Javier Bardem received an Academy Award nomination as Best Actor for his role in Before Night Falls. Fans of director Pedro Almodovar know Bardem from High Heels and Live Flesh, but Bardem has also been busy at work in a variety of titles that don’t always enjoy the same kind of visibility in the U.S. that they deserve.
PK: Did you read the novel on which The Dancer Upstairs is based, and to what extent did that, or did it not, inform your representation of the character?
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JB: Yes I did read the novel but John (Malkovich) told me that we would be doing a fictional version of the novel. So I didn’t take a lot of notes and I didn’t even want to approach the real policeman. First of all because it’s impossible because nobody knows where he is, because of what he did. Second of all, this is not like Before Night Falls which was the story of Reinaldo Arenas, this was not a biographical film.
PK: The Dancer Upstairs is the directorial debut by John Malkovich and he took a risk, and even he describes it as “a risk,” in having Latin American characters speaking English with heavy Latin American accents. How do you, personally, feel this risk works or pays off now that you’ve seen the film with live audiences in attendance?
JB: I do think it works and people seem to like it and were touched by it. With its subject of terrorism it’s a timely film and American audiences are now watching it with different eyes since September 11th. People understand it and enjoy it and suffer with it, because sometimes the film is cruel, but also beautiful. It’s a risk John took having unknown foreign actors but I think that gives it more credibility.
PK: You have worked with three of my favorite Spanish directors, Pedro Almodovar, Bigas Lunas, and Alex de la Iglesia. Could you tell me a bit about each one?
JB: Well Almodovar has his own universe and of the three he’s the best known. In this universe, you have to forget about yourself and go on his journey. He’s unique. He wants you to do things that sometimes seem counterintuitive to an actor. He wants you to do it a certain way, period. It’s demanding.
Bigas Lunas is much more relaxed. Not as obsessed as Almodovar. He finds that life is based on three pleasures; eating, sleeping, and having sex.
Alex de la Iglesia is a very funny person but he has a violence inside of him, not physically, but as a director. It’s huge and he needs to explore it. And when he’s shooting he can become a little monster. It’s difficult to talk with him sometimes, but it can also be funny. When you’re working with him there are no limits to what he will ask you to do and he really pushes you.
PK: Your press notes that your background before becoming an actor had you working as a waiter, a security man, and a stripper. It also describes your acting career as being the result of a chance meeting with Bigas Lunas. Describe that meeting.
JB: I was accompanying my sister, an actress, to a casting call for The Ages of Lulu, the Bigas Lunas film that preceded Jamon, Jamon. I went with her because that day I didn’t have anything better to do. They didn’t call on her, but they did call on me. They asked me if I’d like to be an actor and I asked how much they paid. From there I did an audition and got in.