B orn JavierAngel Encinas Bardem, March 1, 1969, in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, Spain; son of Carlos Encinas and Pilar Bardem (an actress). Education: Attended the School of Arts and Crafts, Madrid, Spain, 1988.
Addresses: Agent—Elyse Scherz, Endeavor, 9601 Wilshire Blvd., 3rd Fl., Beverly Hills, CA 90210; Jose Marzilli, Jose Marzilli Represente de Actors, Rafael Calvo 42, Ste. 5, 28010 Madrid, Spain.
A ctor in films, including: El poderoso influjo de la luna (uncredited), 1980; Las edades de Lulú (“The Ages of Lulu”), 1990; Tacones lejanos (“High Heels”), 1991; Amo tu cama rica, 1992; Jamón, jamón (“Ham, Ham”), 1992; Huidos, 1993; El amante bilingüe (“The Bilingual Lover”), 1993; Huevos de oro (“Golden Balls”), 1993; La teta y la luna (“The Tit and the Moon”), 1994; Días contados (“Numbered Days”), 1994; El detective y la muerte (“The Detective and Death”), 1994; Pronòstic reservat, 1994; Boca a boca (“Mouth to Mouth”), 1995; La madre (“The Mother”), 1995; Éxtasis (“Ecstasy”), 1996; Más que amor, frenesí (“Not Love, Just Frenzy”), 1996; El amor perjudica se-riamente la salud (“Love Can Seriously Damage Your Health”), 1996; Mambrú, 1996; Airbag, 1997; Carne trémula (“Live Flesh”), 1997; Perdita Durango (“Dance with the Devil”), 1997; Torrente, el brazo tonto de la ley (“Torrente, the Dumb Arm of the Law”; uncredited), 1998; Entre las piernas (“Between Your Legs”), 1999; Los lobos de Washington (“Washington Wolves”), 1999; Segunda piel (“Second Skin”), 1999; Before Night Falls, 2000; Sin noticias de Dios (“Without News of God”), 2001; The Dancer Upstairs, 2002; Los lunes al sol (“Mondays in the Sun”), 2002; Collateral, 2004; Mar adentro (released in the United States as The Sea Inside), 2004; Goya’s Ghosts, 2006; Hécuba, un sueño de pasión (documentary), 2006; No Country for Old Men, 2007; Love in the Time of Cholera, 2007; Vicky Cristina Barcelona, 2008. Television appearances include: Segunda ensenanza, c. 1986 and El dia por delante, 1989, as well as several guest appearances on television programs. Executive producer, Los lo-bos de Washington (“Washington Wolves”), 1999.
Awards: Silver Lion, Venice Film Festival, for Jamón, jamón, 1992; Goya Award for best supporting actor, Spanish FilmAcademy, for Dias contados, 1995; Goya Award for best actor, Spanish Film Academy, for Boca a boca, 1996; People’s Award for best European actor, European Film Academy, 1997; Coppa Volpi Award for best actor, Venice Film Festival, award for best actor, National Board of Review, award for best actor, National Society of Film Critics, award for best male lead, Southeastern Film Critic Association, 2000, and Spirit Award for best male lead, Film Independent, 2001, all for Before Night Falls; Goya Award for best actor, for Los lunes al sol, 2003; award for best actor, Venice Film Festival, for Mar adentro, 2004; Academy Award for best supporting actor, Golden Globe Award for best performance by an actor in a supporting role, and Screen Actors Guild Award for best supporting actor, all 2008, all for No Country for Old Men.
T hough Javier Bardem spent his life being surrounded by actors, he initially had no interest in pursuing the profession. “I didn’t even want to become an actor,” the Oscar winner confessed to John Malkovich in Interview. “I wanted to be a painter, but I was lazy. I started working as an extra on movies just to make some money and keep on with my painting lessons, but one day I realized I’d make more money in movies than by painting in the street.” Bardem followed the footsteps of his mother and grandfather and became a regular on the Spanish screen. In the early 2000s, Bardem began making English-language films, selecting such diverse roles as writers, lovers, and serial killers. He became a major film star in Spain during the 1990s, and in the early 2000s, rose to prominence in Hollywood. Bardem was the first Spaniard to be nominated for an Academy Award for best actor, and in 2008, he won the Oscar for best supporting actor.
Due to the variety of roles Bardem has played, he is often called “an actor’s actor,” “an artist’s actor,” and a chameleon. In a description of his role in The Dancer Upstairs, in which Bardem plays a police officer, Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly noted how different this performance was than his previous depiction of a persecuted writer: “Anyone who loved Bardem’s performance in Before Night Falls will want to see what a true chameleon of the spirit he is,” the critic wrote. Jesse Katz of Los Angeles Magazine commented on the same trend: “Detective and drug dealer, doctor and invalid, straight hunk and queer poet—Javier Bardem is the ultimate chameleon, an actor who more often than not makes himself unrecognizable.” Though Bardem has been offered a host of formulaic roles, including a villain role in a James Bond film, the actor has chosen roles he feels have more depth, refusing to be typecast.
Born on March 1, 1969, in Las Palmas, the Canary Islands, Spain, Bardem was primarily raised by his mother. His father, who held a macho outlook on life, did not approve of acting as a profession. Bar-dem attended Madrid’s School of Arts and Crafts, preparing to become a painter. He also played rugby, making Spain’s national team. Opportunities to perform in movies, however, continued to come easily, and by the time he was 18, acting had become his primary profession. Many of his early roles were given to him due to his good looks, and often, his roles, such as his appearance in Huevos de oro, which translates to “Golden Balls,” were very sexual. He told Malkovich about his mother’s response to the film. “I was naked and having sex— she was like, ‘Okay, I like it. You have a career here, but maybe you should try to do another kind of role.’” He and his mother acted together in the film Las edades de lulu.
The opportunity for Bardem to do a more serious film came with Jamón, jamón, in which he plays a trucker who wants to become a bullfighter, but instead becomes an underwear model. The character was very macho—a character type that would become uncommon in Bardem’s future work. Bardem received a Silver Lion award for the movie, and his acting career began in earnest. He performed in such roles as a paralyzed policeman in Carne trémula (“Live Flesh”) and a drug addicted informant in Días contados (“Numbered Days”).
Feeling that there was not enough work in the film industry in Spain, Bardem began seeking out English-speaking roles. He continued working in Spanish productions, including Boca a boca, a comedy that was later released in the United States. The film that landed him the most recognition in America, however, was Before Night Falls, in which he played a Cuban writer who flees to the United States. In playing the character of Reinaldo Arenas, who was persecuted in Cuba not only for his writing but also for being homosexual, Bardem left behind macho roles and portrayed Arenas through his ailing health and eventual death from AIDS. “Nobody who witnesses the scene is likely to forget Bardem’s stunning believability in it,” wrote Steve Daly in an Entertainment Weekly review of the movie.
In order to learn about Arenas’ identity, Bardem spent two weeks in Cuba, interviewing people who had been friends of the poet. “Cubans were very open with me and not afraid to talk. I met people who had been transvestites at the Copacabana nightclub in the ’60s, people who were in El Morro [prison], people from the writers’ union. I was really shocked at what I learned,” he told B. Ruby Rich of the Advocate. The experience in Cuba helped him not only understand the character, but also aided him in picking up the Cuban accent he would need for both his Spanish and English lines. The dialect was difficult to learn, and Bardem spent hours with a vocal coach and listened to recordings of Arenas reading his autobiography. The result was convincing, and Bardem received his first Oscar nomination for the performance.
Roles in American movies continued. He played the lead role in John Malkovich’s The Dancer Upstairs, in which he portrayed a police officer fighting terror ism led by a cult leader. In order to keep his acting in English convincing, Bardem relied on his physical acting, not trusting solely in the language. “When I read in English, I need to see that there is a character to build,” he explained to Malkovich in Interview. “I pay attention to the physicality of it, to the body language, to try to create some kind of behavior that’s not close to my own, so I can be surrounded by elements besides the language.”
Bardem balanced his growing American career with continued roles in Spain, including the part of an unemployed Santa in Los lunes al sol (“Mondays in the Sun”), for which he won Spain’s Goya Award in 2002. Lisa Schwarzbaum said in a review of Los lunes al sol for Entertainment Weekly that the film “pulses with the star power of the extraordinary Javier Bardem.” In Mar adentro, which was released in the United States as The Sea Inside, Bardem played the part of another writer, this one a paraplegic who pled with the Spanish government for the right to end his life. As a very physical actor, playing the role with very little body language was a challenge for Bardem, who gained weight, lost hair, and wore layers of make up to make him appear 55 years old. “Bardem, in an extraordinary performance, convinces us of the essence of Sampedro’s character by almost entirely relying on his voice and facial expressions,” wrote Philip Booth in the Sarasota Herald Tribune.
“I’m just very fortunate to have found these two different characters in two great movies,” Bardem told Andrew Dansby in the Houston Chronicle about playing both Arenas and Sampedro. “I do think they’re related somehow. They gave their own lives to raise questions that were up in the air.” He also saw irony in playing two writers, and he shared his thoughts with Elvis Mitchell of Interview. “It’s weird that both are writers because I consider myself very low intellectually. That’s not modesty—it’s the truth. When real-life characters like Reinaldo Arenas or Ramon Sampedro, who are so intellectually prepared and emotionally experienced, come my way, I get scared. In both cases I was much younger than the individuals I was portraying, so it was like, ‘I don’t have the experience to know what they do.’” Choosing the hard roles, particularly in Mar adentro contributed to Bardem’s growing reputation as an actor’s actor. “I do try to choose things I think are important, though—things that can teach us something about what it is to be human, which is why I like to make movies about real people,” Bardem told Mitchell.
Given those preferences, Bardem had some concerns about accepting the role of Chigurh, a serial killer, in the Coen brothers’ adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel, No Country for Old Men. When he received the script, he was delighted at the prospect of working with the Coen brothers, whose work he had long admired. “Then I saw the violence in it,” he said to Mitchell in a later interview, noting the European distaste for violence in film. Bardem had always been comfortable with sex on the screen, but not violence—a preference he had discussed with critics after he filmed Before Night Falls. Coming around to the role was difficult. He told Mitchell, “I talked to the Coen brothers about my concerns, and they explained to me why it was important for the story to be told in exactly the terms I was trying to criticize . The statement behind the movie is about that—the lack of meaning in violence.” The role was another challenge for Bardem, who had little faith in his spoken English and didn’t drive, because the role required him to do both. But the most difficult aspect was showing a character who is more force of nature than human. “I guess there was the challenge, which is to try to bring what he represents,” he explained on Day to Day, “which is kind of an icon of a symbolic figure of what violence is and put that into a human behavior.”
After the film’s release, critics lauded Bardem’s performance, and he received a Golden Globe and an Oscar for the role. Jenelle Riley of Back Stage West noted, “Tell Bardem it’s impossible to imagine anyone else in the role and he laughs. ‘That’s funny, because before I played it, no one could imagine me doing it.’” But though the movie increased his fame, Bardem maintained his modesty, often crediting the Coens for his work in the role. He explained in Hollywood Reporter that he maintains a sense of detachment from response to his work. “At the end of the day, your job is going to be judged by a lot of people, so you have to really be strong in your personal view of things, otherwise you can be destroyed,” he explained.
The year No Country for Old Men was released, Bar-dem appeared in a very different role in the movie adaptation of Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera. He also worked on Woody Allen’s film Vicky Cristina Barcelona, a comedy, providing a third drastically different role within two years of filming. He described the part to Mitchell in Interview: “I play a painter who lives in Spain. Two tourists come from the States, and there’s a love relation between all of us—including my character’s ex-wife, who is played by Penelope Cruz. The movie has a very pointed perspective about relationships. Making that movie was an intense experience, because, as everyone knows, with Woody Allen you do the whole scene in one sequence, and I had to improvise in a foreign language.”
In addition to his acting, Bardem also produced the 1999 film Los lobos de Washington (“Washington Wolves”), in which he also starred. He served on the jury of the Cannes Film Festival in 2005. Bar-dem continues to work on American films, though Spain is his home. In 2008, he proposed to his Vicky Cristina Barcelona co-star Cruz, and the two planned a marriage for late that year.
Almanac of Famous People, 9th ed., Gale (Detroit, MI), 2007.
Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television, vol. 75, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2007.
Advocate, December 19, 2000, p. 55.
Back Stage West, December 6, 2007, p. 6A.
Entertainment Weekly, February 23, 2001, p. 30; May 9, 2003, p. 55; August 15, 2003, p. 54; February 1, 2008, p. 36.
Hollywood Reporter, November 27, 2007, p. S4.
Houston Chronicle (Houston, TX), January 30, 2005, p. 8.
Interview, January-April 2001, p. 61; May 2003, p. 100; March 2005, p. 152; November 2007, p. 92.
Los Angeles Magazine, February 2005, p. 51.
New York Times, December 11, 2007, p. E2.
Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, CA), November 17, 2007.
Sarasota Herald Tribune (Sarasota, FL), February 4, 2005, p. 22.
“Day to Day: Bardem on Working with the Coen Brothers,” National Public Radio, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=18184544.tif (April 15, 2008).
“Javier Bardem,” Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000849/ (May 18, 2008).
—Alana Joli Abbott