Javier Bardem leans back in his chair. Marlboro in hand, the famous golden statuette next to him, he calmly looks around at the reporters that surround him. The small table in front of him has no room left to fit even one more microphone. Still in his navy Prada tuxedo, he looks as if he were in the midst of an intimate party rather than a post-Oscar press conference, which would air almost immediately on YouTube. Spanish reporters throw questions at him from here and there. Taking his time, he puffs on his Marlboro and leans up in his chair. Everyone grows silent to hear what the Academy Award winner is about to say. Reaching to the edge of the table, he grabs hold of a Heineken and takes a sip.
Being the first actor from Spain to win an Oscar, it is no wonder that Bardem is receiving so much press from his homeland. Bardem has not forgotten his roots, from Las Palmas in the Canary Islands to the mainland capital of Madrid. He even gave a special tribute to Spain and its actors in part of his Oscar acceptance speech, which is translated into this:
“Mama, this is for you, this is for your grandparents, this is for your parents Rafael and Matilde, this is for the actors of Spain that have brought, like you, the dignity and the pride of our work. This is for Spain and this is for all of you.”
He walked off the stage and showed off his Oscar in hand to the flashing cameras backstage. Bardem is used to this kind of attention by now. Coming from a long line of Spanish actors, Bardem has grown up in the film industry. In fact, his mother, Pilar Bardem, brought a young 6-year-old Bardem to the set of the Spanish television show, “El Picaro,” in 1974, since the show needed someone to fill the role of a child. Now 38, Bardem has a long list of Spanish and internationally acclaimed films under his belt; with his title roles in “Before the Night Falls,” and “No Country for Old Men,” winning him Oscar nominations.
London-based director James Lebon worked with Bardem for a segment in the British television show, “Passengers,” which aired in the ‘90s. The “magazine show,” as Lebon described it in an e-mail, covered topics such as fashion and music and was aimed at viewers of the young-adult age group.
Lebon filmed Bardem in the very beginning of Bardem’s career. The segment for “Passengers,” which is just about three minutes long and can be viewed on Lebon’s official YouTube Channel (youtube.com/user/JamesLebon), shows a young Bardem acting childlike, as he runs around the streets of Madrid, grabs the camera to film himself and points to a magazine that has him as the cover model. Bardem speaks about his hopes, his fears and his passion for acting as he eats some tapas at an outdoor café in Plaza Mayor and lies down on the grass in El Parque del Buen Retiro.
Lebon, who has filmed the likes of Kylie Minogue, Laetitia Casta and Penelope Cruz, admits that Bardem was one of his favorite celebrities to work with.
“He was a real gent and great to work with,” Lebon wrote on the description to his video on YouTube.
“I found him very down to earth and very funny,” Lebon wrote in an e-mail. “His English was [at the time] not 100 percent and my Spanish zero percent but he managed to communicate very well. Even though he was starting to be very successful he did not have an attitude at all…He was the one actor that I have worked with, only for a day that I would love to work with again.”
Many agree that Bardem seems to always remain believable in his roles; having the ability to completely submit himself to the character at hand. It is this chameleonic ability that is seen in the legends of film.
“The character is with me, inside me,” said Bardem in a recent interview with Glamour Spain.
“Most actors and actresses lose something when you know or have met them,” wrote Lebon in an e-mail. “They lose some believability. But when I watch a film with Javier in it I am instantly sucked into the movie. I think that he has matured as an actor.”
Julian Schnabel, the director of “Before the Night Falls,” described Bardem to USA Today as “one of the greatest actors walking on this earth at this time. It’s one of those things you get born with. He works as hard as anyone I’ve ever met. He’s very smart. He’s very devoted to what he’s doing.”
Besides his life onscreen, Bardem has received quite a few fans for nothing less than his own sly personality and his rough-edged looks. In fact, he was nominated this year as one of People magazine’s “Sexiest Men Alive.”
“I’m ugly!” Bardem told Glamour Spain. “When they told me that, I thought ‘That’s funny. Every time I wake up, I see myself like somebody beat me up,” he told Donna Freydkin, for a recent USA Today article.
It is also this charisma that attracts people to him. Bardem has been described as a fun-loving and simple guy by his colleagues and closest friends.
“When he’s acting, he’s into that character. The moment he’s not acting, he’s a lovely ball of fun,” Russell Smith, the producer of “The Dancer Upstairs,” told USA Today. “He’s a lovely man with a big smile. He lights up a room, that guy. When he wants to have fun, he just has fun and makes everyone have fun around him.”
Adds Lebon, “He has a great charisma and character.”
Freydkin added onto this description of Bardem in her USA Today article, admitting that Bardem is a true entertainer, the life of the party. “He drinks beer. He sings. He loves to dance.”
Despite being described as the outgoing-party-type, Bardem has said he does have his more quiet and reserved side.
“I’m quite timid in my private life when I’m not representing a character [in film],” Bardem told Glamour Spain. “I don’t have to call attention to myself at every second just because I’m an actor.”
Josh Brolin, his cast mate in “No Country,” elaborated on Bardem’s seemingly hidden quality.
“At the beginning, it seems like he’s intense, but he’s just shy,” Brolin told USA Today. “ The guy just doesn’t know what to say…when he gets on stage [to accept an award], it’s awful for him. It’s complete torture.”
Bardem, seems to cover up that fear quite well, as his acceptance speech showed. This Spaniard actor has come a long way from his beginnings in small roles in barely popular films. Yet he is not satisfied with his gains and aspires for more.
“I have certain aims,” Bardem told USA Today. “I’ve been working since I was 18 years old. I know what I want to do. Sometimes you have to fight for it, and it’s not easy. But in the end, you are lucky, because you have the privilege of choosing. You have the privilege, so why not choose? I want to die doing this job.”
When asked during the Spanish CNN press conference, “What does Javier Bardem have that all of the actors that we have interviewed speak highly of you?” Bardem answered with a suave air of honesty, “F—-, well I’m a very nice guy.” A broad smile trickled across his unshaven face. His deep laugh broke into the silence, accompanied by another sip of his Heineken.
Published in the April 3, 2008 issue of The Metro