the most difficult parts was to really be in his skin and not judge him. To be there and comprehend that he really has to feed those kids. One of the greatest things for an actor is to really be able to not judge for the time being. In this case, I had some problems but when I was reading the script I understood how much of a victim he is and was able to feel compassion for him.

Q. He is essentially a good man trying to get out of a bad situation. He’s a good father…
Javier Bardem: I guess he has to face himself because something major happens to him and he then sees that everything he has created around him doesn’t work for those kids to learn, or to have a legacy. So, he must stop and face himself, as hard as that is… and we all know that most of the time we don’t like to do that because we don’t feel comfortable doing it. In his case, it’s even more uncomfortable but he has the strength to keep on going and learning something out of that for his kids to have a different legacy.

Q. How difficult is a character like Uxbal to shake off, especially at the end of each day?
Javier Bardem: It’s not difficult… it’s impossible [laughs]. Sometimes you will try and it will happen… sometimes he’ll go away in a very easy way. But sometimes he will stay with you for the whole week. And then you’re like: “I’m not him! I’m not him!” But you spend five months, 12 or 14 hours per day with this, six days a week, so it’s impossible. When you look at your own reality during that time, sometimes that seems to be the fiction and the reality is what you’ve created because you are so immersed. It’s hard. But that’s when you have to learn to draw the line between what you are and what you are representing, what you are playing. Otherwise, you can be very confused.

Q. I gather having the two children on the set helped because they snapped out of it so quickly?
Javier Bardem: Exactly. It’s like I was trying to help them but they helped me! I was playing with them and making sure they’d be safe… to not bring back home the images from the day or the issues they were playing. They went through some tough moments. But for me, being with them and playing with them really helped me to release the tension. It was kind of a relief.

Q. You’d wanted to work with Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for so long, so how was the reality of finally being able to do so? Did he do anything that surprised you?
Javier Bardem: I think he did everything that I was expecting. But it’s very real and it’s hard. He’s a hard worker. He’s a perfectionist. He’s a great director. Some of the best actors in the world have done some of their best performances with him, so I knew that it would be hard but also good. And he likes to shoot. He likes to do a scene a lot of times from different angles, so if you’re doing a heavy scene it can last for 10 hours and that’s only one day of work [smiles]. Then you say to yourself: “OK, there’s still five months more of this!” But he likes to go to the bone and you have to go with him.

Q. Do you think he pushed you as an actor more than any other director has?
Javier Bardem: [Pauses to consider] I don’t know if he did, but the material certainly did. I mean, when you’re dealing with this material you cannot pull yourself away. If you commit to it, you have to take a step forward and enter that world and put those actors ticks behind and just be. There is no other way to convey it other than to be it. So, it’s not him so much as the material that pushed me, and also got the best out of me as an actor because it’s so very rich.

Q. You’ve worked with some of the finest directors on the planet [from the Coen brothers to Alejandro Amenabar and Julian Schnabel]. Is it purely about the material or do you sometimes choose a project based on who is sitting behind the camera?
Javier Bardem: It’s always the material, but of course if there is good material and behind that there is a great director, who I respect and admire because of his work, then that’s even better. But it’s only the material initially. That said, sometimes I think the material is good and it turns out bad, and sometimes I think it’s bad [when shooting] and it turns out good. But it’s always the material first that attracts me, and allows me to say: “Yes, I want to be a part of that.”

Biutiful opens in UK cinemas on Friday, January 28, 2011.