Bardem Looks for Love in the Time of Cholera

So far, this has been a decent year for Javier Bardem, who’s actually been out and about promoting a few new movies for the first time since 2004’s Oscar-winning The Sea Inside. last spoke to Bardem this past summer for Milos Foreman’s Goya’s Ghosts, but he’s hitting the fall running with two prominent roles in high-profile movies, at least one of which should get him back in the tux at Oscar season.

Bardem can be seen as the murderous Anton Chigurh in the Coen brothers’ adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, opening in limited cities today, but we had a chance to talk to him a few weeks back for his other new movie, Love in the Time of Cholera based on the Spanish romantic classic by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Bardem plays Florentino Ariza, a poet and telegraph clerk in 19th Century Columbia who falls for the beautiful Fermina Daza (Giovanna Mezzogiorno), but when she marries a doctor (Benjamin Bratt), Florentino promises to remain faithful and true to Fermina until she agrees to be his. Over the course of the movie, which spans over 50 years, we see Bardem as Florentino at all different ages, as he sleeps with over 600 other women before finally getting his wish. had another chance to sit down to ask him some questions about this story that’s been a huge inspiration to Bardem’s own life. You’ve said that you read Marquez’s book when you were 14 and that it made a big impression on you. How did those feelings carry over to yourself as an adult and getting to portray that character?

Javier Bardem: Well, the first time I read it, as you said, it was so big. It’s such a big novel. I mean, I followed the storyline, but I remember being thoroughly stuck in the reading of it. I was trying to get lost in the descriptions, for example when she goes to the market and the way that Garcia Marquez explains the flavors and the smells of the fruits and all of that. I remember reading that like six times in a row, going through the page. It just opened a whole world for you and there were many things that I missed. After that, I read it twice. When I knew the movie was going to happen, I felt like I had to talk to the director and say, “I have a big passion for this character.” Also, as an actor, it’s a challenge to try to do somebody that goes from 20 to 75, because when you do that you have to avoid acting age. You have to really try to act the character aging, which is different. That’s a challenge, especially when, for example, you’re shooting scenes in when you’re 20, when you’re 40 and when you’re 75 all in the same day, and you have to change years that fast. That’s a challenge, and I wanted to go to that challenge.

CS: How do you feel about the movie being made in English and not in Spanish even though you have a lot of great Spanish actors in it?

Bardem: Once again, it’s the way it’s conceived and you have to get onboard or not. I would’ve preferred that it was in Spanish. There were many moments where I said, “F*ck. If this were in Spanish I could really make another thing.” There’s an understanding, a knowledge, of the language that you can play with in the novel. There are certain words that for you mean something deep because it belongs to your own memories and experiences, and you bring it with you and the character will go to another level, but when you’re working in a foreign language, you have to try and put that as a surgeon. You have to try to put those images and experiences into those words that don’t mean anything to you, which is extra work. It’s also a great experience, because you have to really focus and you have to really be able to let yourself go as an actor but without losing the conscience of the language that’s not your own. It’s a weird, kind of schizophrenic moment, but it’s good.

CS: I thought Ron Harwood did an amazing job adapting this, so did the words in the script have the same effect on you in English than the book when you read it in Spanish?

Bardem: No, no, it’s impossible. I mean, I was always working with the book in Spanish. When I was shooting the movie I was always with the book in my bag and I was always coming back to it and reading and putting notes from it. From there, you’re in this universe of what you’re reading, the language of Garcia Marquez in Spanish, to go to set and say it in English was a weird situation. Sometimes, I’d get lost in the translation. It was obvious sometimes that I wasn’t bringing what I could.

CS: Would you consider this a story about undying love or about persistence?

Bardem: I don’t know. I think it’s the ultimate love story of a person who really falls in love when he’s fourteen years old, and still, when he’s seventy-five, feels the same way like as if he’s seen her the day before. I mean, it’s fiction. It’s a novel. I don’t know if that exists in the real world, but we all want to think it exists, no? That’s why we’re always fighting for it.

CS: Do you enjoy being aged when you play a part as you have in this, “Goya’s Ghosts” and “The Sea Inside”?

Bardem: Not really. It takes a lot of time to be in the makeup trailer, and actually, Cartageña is not the best place to be aged with prosthetics because it’s like 95% humidity. We have to really make a big applause for the guy who did it, because they put the pieces on when you’re in the makeup trailer and then you step out onto the street and the whole thing disappears. It was crazy.

CS: Your character in the movie has more than 600 lovers in his life. What do you think was the secret to his charm at winning the ladies over and what advice would you give to anyone who’d want to match that?

Bardem: (laughs) I don’t know. I have a problem with that because in the novel he say…. I mean, when they first told me that I was going to play the character I said, “Okay, how do I play this?” There’s a moment where Hildebranda, the cousin of Fermina, says, “He’s ugly,” which is fine, I’ll do it. “He’s always worried,” and I said, “Fine. I have little thoughts of my own, and I’ll always be worried.” And also, “He’s thin.” Then I had a problem. I said, “F*ck, I have to lose weight.” But when they’re saying, all these women why they are so attracted to him, the guy says that in the movie and in the book, he says, “Well, I think that they see somebody who’s not going to harm them.” You want to play a character that goes with that gravitas. Without that gravitas of being somebody with a weight, but rather more a person who’s left kind of a shadow with no weight, like a ghost almost.

CS: How do you explain the character sleeping with so many women and yet carrying that pure love for one woman over the years. Did you think that translated well to the screen from the book?

Bardem: I don’t know. I think it’s difficult because people feel mixed that he says that, but he’s doing the opposite. Once again, the book is clearer, but there’s a line in the book that was in the movie but actually is not in the movie anymore, I think. He says, “I could have been unfaithful to her, but never disloyal.” That’s something that you don’t want to say for yourself in front of your wife, because they will kill you, but in the language of Florentino, you truly understand what he means, which is–I mean, the book explains it very well and I think in the movie also–that he tries to find some meaning out of every woman he’s with. He tries to be close to her by these encounters.

CS: How are you with women yourself?

Bardem: Next question. (laughter) How am I with women? What kind of a question is that? I am the same way that I am with men. It’s about how you are and how you relate to people and how you consider yourself. I think that the most difficult love begins with one’s self. How you treat yourself is something that you bring to all of your relationships.

CS: Why do you think that none of the women become as obsessed with him as he is with Fermina?

Bardem: I don’t know. There’s no one? Well, there’s one, I guess, that gives her life. It’s amazing. In the book, it’s one of the things that Garcia Marquez always goes back to, the relationship between old men and young women. That story in the book is amazing. In the movie it’s brief, in my opinion–as everything is because we can’t really spend very much time with everything, otherwise it’d be a 10-hours-long movie–but it’s beautiful to see how he relates to the young lady with the same innocence, as we were saying before, as when he was fourteen years old. That’s why she sees him as someone she can trust because he’s like a little child.

CS: Has your own view of romance changed with age?

Bardem: Yeah, but the funny thing and the extraordinary thing in the book that will hopefully be translated on the screen, is that he hasn’t changed. He’s the same. I always saw him in such a way that when he sees her, he’s thunderstruck. He stays totally in the same place that he was when he saw her for the first time, even if the body says the opposite. He’s like that. That was the challenge in playing the role, trying to always protect that innocence in a man that is 75 or 60 or 40, like as if he’s a little kid still.

CS: Did you find that your character in “Goya’s Ghosts” compliments this character, since their sexuality plays a big part of both films?

Bardem: I don’t see any similarities. There’s something that’s a little bit priestly in this character, the way of hiding himself reminded me a little bit of “Goya’s Ghosts,” but I try to avoid the similarities.

CS: Did you help Liev Schreiber at all with his accent? It sounded like he was doing your accent.

Bardem: Really? I don’t know. No, I saw him only one day. We were crossing paths. I think he’s fantastic in the movie, by the way.

CS: Do you feel that you’re a new brand of Spain because so many Spanish people identify with you?

Bardem: That’s bad. How can anyone define anything with me? First of all, that’s not true. I’m only an actor from Spain. Beyond that, what they say or what they want to think about it or what they want to create out of it because they need to sell papers is fine, but it’s totally ridiculous that I would be a brand of anything.

CS: There’s been rumors of you taking over Antonio Banderas’ role in a movie of “Nine,” is that true?

Bardem: I’m not taking any role (away from him). This “Nine” situation is something that we’re taking a look at, but I had the pleasure to see him onstage doing “Nine” and he was fantastic. I also had the pleasure to come and say hello after the play, and I was blown away because of his energy. He was a master on that stage and that’s pretty difficult. I don’t know what’s going to happen with “Nine,” but I don’t think that anybody can take the position or the place that Antonio Banderas has in this and in any other market, because he has been a pioneer. For all of the actors that have come behind him, that’s a great favor, what he did. He was the first person who took the bags, the luggage, and went to a foreign country without speaking any words (of that language) and making a career. That’s something that we should be really, really thankful for.

CS: Are you surprised with the success you’ve found with English-speaking roles despite that not being your first language?

Bardem: Well, I see all these things as an accident. I live in Spain and my career is there. The exception is when I work out of Spain, but it’s good that since a year and a half ago it seemed, most of the offers were coming from the outside. I want to work, no matter where it is. I don’t care where it is. I want to work and to do my job as good as I can, but it’s not something that I choose. It’s something that happens. For example, Antonio really made a step, I haven’t made it. I’m not brave enough to take that step. I think that my performance in English will never be the same as it is in Spanish because of the language difference. So far, though, I try to work hard at what I do. In English, I work on the language in order of me to feel at least comfortable with what I’m saying.

CS: You had the chance to introduce Spain as a locale to Woody Allen for his next movie, so what was that experience like?

Bardem: Yeah, it’s funny because, for example, Milos Foreman and Woody Allen are both masters, and they went to Spain and I worked in Spain with them, which is even better. They went there. I think that Woody Allen had a good time and he realized as Milos realized, the great quality of people in the crew, the technical staff, they really work hard, but at the same time, they’re very nice and warm. Both of them were really surprised by that because I guess that they were expecting something different.

CS: Were you able to find any humanity in the character you played in “No Country for Old Men”? He is very cold.

Bardem: Yeah, I think that I tried to do a symbolic figure rather than a human being in there. The good thing is that I did this movie one month after “No Country” and this was like a clean shower for me.

CS: Do you think you’d ever return and do that character if Cormac McCarthy writes another book that has him in it?

Bardem: Oh, of course.

then Love in the Time of Cholera opens on November 16, but you can also see Bardem in No Country for Old Men which opens in select cities today, November 9.


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