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No Country For Old Men - Javier Bardem interview

Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men

Interview by Rob Carnevale

SPANISH actor Javier Bardem talks about appearing in No Country For Old Men, fashioning the weird look for the film, working with the Coen brothers and feeling more confident about the English language…

You’re playing this mysterious, psychopathic killer in No Country For Old Men. How important was the haircut to get you in the mood?
Javier Bardem: [Laughs] Everybody is asking me: “How was wearing that wig?” But it’s not a wig – it’s my hair. So that answers every question. It was insane to have three months with that haircut and also lead a decent, normal life. But for the character it worked pretty good I think. It’s funny to see someone so weird and wild with that feminine haircut. I found the feminine side of Chigurh. I would also wear a net with it to keep it still.

So, I was walking across the set with a net and people were looking strangely. They thought it was funny after the first day and then after the fourth day they were like: “Take that out! Take that out! It’s not even funny anymore.” And actually on the last day I was shooting, I was going to my hotel room and the elevator opened up and everybody in the crew was wearing a hair net.

Q. I’ve read that you normally like to create a back-story for your characters to help create a past. But with this you didn’t want to do that. Why?
Javier Bardem: Well, I actually tried but it didn’t make any sense to do something like: “When Chigurh was born, how did his mother treat him? Did she really bring milk?” It was insane. The book also shows him as someone that comes out of nowhere. One of the mysterious sides of him is that we don’t really know and never get to know who he is and what he wants. So, I tried and then I talked to the Coens and we thought it wasn’t important. What was more important was trying to achieve the idea of what he represents and put that into some form of human behaviour with a face on.

Q. Was it a challenge to find the humanity in someone who doesn’t have much? Because he is like a killing machine at times…
Javier Bardem: Again, that’s the challenging part, how to balance that with some kind of human behaviour. We are reminded that he’s not a machine, that he doesn’t have cables inside him but blood. That’s why the scene where he’s operating on himself is so important because we can see that he can be wounded and that he is a human being. So, he’s one of us – and that’s scarier than thinking that he’s a messenger from hell that cannot be stopped.

Q. I read that you had mixed feelings about playing such a violent character but that you wanted to work with the Coens. How did you reconcile those feelings?
Javier Bardem: I don’t particularly like violence in movies. But when violence has a reason to be there in order to explain something it’s OK. Most of the time it’s totally gratuitous and I just don’t want to see those movies. It’s difficult to find movies these days without violence, with people killing people. It’s not that I’m a very sensitive guy, it’s that I go there and see it and ask: “Why? What is all of this for?” And I always step out and leave the movie theatre.

In this case, because I wasn’t familiar with Cormac McCarthy’s work, when I saw the script it was very ambiguous and I asked again: “What is all this about?” But then I read the book and I saw the whole philosophy and the whole statement behind those dialogues and those actions and then I felt more secure that the movie was going to transcend in the sense that we were telling you a very violent story in a very violent way in order to bring violence to the table and to talk about it and think about it. That’s what I talked to the Coens about and that’s what, in my opinion, the movie brings. It’s what makes the difference between it being just a violent movie or a movie that talks about violence in a violent way.

Q. What’s it like to be directed by the Coens?
Javier Bardem: It’s kind of like talking to one man only. They never argue with each other, they never have fights or anything, which I was a little bit disappointed about. I was expecting some kind of tension thing going on between them [smiles]. But no, they always agreed. So, it’s boring! But don’t put that in the papers [laughs]. It’s good, it’s great, they’re fun, they’re very normal.

Q. When the brothers are writing, producing and directing how flexible are the Coens with their script? How spontaneous can you be?
Javier Bardem: Well, this is an adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel and the dialogue was so brilliantly done that you respect that to a point where if it suits the actor’s performance then it’s fine; but if it doesn’t then we can change it. In my case, because I don’t speak very good English, there were a few words that I had a problem with and they never, ever fought against that. They would say: “Please, put it in your own words or let’s find another expression.” But thank God, I worked with a very good dialogue coach who helped me tremendously to get to the meaning of the words.

Q. What sort of affect did the landscape have on you, being a stranger to the area?
Javier Bardem: I felt quite isolated because I’d go there for one day, kill some people and then go back to sleep and have six days free in a place that’s hugely wide open. The haircut didn’t help. I was able to bring that isolation into the character but really against myself. But thanks to Mr Brolin, who was always knocking at my door, I had good fun. He helped me out.

Q. What do you think of the poster for the film? You have a very foreboding presence…
Javier Bardem: Oh my God, I think it’s a joke! I hate my nose, and they know that. So when my agent sent me the poster I thought she was kidding! I said: “That’s a nice joke, can you imagine if that was true?” And it was true. I thought this can’t be happening. It now looks as though I like to sniff Josh Brolin [laughs].

Q. You have No Country For Old Men and Love In The Time Of Cholera opening soon, which are both American movies. Is it getting easier for you to act in America now?
Javier Bardem: Well, it’s getting easier than it was let’s say four or five years ago. But it’s never going to be the same as performing in Spanish; it’s impossible. It’s a lack of experience with the language. But I’m more comfortable, even though it’s difficult to really be relaxed in a foreign language. You have to work really hard on the lines.

You try and pretend to be free and to be truthful when you perform but at the same time you are working the lines word by word in a way that is very static and you know that if you want to be understood, you have to say it that way. So, it was very contradictory. But yes, I’m more comfortable and I’m open to receive a lot of contracts [laughs].

b>Read our review of No Country For Old Men