Oscar winner Javier Bardem is enjoying a strong awards season run with a Best Actor nomination for Being The Ricardos and is also coming off his first Spanish-language movie in nearly two decades, Goya laureate The Good Boss. Below, we talk about balance — both at home and at work, as well as what the future holds. On the day Bardem and I were initially due to speak, Russia invaded Ukraine and the actor made a beeline to protest at the Russian embassy in Madrid. When we did hook up, we discussed why that was so important to him.
DEADLINE: You are having quite the awards season, between the record number of Goya nominations for The Good Boss — and six wins — along with yet another Oscar nomination for Being The Ricardos…
JAVIER BARDEM: It was a helluva week. I mean there was a week with the Oscar nominations and the Goyas and you’re like, “OK, don’t get used to this because it’s not very normal.”
I don’t think you can get used to any of this and you shouldn’t; the support of your fellows and your industry is one of those things that you can’t take for granted. When you’re younger, at least I had some kind of anxiety to be there, to belong to the industry which is absolutely understandable. Now, I just want to do my job right, as good as I can, and keep making a living out of it. If it turns out that people like it, it’s even better.
DEADLINE: When you have these nominations and wins, I imagine you’re not still having parties with firemen sending alcohol up to your flat like you did for Before Night Falls…
BARDEM: (Laughs) No, unfortunately not. I was 30 years old when that first nomination happened, and those firemen were so nice. They brought us ice for the drinks and some liquor. They were bringing it all up through the stairs because the elevator didn’t work, and it was the 7th floor. That was a fun party.
But let me tell you this: the day of the Goyas (this year), the ceremony finished at 1:15 a.m. and my last radio interview was at 2:40 in the morning. And then (director) Fernando (Léon de Aranoa) told me, “OK, let’s go to the party.” And I said, “What party are you talking about?” I went straight to bed. Things change as we age. But let me tell you, I was so happy to be in bed.
DEADLINE: In terms of getting that recognition at home, how important is that?
BARDEM: It’s been a while since I was in any Spanish movies. If I had to go back, I would say it was The Sea Inside in 2005, so time flies as we all know, but 17 years is a lot of time. I really took it with lots of gratitude… The thing I like the most is that it’s a movie that we believed in and we worked hard on it. I think it was one of the first movies shot during the pandemic in Spain. We were all so insecure, so scared but also so emotionally drained by what was going on in the world and in our country… Then, to see that that gave birth to one movie that is so welcome and is doing so well and is so appreciated, it was a dream come true.
DEADLINE: In your house, when there are three movies shortlisted by Spain to go to the Oscars and one of them is yours and another stars your wife, do you guys just kind of laugh about that?
BARDEM: Oh, yeah. I mean, we’ve been in every kind of situation you can imagine. Talking about it, discussing it, laughing about it and also feeling sorry for the other about it when one of them was chosen and the other one wasn’t. But thank God Penelope and I are very aware of how blessed we are in life meaning we can make a living out of our job and not only that, but we can work with some amazing, extraordinary directors in some amazing projects which is not very common. It’s been like that since we both started, so that consistency, it’s a miracle for an actor and we are aware of that at this stage of our life.
DEADLINE: The first time I met the two of you was in Venice for Loving Pablo which was a passion project for you. Do you have more of those personal kinds of projects ahead?
BARDEM: I wish I would be more productive and more like one of these people that I see often that are like a force of nature in putting things together and putting people together and moving a project. I am not that guy. It’s not about laziness. It’s about, I guess, lack of focus on knowing what I want to do next. It’s like, I love performing, that’s the thing I love the most.
The production of it all… Penelope is more like that, she’s more driven, she gathers projects, puts that together with people. I love that. I admire that, but I’m not that kind of guy and when I do it, it’s exhausting (laughs). It’s a lot of energy to put on things I don’t like. I don’t know why anybody in the world would be a producer. Why? What kind of job is that? Always fighting, always arguing, always pushing the boundaries to some other people’s patience.
I had a project with Amazon called Cortes. I was proposing that project for 11 years, not every day, I did my life, but I was very focused for 11 years coming and going, coming and going. It happened, and then in two weeks we had to stop because of the pandemic and the credit was canceled. It has to do with that as well, like “Oh, shit, really? All that work?” I understand Amazon canceled; I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about how delicate all of this is, how so much work put into many years of preparation for so many people can be flushed away because of this, because of that and I guess I don’t have the thick skin for that.
Also, the thing I like the most about putting projects together — which I do, especially when I do documentaries — is that I have enough with the fiction because that’s my job, so I put my attention in putting things together that are mostly documentaries about things that I’m interested in or intrigued by in life. And there’s so many of course you cannot approach even a third of it. The issue is that I want to be involved, I don’t want to be a producer in the background, I want to be on the field and for that you need time.
DEADLINE: Speaking of real-life issues, when we were due to speak originally it was the day Russia invaded Ukraine and you ended up going to protest at the Russian embassy in Madrid. Why did you feel so strongly about that?
BARDEM: I really needed to go there and express my support for the Ukrainian population because, at the end, victims in every war are always the same — civilians, people that are now looking for cover in underground alleys with no electricity and no water or in some other cities around Ukraine and all of this happened in the flick of a day.
As somebody said, the first victim in any war is the truth and it’s important to understand that in every conflict there is always a gray area where we really have to understand the motives that made this horrible situation happen… What I wanted to express is my absolute contempt to the regime of Putin. He’s an ultra-nationalist, he is a friend of Trump, he has been financed and he finances the extreme right parties in Europe. He’s a good friend of Bolsonaro and Salvini, and Vox, so it’s far from being a Communist… He is absolutely an imperialist… But, also we have to be aware that, for example, NATO are trying to reach and expand to the east, not being loyal to what was signed after the Cold War. Well, we are also giving this crazy person a reason to justify his actions… We have to remind our country and our government that things have to be respected so we don’t give fuel to a horrible person like this one to do the horrible actions that he’s doing. It’s absolutely heartbreaking to see the causalities and refugees… and I was saying that day at the embassy, I hope we as Europeans are at the height that is expected to really go to these people and give them what they need.
DEADLINE: Does the situation have any special resonance for you having lived under Franco?
BARDEM: Yeah, just the rise of the extreme right in the whole of Europe is very worrisome and in Spain this has special resonance for what it is and the pain and suffering it created. I can say that by my own name because people from my family were imprisoned because of Franco… Thank God human beings with good will, people with hope, people with common sense, people who do really care about others and put empathy right in front of their own grief will prevail. That I know because war is always created by human beings, but those people are far from being human and humanity and what is going on across the border (from Ukraine) is also what took place a week ago in Spain when in a little village of some friends I know were opening the graves of people that were killed by the dictatorship of Franco.
DEADLINE: Like what Penelope’s character is seeking in Madres Paralelas?
BARDEM: Yes, exactly. And they found more than 40 bodies when they were expecting to find less. I wasn’t there, but I know that it was an amazing explosion of relief. When that grave opens, the truth opens, the memory takes place, the dignity is spread all over those families and the justice and the reparation — and that’s what we have to aim for and doing what we can to put diplomacy first and fight for diplomacy. If there is a fight, it’s about diplomacy, not bombing people’s houses and hospitals and schools.
DEADLINE: Turning back to work, how do you balance between doing Spanish movies or films with international filmmakers alongside working on major Hollywood projects?
BARDEM: I would say that it’s exactly the same, but the difference is in the budget. I always recall the experience of myself on the set of Collateral. I only spent one evening there, I only had one scene and for me it was the first time I was on such a big set. I remember being very shy, really insecure… and there was a moment where I told a guy with some headphones and a mic, “Can I get a water?” He asked for the bottle of water through the mic, and somebody else asked for the bottle of water and 20 minutes after, there was no bottle of water. So, I stood up and went to the kitchen and I got it myself. I thought, this is why it’s called a big production… But at the same time, when Michael Mann said “action” it was the same struggle, the same insecurity, the same fear.
That being said, what is not the same is to work in a foreign language. Now it’s way easier from when I started 20 years ago in English, but it’s always challenging because I have to act the phonetics, I have to act the language, I have to act the thinking of how to say the things rather than be free enough to just say it which is what I do in my own language.
DEADLINE: Do you ever feel like a different person in a different language? I find that even though I’m fluent in French, that happens to me…
BARDEM: That’s a good point, and yes. I’ll tell you this: I’m way less shy when I speak English because I’m not so tied to the words, to the expressions. Where it’s a problem in performing in a foreign language it also becomes a gift as a performer which means I’m not so emotionally tied to the language since I haven’t had too many experiences in that language in my life, especially growing up or as a child which is really where experiences get stuck in your DNA. So, when I speak English I am more brave in trying things or going to different ways of expressing something because I don’t care. In Spain, I do because there’s this kind of being way too careful with how you say things or how you express yourself. But at the same time, when I’m working in English, I need that emotional depth of the words that I don’t kind of have. So, you have to do this kind of surgery in bringing some of this emotion into the words.
DEADLINE: And for Being The Ricardos you had to speak with a Cuban accent… How familiar were you with I Love Lucy before doing the film?
BARDEM: Not familiar at all. I Love Lucy was shown in Spain, but it was not as popular as it was in the States. I was interested and intrigued for what it was and once I knew that the project was happening, I started to do my own research and I started to prepare and do my homework and I played the character. It was after I played the character and I saw on the set the resonance that these two people had — and still have — in the American society, or in this case the crew, where I realized how iconic they were. It was a bit of fate because otherwise there would have been way too much weight on my shoulders.
DEADLINE: How much of your career has been by design, or how much has been fate?
BARDEM: My mom, who was an actress –– and I saw her working since I was a kid –– I learned from her indirectly: one step at a time, this is a long run if you are lucky, this is not a sprint. Actually, let’s say with Jamon, Jamon and I was 21 years old and it was a huge success in Spain and that was a sprint — you get to a place very fast. Well, I guess I was taught by my mom to be careful with that and to really not buy into it, to understand that it’s great to celebrate it, it’s great to embrace it and forget about it because that’s not the goal and that’s not going to be for sure the common way for things to go in this job.
So, I never made any plan, I never put my bags together coming to the States for example to make a career; it happened naturally. If I would have planned to be where I am today professionally, I would have failed because I’ve been so lucky and so blessed by being called by so many talented, nice, caring people. You cannot plan that. That’s what I mean about being aware how blessed you are. I will be grateful for that every day.
DEADLINE: And now you’re getting into Dune 2, and with Denis Villeneuve who is such a talent — how has that been?
BARDEM: Let me tell you, Denis was one of those people I was always thinking how beautiful it would be to work with such a great director… He is such a beautiful, caring, fun man to work with. He’s super talented and the good thing about him shooting Dune is he was like a little kid. It was like a dream of his youth coming true. He was so grateful to everyone involved in it for making it happen and you could see that you were part of his joy. That’s a beautiful thing to have when you go to the set.
I wish I could tell you more information about Dune 2, but I don’t have it myself. All I can say is I can’t wait to put myself under his direction again.
DEADLINE: Is there a director you have on a wish list to work with in the future?
BARDEM: I would never have thought that I would be able to work with Woody Allen, Ridley Scott, Terrence Malick, the Coen brothers, I mean… There is one director that it would be an absolute dream come true if I had a chance to work with which would be Steven Spielberg — since I was a very small kid and I saw ET 24 times in a movie theater. It’s my favorite movie of all time. I had the chance to meet him and he’s a wonderful loving, caring, super generous human being. I would love to work with him of course, but there are many others I still don’t know, and I would love to work with them as well.