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The Sea Inside - Javier Bardem Q&A



Compiled by: Jack Foley

ONE of Spain’s most celebrated actors, Javier Bardem, came to international attention with his Oscar nominated performance in Before Night Falls in 2000.

More recently, he played the lead in John Malkovich’s The Dancer Upstairs (2002) and Mondays In The Sun (2002) as well as taking a cameo role in Collateral (2004).

In The Sea Inside he plays Ramon Sampedro, a quadriplegic who campaigned for the right to end his life 30 years after a freak accident left him paralysed.

Q. Was Ramon Sampedro’s story one that you knew very well?
A.
Yeah, like a lot of people I knew something. But when we started on the movie I began to research him, and I was expecting to find somebody stuck in his pain, kind of aggressive all the time, but I actually found somebody who was completely the opposite. A person who was more optimistic, who was able to have a good life, to live, to love and be loved, enjoy music, write books. But in the end he got to a point where he didn’t want to do any of that any more.

Q. It’s tough drama, but his story is not gloomy or downbeat.
A.
That was a surprise for me to see. People are expecting to see one kind of a movie and then they realise it’s different. Of course, it’s a drama, it’s hard what we’re talking about, but it’s not a depressing movie. It’s a movie that celebrates life.

Q. When Alejandro Amenabar came to you with this role, were you immediately confident of being equal to it?
A.
No, when Alejandro offered this to me I took a month to think about it. He approached me because he couldn’t find the right actor. Then I started to read and talk to people who knew him, and then I saw the work of make up artist, Jo Allen, and I was completely amazed by that.
I knew that would help me to be more confident, it was an amazing job. It helped me to see that this part of the job is done, she has done 50% of my job which is to make people believe that I’m Ramon’s age.
So I didn’t have to worry about that, I only needed to worry about the rest of it, filling that make-up with something truthful.

Q. Was your role as Ramon Sampedro physically taxing?
A.
Breathing was difficult, because he didn’t have muscles under the diaphragm, so the way he talked was very specific. And that was very tiring to do, but it was something I had to do really.
At least I was able to stand up and stretch. I had a massage twice a week because my back was hurting where I had to arch it in order to hide my shoulders and lift up my chest.

Q. Did that physical identification with his plight help you get into the mind of the man too?
A.
Being stuck in my own body I got a small idea of how it must have felt. It was easier than it looks though, it was just about breathing deeply, concentrating on that and putting the energy up there. And not be overwhelmed by any emotion.
He wasn’t, otherwise he truly would have felt trapped. When you or I get angry, we can lash out and leave the room. But when he gets really angry he can’t, so it was important to avoid high emotions or even down emotions. It was like more equanimous.

Q. That much is demonstrated by the half smile he has even in times of despair, isn’t it?
A.
He says he learned how to ‘cry smiling’. There’s a moment in the movie where he has a panic attack when the lawyer doesn’t come back. That never happened, it was a fiction we put in the movie to make people believe that he was human. The reality was that he never ever showed his pain to anyone.

Q. You must have pondered long and hard on the moral choices that Ramon’s story throws up, didn’t you?
A.
No-one wants to imagine themselves in that situation. That was something he said also, asking people what would happen if they had an accident and were like him. The first reaction would be that they would prefer to die. That’s something I can never fully empathise with, I can only imagine.
But in order to have an idea I went to the doctors and talked to them, and they were telling me about the day-to-day life of someone like Ramon. And I talked to four people with this condition, and the funny thing was to see how they chose the complete opposite, life. They all knew Ramon Sampedro and they all respected him.

Q. Was it important to you to be able to play the younger Ramon, in the flashback scene of his accident?
A.
That was the first shot we did. Then we stopped for a month and a half, where we rehearsed and I lost the weight and shaved my head. The accident was shot in the same place, at the same time of day and at the same time of the year when he had his accident. That was a little creepy.

Q. Was the reaction Ramon’s family had to the film important to you?
A.
I wanted to show them full respect. You have a responsibility when you portray a real person, you want to really take yourself out of the picture, to let the character talk for himself. And they loved the movie. They felt like it was done with a huge amount of respect, and that it grabbed deeply what Ramon Sampedro was. And what they were also.
Even though Ramon’s brother in the film is not the most sympathetic character, I would say that he understood a little bit more about himself. It’s about an act of love, it’s not a selfish situation. It’s an act of not letting go of something that he loves so much. He understood that after watching the movie, because he wasn’t aware of that.

Q. From this you went off and did a cameo in Collateral. Is Hollywood where your future lies now do you think?
A.
I call that role an act of curiosity. Michael Mann invited me to the party and I thought ‘why not?’. I did one day there, and they paid very well. It was weird for me to get out of the drama of this movie, but I went there and shook it off. But I like to work, I don’t care where, as long as it’s good material.

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