BARDEM, JAVIER: BEFORE NIGHT FALLS
A BETTER BARDEM
Playing the late Cuban writer, Reinaldo Arenas in the biopic,
Before Night Falls, has made Javier Bardem a better person, he
tells Jenny Cooney Carrillo. It also got him an Oscar Nomination.
While international audiences were surprised to see actor
Javier Bardem up against stars like Tom Hanks, Geoffrey Rush and
Russell Crowe for the Best Actor Oscar earlier this year, nobody
in his home country thought it was entirely unexpected. A scion
of a popular acting clan in Spain, Bardem has long been hailed as
the countryís best-kept secret, starring in popular Spanish
films including The Ages of Lulu, High Heels (with director Pedro
Almodovar), Mouth to Mouth and Live Flesh. With fellow Spaniards
Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz also breaking out in
Hollywood, it was icing on the cake when the 32-year-old actor
caught the eye of Academy voters for his performance in Before
Night Falls, directed by Julian Schnabel, in which he plays Cuban
poet Reinaldo Arenas in a story based on the gay writerís
posthumously published memoirs of the same name.
How did you feel about going to Cuba?
Iíd never been before so I was happy to go and
speak with people who knew Reinaldo but it wasnít a great
experience for me because in Spain we have this idea about Cuba
that is very romantic. We donít know very much about what
happened at that time for Reinaldo so I went there to try and
figure it out in order to have a clear idea of who I was playing.
My uncle is a very famous Spanish director and he spent ten years
in jail because of the Franco dictatorship so I grew up in that
environment and although there are many great things about Cuba,
we have to avoid this thing happening again. Itís
intolerance and that is what I think this movie talks about.
How do you feel about people calling you Ďthe new
I donít think we have very much in common besides
being Spanish and having worked with Pedro Almodovar. I think all
Spanish actors should be grateful to Antonio, though, because he
gave us an example. When he very first came here to the States,
he didnít have a reference because no Spanish actor came
before him. I only met him yesterday, actually, because he
invited myself and a bunch of my friends to his house to have
paella, which he cooks very well. I felt like he was really happy
about all these things that are happening to me, so that says a
lot about him, no?
How painful was it to immerse yourself in the life of
I donít believe in method acting. I just have an
experience to try to understand the character in a very personal
way. The isolation cell scene was difficult but the hardest part
of playing Reinaldo is when you finish doing that scene, you go
back to the hotel, you sleep in a nice bed and realize that what
happened to you for ten hours really happened to him for a week
and he couldnít leave at the end of the day. Everything that
happened to me playing him for three months, he lived that life
for forty-five years and that was the worst part. I think
Reinaldo made me a better person. People laugh when I say that
but itís true. People say, Ďbut itís only a movieí
but there are certain roles that donít come to you very
often that really teach you how to live life and Reinaldo is an
example of many good things. After this movie, I feel much more
human in a way that has been a pleasure for me.
What did you learn about him and his work when you were
I was ashamed when Julian first called me about the role
that I didnít know who he was. When I went to talk with him
in New York he gave me everything Ė books, poems, video
footage and tapes, so I started looking at all that and realized
I was reading for pleasure, so that was a nice approach to that
character. Then I went to Cuba and there were not many people
that knew him personally so it was difficult to figure out
something that is not happening in Cuba nowadays. But I was lucky
to talk with people who are homosexuals and they told me how hard
the experience was at that time. The character of Lazaro, played
by Olivier Martinez, he is alive and lives in New York and he
helped me a lot because he was a very good friend. I took a video
camera to him and said please tell me the way he walked and
talked and that helped me a lot.
How are you handling all of this international
recognition and the awards?
Itís affecting me in the sense that I am really
scared. When I first read the script and after months of doubt
told Julian I would play him, I never thought that this movie
would race so high. When I went to Venice and got the oldest
acting award in Europe, everything after that was just a present,
a gift for me to do this movie. People ask me if I will move to
Los Angeles now and I am not sure because what I would like to do
is what I have done in Spain for twelve years, to try and find
good roles to play, so it depends on whether they offer me any
good roles or not. But I can tell you what I am doing is trying
to just enjoy this moment!
What was it like to work with Julian Schnabel?
He is different because he is a painter, an artist, so
he gives you room to improvise. He takes time to paint a painting
and he takes time to shoot a movie but that also means you have
to be in character 24 hours a day because you donít know
what will happen next.
How did you feel about playing a homosexual character?
It was actually my third homosexual role so my girlfriend thought
that was funny! Reinaldo Arenas is different in a way though
because he used his homosexuality like a whip against the regime,
so the body language was really important for that role because
he was expressing his dissatisfaction with the body. It was not
only a philosophy of life or a sexual option, it was a gun to use
against the people that surrounded him. I didnít have a lot
of footage of him but I studied the way he moved his hands and
the way he walked and tried to pay attention to the body
language, because everybody that knew him told me it was very
Were you ever worried about your own image?
I donít understand why itís a problem to play a
homosexual. I donít find anything bad about it and I am not
one but if I were, I would say it loud. I prefer to have sex than
killing people in movies (laughs)! I think itís the European
way of thinking and Americans are the only ones that ask me if Iím
concerned to play a homosexual. He was a great human being and my
only hesitation at the start was whether my own background and
not being Cuban would hurt the movie. In Spain we have a problem
when in a movie a character takes a gun out of his pocket. We
stop the shooting and have a big discussion to ask if this is
good? But when a person is having sex, I donít know why
Ė maybe itís the food, the weather or something else -
but itís a very Almodovarean thing, no? We all feel
comfortable doing it!
Published August 30, 2001
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Before Night Falls
Aust release date: Sept 6, 2001
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