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
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
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
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
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
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
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.