Interview: Javier Bardem grabs film fest’s Montecito Award

January 27, 2008 7:23 AM

Many in the audience who sat enthralled by the dark villainy of Anton Chigurh, the killing machine in the Coen Brothers’ “No Country for Old Men,” may not have recognized Javier Bardem as the same actor who starred in Julian Schnabel’s “Before Night Falls” as gay Cuban poet and dissident Reinaldo Arenas. The Arenas role earned Mr. Bardem a Golden Globe nomination; “No Country” won him one (for Best Supporting Actor).
He has another honor in the bag: the Montecito Award, presented by the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. The Spanish actor will pick up the award, created to honor a series of classic and standout performances, Monday night at the Lobero Theatre.
Mr. Bardem, 38, has been working in front of the camera since he was 6 — not too much of a surprise when you consider his grandfather and uncle are both directors and his siblings also act. But there was also a time when he was a member of the Spanish national rugby team.
Foreign film buffs may recognize his first Spanish breakout role as the lover of Penelope Cruz’s character in “Jam0x97n, jam0x97n” from 1992. It took until 2000 and “Before Night Falls” to break into American film, but he did so to obvious success.
Since then, he’s made appearances in Michael Mann’s “Collateral” and starred in “The Sea Inside,” but even still, “No Country” feels like a revelation.
Mr. Bardem chooses carefully, some might say too carefully. His interviews and articles for previous films describe a reluctant actor who needed major convincing before taking a part.
In an interview with the News-Press, Mr. Bardem said he wasn’t sure if his style is a quality or a curse.
“I guess it’s about facing what you really are and knowing what you can bring to other people’s process,” he said. “It’s best to know your limitations and good to step out if you’re not the right guy. It’s good to have no surprises.”
Of course, this sounds odd coming from someone with Mr. Bardem’s rèsumè — and mid-sentence he reconsiders.
“But you never know what those surprises will be. That’s the fun part. Some people love to jump off the cliff into the water without checking how deep it is,” he said.
In “No Country For Old Men,” Mr. Bardem’s Chigurh chases Josh Brolin’s Llewelyn Moss, who has stolen a bag of money from a drug deal gone bad. Chasing both is Tommy lee Jones’ Sheriff Bell, who follows a trail of bodies left in Chigurh’s wake.
Though the trio is connected by fate, the actors never share a scene together, except for a murky gunfight in a street.
“It was like we were doing three different movies,” Mr. Bardem recalled.
“The only connection between all three is Kelly McDonald’s character.” (Ms. McDonald shares major, separate scenes with all three).
For Mr. Bardem, he has his own theory for why this works.
“They are three different sides of male behavior. Tommy is goodwill; Josh is an impulsive kind of violence; I play this kind of nonsense violence, just pure aggression . . . the movie is a statement of too much testosterone making things go very wrong.”
Mr. Bardem recently wrapped on Woody Allen’s latest film, “Vicky Christina Barcelona,” shot in Barcelona, Spain.
“I have no idea what the finished movie will be like; that is up to Allen’s magic,” the actor said. “It was a great pleasure to work with Allen, but very demanding. He puts you in a position where you are . . . obliged to just ‘be.’ There is no time to ‘act.’ For my country, it is a big honor to have him shooting here.”

The Javier Bardem tribute is 8 p.m. Monday at the Lobero Theatre, 33 E. Canon Perdido St. Tickets are $65. For information and tickets, call 963-0761 or 963-4408, or log on to

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