In the Coen Brothers new film No Country For Old Men, Spanish actor Javier Bardem becomes, quite literally a force of nature. As sociopathic assassin Anton Chigurh, Javier drives the pace of a tense chase ever onwards to it's much-anticpated conclusion in a menacing performance almost certain to bring more recognition to a man who already has been twice-nominated for an Academy Award...
Buzzine's Emmanuel Itier recently sat down with a thoughful and cheerful Javier Bardem in Los Angeles, CA to talk about the distinctive hairstyle of a killer, the philosophy behind the violence and the amazing achievement that he and the Coen Brothers managed to pull off in making the audience actually care about a detached, seemingly emotionless killing machine...
Emmanuel Itier: How did you come up with the haircut?
Javier Bardem: It came from the idea of Tommy Lee Jones. He had the idea. He bought a book about places in New Mexico and Texas with photographs of dark places like in whore houses and in bars, and some customers were worried about the haircut. They thought it would be funny.
I went to the trailer as soon as I landed in New Mexico (for the shoot). I had long hair at the time. They told me they wanted to try something different and he did it, and the Coens were there and they were laughing their asses off. They gave me a mirror and I said, “Wow, what is that?” But I loved it. It helps you tremendously (as an actor) to know you are going to work that hair. It tells you a lot about the character.
He´s very methodical, very mechanical, very perfect – like everything has to be in its place. But also it tells you he´s insane and doesn´t make any sense! There´s something out of sync with the normal people, like something is broken, and I liked that about him.
EI: Is it true you had some reservations about taking this role because of the violence invloved?
JB: Yes, but I have to say the Coens, for me, are the top. They are the great masters in filmmaking history we all know and we all adore. But I had something personal, something deeply profound with the Coens since I saw Blood Simple – it had an impact on me. From then, I saw all of their movies and I am a big fan–even more of a fan after working with them.
They are truly amazing. I´m a Spanish actor so I thought, It´s not going to happen. I´m not going to work with them. They make deeply American movies. I´m a Spanish actor, I don´t speak English. F*** it! Forget it! So when they called me, I was like: “Why? What happened? How?” When I read the script, I thought it was truly violent... do I really want to do this? I read the book and I understood much better what was behind the violent philosophy, and then I flew out to see them. They told me what kind of a movie they wanted to make and their views of the violence was big. Then I said with my eyes closed, “Okay.”
EI: What is the philosophy behind the violence?
JB: The title says No Country for Old Men, which is no world for old men. There´s a place in our world where we live where there´s non-stop violence which doesn´t have any meaning: It´s unstoppable. People believe that violence is a way to fix things to solve problems – to create wars in the name of democracy. That only brings the logical reaction to that which is my character. I am the logical violent reaction to the violent actions that the characters take in this movie. I am just an accident that happened because they call me. When two people harm one another, I´m going to appear.
EI: While you were originally wrestling with whether to take the roel, who/what helps you, advises you in your movie choices?
JB: Just me. I have an agent who helps me, but at the end of the day, it´s me who makes the decision. And it´s always based on the same thing, which is, "What do I have?" My intuition. It is mine, and at the end of the day, I have to say; “Okay, this is the right thing to do,” based on the character, the motivation, the people behind the camera.
EI: What kind of things did you do to create this character besides the hair style, emotionally speaking?
JB: I wanted to create someone who was numb, not related to any other people´s feelings – emotionally detached from everything. But also, I didn´t want to portray a machine like the Terminator, because otherwise you don´t care. Since you don´t have anything in common with that guy, you don´t care about him.
You have to care about this kind of monster. We found it could be nice to separate what is his day by day life and his duty. His duty is, whilst he gets the gun and kills people, he´s on duty, he´s fast, he gets it done. But in his day by day life, like making a call or delivering an envelope, he has some problems. He has problems with relating to real life. The way he talks, you can tell something is not quite right.
EI: Was he a hard character to shake off at the end of the day?
JB: Yeah. Whatever you choose to do to reach the character you have to play, there´s always a side of him you have to face. Of course I haven´t killed anybody so I don´t know what it is like, but all of us, we have dreamed or fantasized about what it is like to kill somebody in our life – even our parents. And what makes us different between us and the animals is that we have common sense and we use our reason to say no and to differentiate good from evil. But what is it in these peoples´ minds that that gap doesn´t really take place? They are really unable to see that difference of good and evil, and that is what I have to fulfill with imagination.
EI: What was your reaction when you watched the film?
JB: It was difficult because, when you watch the movie, you will see that we don´t interact with each other. I didn´t know what movie they were making. I had some scenes with Tommy Lee and Josh Brolin, but I was shooting one, two days per week. I was going to the set, I was killing people, and I was going back to my trailer. I thought, What the f*** am I doing here?” because I didn´t know what they were doing. When I saw the final movie, I was shocked by it. I think it truly works. It gives room and silence to allow people to think. The characters will invite you to get into their heads.
EI: In your imagination, what do you think makes Anton that way?
JB: What I thought was good not to do was to go to the backstory. In the book, there is no backstory. He kind of appears. He is a symbolic idea of what violence represents. He goes to nowhere, he doesn´t have a personal goal or personal needs. He´s just violent, which is why Tommy Lee says, “I can´t take it anymore, because I don´t know where he comes from.”
EI: Have you ever met somebody who has absolutely no consciousness of good and evil?
JB: I met a schizophrenic person, which was wild because he was harming his mother a lot. On some days, he came into reality and he knew, and that´s even worse – to be conscious of the horror you´ve created and not be able to stop it.
EI: Are you ready for the crazy fans you´re going to get after they see you in this role?
JB: [Laughs] Oh my God! No. I live in Spain where there are not so many crazy people. Here in the US, there are many crazy guys, man. In Spain, we are more like, “Ah, I like that movie!” That´s all. Here, it is very weird. I am expecting for people to dress like me on Halloween. I want a royalty for every wig!
EI: How was it working with the Coens?
JB: If I liked them before, now I adore them. There is nothing special to tell you about them. They are just normal. They know the meaning of team work. They are really open to everybody´s ideas. They want to put everybody´s talent together in order to create something. There was no inch of tension on the set. They don´t allow tension. They are funny as hell. They make the set light.
EI: Do you have a favorite onscreen killer?
JB: In history? I like Robert Mitchum in The Night of the Hunter. I think that´s a classic. I liked Kevin Spacey in Seven. I like it, but I´m not one of those fans.
EI: You´re okay with watching killers at work in a movie?
JB: Yeah, if it makes sense in order to take you some place which will explain us as human beings. If it´s just for fun, I step out of the movie theatre.
EI: You´ve said that the difference between American and European movies is that we don´t have a problem with watching people have sex in films.
EI: But in Europe, people don't like watching people shoot their heads off, and in America, it´s the other way around.
JB: Totally. I think that´s totally appropriate to say because in Europe, we don´t have the culture that they have here of holding guns. People know so much about guns here. When they give me a gun, I´m more like, “How do I hold this?!!” There´s a cultural difference.
EI: When you have a love scene, you can go draw on your own experiences, but when you kill someone, where do you go?
JB: Well, you go to what you imagine you need and the reason why he killed that person. I imagine this person to have ear plugs in when people are talking to him. He brings fate to you, whether you like it or not. Like this is going to happen to you, I´m just here to let you know. Bye bye. It´s nothing personal.
EI: There´s Oscar buzz about this movie: Do you think about that?
JB: No, of course we all have an ego and we all want to be liked by others, especially actors, which is the most insecure race of all. Here it gets big and I´ve been in those situations twice already, with The Sea Inside as a movie and with Before Night Falls. I know how exhausting it is to get in that place where you are influenced by what you hear and the rumors. In this case, I´m out of it. It´s good to be recognized, of course, but it´s too demanding, putting yourself in a place that is not healthy. The anxiety is not good. I don´t need to get to anywhere.
Miramax Films' 'No Country For Old Men' is in theaters from November 9, 2007.