“And that is one of the ten scariest guys I’ve ever seen in a movie,” NPR’s Dave Davies tells Javier Bardem, after playing a clip from the Coen Brothers’ “No Country for Old Men.”
In the movie, Bardem plays Anton Chigurh, a murderous psychopath who wants his money back. It’s a very different role when compared to his portrayal of a poet in “Before Night Falls,” the archetypal lover in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” or, most recently, a dying father in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “Biutiful.”
In the interview Bardem discusses the unique challenges and rewards of acting in a foreign language. Reading lines in English, he explains, can be as tiring as it is liberating. “It’s like, I’m trying to express myself … and there’s this office in my brain full of people working at the same time … trying to not be wrong with the intonation, with the words,” he said. “So it’s very exhausting. If I speak Spanish, that office is closed. … But [working in English] gives me a different kind of freedom because, since some of the words don’t have an emotional resonance with me, I can play with them more freely. When you’re speaking in your mother tongue, you may be more cautious.”Bardem’s Academy Award nomination for “Biutiful” was his third. The actor, originally a painter, plays a Barcelona hustler who falls gravely ill. According to Bardem, it was challenging to get to the heart of his role. At times, it even felt isolating. “When you are portraying somebody that has a very specific emotional weight, you feel like you’re really starting to abandon your own body and go to someplace else. And then when you come back to yourself, people that know you well, they ask, ‘Why did you say that?’ or ‘Why are you doing this?’ or ‘Why are you behaving this way?’ But you don’t realize. Because it’s so unconscious, you don’t have control over it,” he said.
He experienced the same thing, he says, when playing Chigurh. “You have to create a normal person under strange circumstances, and that’s always challenging because you don’t have a stereotype to create,” he said. “You have to really go to the bottom of the heart of this man and try to live with him for five months, which is what the whole shoot lasted.”
“I felt isolated. I felt I didn’t belong to that world, because it was my first time I was working with a whole foreign crew,” he says .”I was the only one speaking Spanish. I was in the heartland of Texas, New Mexico. So I felt really out of place. But that was not the only reason why I felt that way. In a way, unconsciously, my character was putting me there – that is, in a place where you do not belong to any world or anyone.”