Even though he is an internationally renowned movie star, Javier Bardem can’t get used to seeing his name in lights. They appeared bright red upon the marquee of the Arlington Theatre.
“I feel overwhelmed,” Bardem said to the packed theater on Tuesday night. “It is wet and cold outside tonight, and you must have had nothing better to do.”
Bardem, the versatile Spanish actor, recently entered the American entertainment consciousness by the dint of his deadpan, deadly performance as a psychopath in “No Country for Old Men.” He received the Montecito Award on Tuesday at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival for portraying that striking character as well as many others in his illustrious career. If Tuesday night was any indication, the slew of awards and award nominations he has received (including a nomination for this year’s Oscar for Best Supporting Actor) have not gone to his head. His humility, authenticity and determination illustrate why he has been a successful screen star for over a decade.
SBIFF executive director Roger Durling asked Bardem questions in an informal, “Inside the Actor’s Studio” format. Durling asked several questions regarding Bardem’s ability to transition quickly from vastly different character archetypes between films. In the same year that he played the killer Anton Chigurh, he also embodied Florentino Ariza, the sympathetic protagonist of “Love in the Time of Cholera.”
“I feel that an actor has to break out of the paths he has created for himself,” Bardem said. “You don’t choose specific parts to achieve a goal; you do it for yourself. I wanted to stretch my acting muscles.”
However, when asked about the process through which he chooses his films, Bardem admitted that he usually gravitates to films with thematic and political resonance. He has worked on several culturally important films (“Before Night Falls,” “Los Lunes al sol,” etc.) with directorial greats such as Pedro Almodóvar and Woody Allen.
“[Cultural relevance] does appeal to me when I see it in a script. Movies can’t bring us closer to the meaning of life. They are, of course, for entertainment. But, they can raise questions that we must talk about, questions that we should try to answer.”
But the evening’s discourse was not all serious. While describing the importance of body language, Bardem leaned toward Durling and said, “You see, I lean like this because I am enjoying the conversation. But I also lean like this because I have to go the bathroom!” Laughter flooded the theater and Bardem actually excused himself for a quick bathroom break with a big, movie star smile. Woody Harrelson, Bardem’s co-star and presenter of the Montecito Award, pleased the crowd with a little self-deprecating humor as well.
“I traveled three hours to get here tonight,” Harrelson said. “If I travel that far just to present an award, imagine how far I would travel to actually receive one! Seriously, even if it is short notice, you guys can just call me up.”
When he finally received his award, Bardem gave most of the credit for his career to his family.
“My grandparents and parents were actors. They taught me to break my back for my acting, to keep the honor of my Bardem surname.”
In a celebrity culture where actors and actresses are revered one day and reviled the next, Bardem’s achievement and commitment to his family’s integrity provide a shining example for his peers to follow.
“[My grandparents] came from a time where actors could not be buried on sacred ground because people thought they were just homosexuals and prostitutes. So, I am glad to be where I am today!”
Then again, maybe things have changed for the better.