They famously like to keep their private life separate from the Hollywood machine, but all eyes were on Spanish power couple Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem at the opening ceremony of the Cannes Film Festival on Tuesday as the costars of the opener film, Asghar Farhadi’s “Everybody Knows.”
In the tear-jerker, Spain-based drama, which is in competition, the couple play former sweethearts reunited at a family wedding in Spain and whose lives are thrown into turmoil when the daughter of Cruz’s character is kidnapped during the party.
Looking a tad weary after a conveyor belt of interviews and press conferences, Bardem — one of cinema’s most recognizable faces whose other actor credits include “Before Night Falls,” “No Country for Old Men,” “Biutiful” and “Skyfall” — met with WWD to talk about the Cannes experience while taking in the boat-studded Côte d’Azur views from the terrace of the Marriott hotel.
WWD: So what does opening the Cannes Film Festival feel like?
Javier Bardem: It’s everything at the same time. It was such a great honor to open the festival with my wife and an Asghar Farhadi movie, and at the same time it’s exhausting in the sense that you’re doing so many interviews where you lose your mind, and you don’t know what you’re saying, it’s like being in a hamster wheel. It’s very intense. I saw the movie for the first time yesterday with the rest of the cast and 2,000 people, in a tuxedo. That’s not the natural way to see a movie you’re in.
WWD: Did you feel vulnerable?
J.B.: Always. From Ricardo Darín, who’s a great actor with great experience, to actor Carla Campra, the young girl who plays the daughter, and everybody in between, we all feel the same: scared, insecure, how much did I [screw] it up, I wish that moment was different…but I enjoyed it a lot.
WWD: What drew you to the film?
J.B.: I have this image of me watching [Asghar Farhadi’s] “A Separation” at the cinema a few years ago. There I was rooted to my seat thinking, “If only one day I could do a movie like that.” And I thought, that’s never going to happen — he’s from Iran, and you don’t speak Iranian, forget it. Cut to him coming to Spain, making a movie in Spanish near our home, with my wife….What a great luxury.
WWD: What does doing a film in your own language add for you?
J.B.: It means freedom, liberty, joy and not having to be worried about the words and the pronunciation, the consonants and the vowels.
WWD: I heard you learned English listening to AC/DC.
J.B.: That’s how I learned to curse. Brian Johnson and Bon Scott may not be the best teachers, but I love rock ’n’ roll.
WWD: You’ve played a seducer, in Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” and a Bond villain, which role do you most identify with?
J.B.: For “Skyfall,” it was Sam Mendes offering me a Bond villain that was kind of revolutionary in the sense that he was bringing to the picture themes and complexities that I hadn’t seen before.
WWD: Your next role will be as Frankenstein’s monster in the remake of “Bride of Frankenstein.” It seems you’re drawn to dark characters.
J.B.: That’s because of the size of my head, not my talent. I was an easy pick. It’s good to be different.
WWD: But you’re scared of guns.
J.B.: On the set of [the Coen brothers’] “No Country for Old Men,” they used to call me the Spanish ballerina. It was in 2006….Now I know more about the gun culture in the United States, but back then, I didn’t know that much. I was amazed by how many guns my character carried and by how much the members of the crew knew about them. In Spain, it’s a different world. I’ve never had a gun or held a real gun close to me, I don’t like it. And I was holding them, killing people in the film, then when they’d cut, I’d throw them on the floor. It’s not something I’m comfortable with holding, even for fiction.
WWD: You broke your nose in a fight.
J.B.: I was young and in a bar and hadn’t done anything wrong. It was just the wrong moment with the wrong people. It was a great lesson. I wasn’t violent, I was a rugby player and sometimes we would get into fights, but it was fine. But once I saw violence for what it is, a lack of meaning in itself, I was like, OK, this is what violence is. I was starting my career at the point.
WWD: But your wonky nose has become your signature. Your mother is an actress and your grandparents were actors, but which film or moment sparked your desire to become an actor?
J.B.: I remember watching “Raging Bull” with my father on TV when I was 12, and I asked my father who the boxer was, and he replied, “He’s not a boxer, he’s an actor.” And it really struck me, like, that guy’s an actor? He’s put on weight, the way he fights is like a real fighter, with all the angles, the transformation, that must be fun.
WWD: With what your mother experienced as an actor living under the Franco regime in Spain, and your uncle, Juan Antonio Bardem, a prolific filmmaker and screenwriter who was imprisoned for his anti-fascist films, what does it mean to you to be opening Cannes and to have made it this far?
J.B.: It’s a miracle to be an actor and to be able to make a living out of it, first of all. Secondly, that you can make a movie that opens such a great festival like this, and have the chance to show your work to so many people who you admire….Let’s start with [Cannes jury president] Cate Blanchett. I saw yesterday the footage of her work at the opening ceremony and I was blown away. I thought, she’s going to see me acting, bless her, what an honor.
WWD: Cate Blanchett is expected to participate in a women’s march on the red carpet here on Saturday. What’s your take on the shift under way in the industry for women?
J.B.: I think the industry has started something very powerful. Penélope [Cruz] has donated money to the Time’s Up fund, not just for the industry but also for the many other areas where women don’t have the means to pay a lawyer to take an abuser to court. It’s not a trend, this movement is here to stay, and God bless it, but let’s be careful about pointing fingers….It’s tricky and can be dangerous.
WWD: Moving to a lighter topic, how was it being dressed for the red carpet by Ermenegildo Zegna? (The actor, who stars in the house’s spring 2018 campaign, for the opening night wore a custom-made, single-breasted navy tuxedo with contrast satin shawl collar by Ermenegildo Zegna Couture.)
J.B.: I don’t follow fashion myself, but Alessandro [Sartori, artistic director Zegna] came to my room to dress me personally. What passion and quality — you can feel it — and what a beautiful man.