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Javier Bardem - Biography

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Javier Bardem

Personal details

Name: Javier Bardem
Born: 1 March 1969 (Age: 46)
Where: Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Canary Islands
Height: 6'
Awards: Won 1 Oscar, 1 BAFTA and 1 Golden Globe

All about this star


When Javier Bardem made his international breakthrough in 2000, he did so against all the odds. Not only was Before Night Falls, which saw him headline as a gay writer tortured physically and mentally under Castro's Cuban revolution, an unlikely passage to stardom, but Bardem had actually had to learn English to play the role. To most, he had no pedigree, no reputation. Some may have recalled the macho gigolo he played in 1992's cult hit Jamon, Jamon; less might remember him as the wheelchair-bound cop in Live Flesh. But hardly anyone would have noticed his progress over the previous decade. Spanish cinema, you see, despite its verve, invention and sexual forwardness, was seen as garish, loud and annoyingly camp - basically lacking in seriousness. Its stars - like Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz - had always needed to work their way up the Hollywood ladder before gaining respect. Before Night Falls, though, despite being backed with American money, was far, far from a mainstream Hollywood production. The Oscar nomination Bardem received, the first ever received by a Spanish actor, had been earned the hard way.

He was born Javier Angel Encinas Bardem on the first of March, 1969, in Las Palmas on Gran Canaria, Spanish territory off the west coast of Morocco. He had two older siblings; brother Carlos, born in 1963, and sister Monica, born a year later. Both would also become actors. Javier's parents, Carlos Encinas and Pilar Bardem would split up in 1971, Pilar taking Carlos, Monica and the then-toddling Javier back to Madrid. It was said that the fiercely independent Pilar could not tolerate the little wife role demanded by her more traditional husband.

In terms of his career, the split was probably fortunate for Javier. Now he'd be placed right at the centre of a family steeped in film and theatre, with an acting history stretching back nearly a hundred years. His forebear Mercedes Sampedro had been a renowned actress back in the late 1800s. Amongst her nieces were Mercedes, Guadalupe and Matilde Munoz Sampedro, all three famous actresses (Guadalupe would marry actor Manuel Soto and form her own theatre company in 1946), and in turn they would bear the next generation, including Luchy Soto, Carmen Lozano (who both starred in films for over 40 years) and Javier's mother Pilar. Pilar, the daughter of Matilde and another lauded thespian, Rafael Bardem, would be a big star in theatre, TV and film, often appearing in movies directed by her brother, Juan Antonio Bardem, who'd serve on the jury at Cannes in 1955.

The Sampedros and Bardems were prime movers in the progression of Spanish theatre and the birth of its cinema. Indeed, they made an important contribution to Spain itself, consistently using their art to denounce political repression. When General Franco took over the country in 1939, he became an active and powerful enemy of personal and artistic freedom, introducing an atmosphere of censorship and fear. This was worsened by the judgemental attitudes of the all-pervading Catholic church. The Sampedros and Bardems would strive against this suffocating regime, thereby placing themselves in grave personal danger. One of Juan Antonio Bardem's first major projects after leaving film school would be to direct 1953's That Happy Pair, a biting satire on Spanish values and propaganda starring his mother and father as well as Fernando Fernan Gomez. Juan Antonio's efforts would not go unnoticed by the powers-that-were, and he'd actually be jailed by Franco for criticizing his dictatorship.

Throughout the Franco years, the family would be shining lights for the Spanish, bravely questioning when silent compliance was demanded. Once Franco had died in November, 1975, they'd also contribute heavily to the renaissance of Spanish theatre and film as the rigid rules of the state and Church were attacked and subverted. Also helping to fan the flames of artistic freedom at this point would be the young directors Pedro Almodovar and Jose Juan Bigas Luna, both of whom would have a profound effect on Javier Bardem's career.

Born in the last years of Franco's crumbling regime, as a kid Javier Bardem would have been unaware of his family's historical importance. He would, though, living at the heart of Spain's artistic community, have been well aware of what they did for a living. Indeed, soon after being taken back to Madrid as an infant, he would make his screen debut alongside his mother in El Picaro, a comedy starring the aforementioned Fernando Fernan Gomez. He'd appear in several TV shows throughout his youth, but mostly he'd be made to concentrate on his studies. Concentration was necessary as Bardem was not a naturally successful academic student, preferring art and sport, particularly, being a big lad, boxing and rugby. At this last endeavour he would truly excel, eventually being picked for the national side. With typical modesty, he'd later belittle this achievement by saying he'd had little competition; playing rugby in Spain, he said, was like being a bullfighter in Japan.

Though he was not keen on academia, he stuck at it, completing his Bachillerato studies and, in preparation for an entry into college, a further year of the Curso de Orientacion Universitaria, studying arts and languages. Instead of going up to university, though, he'd decide to follow his artistic leanings and at 19 enrolled at Madrid's most famous art school, the Escuela de Artes y Oficios, an establishment officially formed in 1886 which counted amongst its former teachers both Picasso and Miro.

Despite being a gifted artist, Bardem would remain at EAO only very briefly. As said, he'd appeared in TV bit parts throughout his youth but had not been inspired to seek a career in acting. 1986 had seen him in Pedro Maso's 12-part series Segunda Ensenanza, he'd briefly toured with an independent theatre troupe, appearing in El Medico A Palos and El Sombrero De Tres Picos, and in 1989 had appeared in Brigada Central, also for Pedro Maso. That same year he'd togged himself up as Superman when appearing in the morning show El Dio Por Delante, a mix of comedy, news and chat hosted by Pepe Navarro. These jobs had been fun but he'd not taken them seriously. They made money, just like his jobs as a bouncer, a construction worker and (for one night only) a stripper.

What changed his mind and inspired him to leave EAO and pursue his family trade was an approach from Bigas Luna to appear in an upcoming movie, The Ages Of Lulu. As earlier mentioned, Bigas Luna had sprung forth in the post-Franco rejuvenation of Spanish cinema and was known for baiting the authorities and particularly the Church with his transgressive material. 1978's Bilbao was a study of fetishism and obsession, while in 1979's Caniche he had two guys and a poodle losing their minds in a big house. In 1981's religious satire Reborn a women suffering from stigmata was used by televangelist Dennis Hopper and underwent traumatic sex. 1986's Lola saw a woman flee from an abusive relationship only to be drawn back in by the promise of thrillingly dangerous sex, while the next year's Anguish was an inventive slasher flick - not unlike Dario Argento's Demons, where a cinema audience was gradually slaughtered in the same manner as the victims on the screen. For Anguish, Bigas Luna would receive a Goya nomination, a first for a director famed as an intelligent, wry but overly extreme outsider.

As a passionate young man well versed in the arts, Bardem would have been attracted to the wilful nature of Bigas Luna's work, its exploration of sexual boundaries and a surreal element that had seen the director compared to Dali. Offered a part in The Ages Of Lulu, he consulted his mother (also in the movie) who told him that, if he were to go through with it, he'd have to take it seriously. Cinema, as the Bardems well knew, was a serious business. So Javier began acting classes in earnest, discovered that he loved the work and left EAO for good.

The Ages Of Lulu was a hell of a debut. In it, Francesca Neri would play a teenager clumsily but enthusiastically losing her virginity to her older brother's friend. Years later, they reunite, finding a kinship in sexual adventurousness. They marry, have a kid, but the sex games continue, even coming to involve a transvestite. Eventually, though, Neri is shocked when her husband breaks trust, blindfolds her and invites her brother to take her. Quite rightly, she dumps her hubbie, but must now feed her need for kicks elsewhere, descending into the most sordid and risky areas of the Madrid underworld. Enter Javier Bardem as a hunky, charming bisexual, sporting a black vest and a muscular physique, a can-do guy in the seedy world of perverse sex. In an extraordinary scene, he persuades his innocent young gay cohort to service Neri, helping him on his way by simultaneously pumping him from behind. Meanwhile, another friend is on Neri's back, kissing and caressing her. Has any other world-renowned actor begun his career in such an outrageous sequence - not simply man-on-man, but man-on-man-on-woman-on-man?

But this wasn't the end of Bardem's participation in The Ages Of Lulu. He was also a prime mover in the film's climax, organising a special show for rich out-of-towners. Where before he was a charmer, giving the customer what she wanted, now he's a businessman, putting on the show at whatever cost to the other participants. First he strings Neri up and leaves her at the mercy of a junkie prostitute with a pig mask and a Freddy Krueger glove. Then he forces his innocent, young and by now extremely reluctant cohort down and sits across his chest while he's violently fisted. Before things get any worse, Neri's transvestite buddy bursts in to save her and Bardem, grunting in incoherent rage at this ruination of his pay-day, strangles her and beats her head against the wall, beats her to death. Cue happy ending.

The Ages Of Lulu was hailed by some as an erotic masterpiece, by others as a new low, gutter-porn masquerading as art. The former opinion is hyperbole, the latter silly. Though the film contained many extended sexual scenes and was - let's admit it - sometimes titillating, it was not just about titillation; there was a clear and strong psychological element throughout. And Bigas Luna's usual playful, if eye-popping, humour. There were some strong performances, too. Neri was brilliant in her passage from needy teen to self-possessed but vulnerable woman, and Bardem was superb as the charismatic, violently pragmatic pimp. Whatever anyone thought of the movie, it was clear that this debutant had something special. Beyond this, it was evident that the Bardem clan intended to remain on the cutting-edge of Spanish cinema for some time to come.

So quickly out of the traps, Bardem was soon involved in far more salubrious fare. After a brief role in the TV miniseries Tango, El Baile De Poder, he scored a bit part in High Heels, the latest by Spain's most popular director, the Oscar-nominated Pedro Almodovar, starring Almodovar favourites Antonio Banderas and Victoria Abril. Involving mother-daughter jealousies and a murderous love triangle, it would be the second highest-grossing film in Spanish history. Following this great success would come another small contribution, this time to Amo Tu Cama Rica, a witty rom-com where Pere Ponce would seek freedom from his parents with the freespirited Ariadna Gil, Bardem playing a macho man addicted to seduction. Gil would grab a far greater audience the next year when Belle Epoque, in which she co-starred with Penelope Cruz, would win the Oscar from Best Foreign Film.

Bardem would take his place in the vanguard of a resurgent Spanish cinema with his very next picture, Jamon, Jamon. This would be a reunion with Bigas Luna, with Bardem this time in a lead role. The movie would see Penelope Cruz, a small-town girl with a prostitute mother, enter a relationship with Jordi Molla, whose big-wig parents own the local underwear factory. Horrified by the union, Molla's stuck-up mum hires local hunk Bardem, who models her underwear and exists on a diet of ham and raw garlic, to seduce Cruz. This he attempts with macho bravado, storming around on his motorbike and bullfighting in the nude. Matters then grow more complicated as Bardem begins an affair with Molla's mum and Molla himself, denied sex by the virginal Cruz, seeks satisfaction - not for the first time - with her mother. Naturally, it would all end in tears for the characters, but joy for the cast and crew as the film garnered six Goya nominations, including nods for Bardem and Cruz, and won a Silver Lion at Venice, becoming a cult hit around the world.

A dark comedy, Jamon, Jamon was excessive and surreal, both arty and earthy, Bigas Luna's best yet. And Bardem shone once more, his character again revealing a lot of flesh but, unlike his Jimmy in The Ages Of Lulu, this time absolutely ruled by his cock. This film's success would catapult him into the limelight but, as far as he was concerned, to no great avail. A slew of sexy, macho roles flooded his way but he turned them all down. Already he was a serious actor, keen not to repeat himself, firmly believing that an artist should suffer for his art. Directly due to Jamon, Jamon and the fame it brought him, he'd suffer in other ways, too. At a disco in Madrid he'd have his nose broken by a complete stranger, and he'd be forced at the age of 24 to give up rugby, a game he'd loved since he was 9, realising that the opposition were now far more interested in beating up a film star than winning the ball. One advantage did come of the production, though. On set he met Cristina Pales, a Catalan language teacher and translator, two years his junior. At first she hated him, mistaking him for the macho lunkhead he was playing. Once she realised her mistake, they'd get together, remaining a couple for some 13 years, Pales being instrumental in his eventual mastery of the English language. This lack of English was already costing him work as he'd been forced to turn down a part in the original London production of Terry Johnson's Hysteria, wherein he would have played Salvador Dali in his famous meeting with Sigmund Freud in 1938. With Tim Potter stepping into the Dali role, the play would win an Olivier award as Best Comedy in 1994.

1993 would see Bardem in two more bit parts. First would come The Bilingual Lover, a study in obsession, class and language where musician Imanol Arias would lose his aristocratic wife Ornella Muti then, after being injured in a bomb attack, try to win back in a mysterious Phantom Of The Opera-style guise. Then there'd be Sancho Gracia's Huidos, a story of Republican resistance during the Spanish Civil War. Following these would come Bardem's first major lead, in Golden Balls, his third collaboration with Bigas Luna. Again the movie would concern sex, ambition, obsession and male potency. This time Bardem and a friend are undergoing army training on an island, Bardem being in love both with a local dancer and his own dream of a grand future in construction. Betrayed by his friend and lover, he departs for the Spanish mainland and plans to build Benidorm's tallest skyscraper, financing his dodgy scheme by striking a deal with a shady and possibly dangerous financier and also marrying banker's daughter Maria De Medeiros. A bulldozer in life and love, he forces work forward, despite having insufficient money and planning permits,and also forms a kinky threesome with his wife and mistress. He's flashy, cruel and deeply weird, drawing building blocks on his women's breasts and losing himself in karaoke renditions of Julio Iglesias songs. Then a car accident and his lack of business acumen bring the shaky edifice of his life crashing down and he winds up in Miami in another kinky threesome, but this time he's a near-impotent lemon, his partner paying gardener Benicio Del Toro to service her properly. As this doomed dreamer building castles on sand, it was another brilliant performance by Bardem, winning him his second Goya nomination.

Bardem would now reunite with Jamon, Jamon co-star Jordi Molla for the short Prognostic Reservat. He'd also take a brief but telling role in Running Out Of Time, a gritty study of hardcore criminals where ETA operative Carmelo Gomez would arrive in Madrid intending to commit a terrorist outrage, then fall for junkie prostitute Ruth Gabriel, the affair causing him to question his murderous plans. Bardem would stand out as Lisardo, a pimp and dealer, high on his own supply, who supplies Gabriel with her drugs. The film would win nine Goyas from nineteen nominations, taking Best Film and Best Director as well as gongs for Gomez, Gabriel and Bardem. Bardem's most prominent performance of 1994, though, would be in The Detective And Death, directed by Gonzalo Suarez and again featuring Carmelo Gomez and Maria De Medeiros. Very loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen's The Story Of The Mother, this was set in an unnamed European city ravaged by crime and racial violence. Hector Alterio would play a bad, bad man running the town, who hires detective Bardem to kill the estranged mother of his daughter. For insurance, believing Bardem to be in love with the proposed victim and possibly unable to terminate her, Alterio also hires Carmelo Gomez to ensure the deed is done. We then follow Bardem through a grim cityscape as he meets and decides to help Medeiros, a desperate and near-hysterical mother who needs to reach Alterio to save her son's life. Blessed with haunting visuals and the moodiest of soundtracks, it was a strange and compelling film and would be nominated for five Goyas, win Bardem winning a Silver Seashell at the San Sebastian Film Festival.

1995 would bring yet more acclaim. It would begin with a part in the black comedy short La Madre, a family affair directed by Javier's cousin Miguel and starring Pilar. Then would come Mouth To Mouth, directed by Manuel Gomez Pereira and written by Joaquin Oristrell. Here Bardem would play an aspiring actor so crippled by shyness and self-doubt he must psych himself up to work by doing Travis Bickle impressions. He finds himself, though, when, low on money and awaiting a part in an American movie, he takes work as a phone sex operator. Thus removed from his audience he finds the freedom to convincingly perform. Unfortunately, it all goes wrong when he agrees to meet sex-starved caller Aitana Sanchez-Gijon who soon involves him in a double cross and a farcical romantic triangle. The movie would garner eight Goya nominations with Bardem being the only winner. The awards ceremony would be a raging triumph for the Bardem family as Pilar would also win for Nobody Will Speak Of Us When We're Dead (starring Victoria Abril) while Miguel would take the prize for Best Short for La Madre.

Having popped up in Pedro Perez Jimenez's Mambru, Bardem's next starring role would be in Mariano Barroso's Ecstasy. Here, dreaming of opening a restaurant, he'd plot with two friends to rob each other's parents. Discovering that one of the friends has never met his father, but doubting the lad's nerve, Bardem poses as his friend and inveigles his way into the father's affections, hoping to plan a perfect heist. However, things change when Bardem is not only given a role in his "father"'s new play but also begins an affair with his girlfriend, Silvia Munt. Now enjoying his new role, he makes excuses to his co-conspirators, trying to delay the robbery as the movie becomes a psychological thriller marked by greed, seduction and betrayal.

The same year, 1996, would bring two more high-profile releases. First there'd be Not Love, Just Frenzy, a farce following six lustful and often unfaithful denizens of Madrid's nightlife as they enjoy all manner of straight and gay relations, one sub-plot seeing a singleminded cop hounding an alleged killer. Co-written and co-directed by Miguel Bardem, the film would also feature siblings Carlos and Monica, as well as Liberto Rabal, Nancho Novo and, for the first time since Jamon, Jamon, Penelope Cruz. And Bardem would stick with Cruz for Love Can Seriously Damage Your Health, a second movie with Manuel Gomez Pereira and writer Joaquin Oristrell. This film would, over 30 years, follow a relationship between a boy and a girl who meet under a hotel bed in which John Lennon is rogering a maid. Having a jovial dig at sex and manners in contemporary Spain, the movie would feature Cruz only briefly and Bardem for just a matter of seconds.

1997 would be another good year for Bardem. It would begin with Airbag, a riotous comedy featuring both mum Pilar and former co-star Maria De Medeiros. A bizarre cross between John Woo and Bigas Luna, this would see a kid on his stag night manage to lose his engagement ring inside a prostitute - yes, inside a prostitute - and be forced to seek it all over northern Spain, becoming painfully involed with rival crime gangs and femme fatale Medeiros. Wild, noisy and great fun, the movie - in which Bardem would appear on TV as a hammy Venezuelan soap star - would win two Goyas.

Now established as one of Spain's top stars, it was inevitable that Bardem would come to work again with his home industry's leading light - Pedro Almodovar. This happened when they collaborated on 1997's Live Flesh, for Bardem a renunion with mum Pilar, Liberto Rabal, Penelope Cruz (in a brief cameo at the start) and the star of his first ever picture, Francesca Neri. The movie would see Rabal fall for Neri after a fling. Unable to control his emotions, he becomes unstable and she calls the cops, Bardem and Jose Sancho turning up. A shot is fired, Bardem is paralyzed and Rabal falsely accused and imprisoned. Years later, released and plotting his revenge against the two cops, Rabal finds that Neri has married Bardem, now a wheelchair-basketball star, and attempts to use sex and cunning to destroy them all. Live Flesh was complicated and clever, political and absurd, fascinating and brilliantly played, with Bardem Goya-nominated yet again.

Bardem's final release of 1997 would be Perdita Durango, also known as Dance With The Devil and directed by Alex De La Iglesia, Spain's latest hot-shot helmsman, known for his crazed and gory all-action style. The film would see Rosie Perez in the title role (as Perdita Durango, not the Devil), playing a feisty firebrand with a ferocious temper and a cool head when the bullets are flying. On the US border with Mexico she catches the eye of Bardem, an insanely charming gangster with one of cinema's great haircuts, a mullet so mad it made you wonder why, a decade later, people saw fit to mention Bardem's comparatively normal thatch in No Country For Old Men.

At first she's having none of his advances, while he finds her foul-mouthed put-downs hilarious. Quickly, though - for it's that kind of film - she decides to go with him as, to settle a debt, he drives a lorry-load of human foetuses to Las Vegas for illegal use in beauty products. Unbeknownst to Bardem, he's to be shot on arrival by his treacherous cousin, played by his brother Carlos. But there's much more to this fabulously loopy film than that. There's a pursuing agent, an endlessly battered James Gandolfini: there's a series of sudden, comic car accidents: there's tense stand-offs, bloody shoot-outs and sweaty sex (at this stage it was still rare to find a Bardem movie where his pumping buttocks were not on show). Beyond this, Bardem is a kind of witch doctor, a voodoo shaman who puts on bizarre rituals for the public, stealing bodies from graveyards, hacking them to pieces and tossing them into blood-filled cauldrons as he writhes, bug-eyed and convulsing on the ground. And there's Perez and Bardem as a couple. Their relationship is hilarious as they fall for each other, their cool courting often interrupted by jealous slanging matches and even fist-fights, one of which sees Perez give Bardem a terrible kicking in the desert dust. There's actually plenty for them to be jealous about as Bardem decides to kidnap a cute young American couple, one of whom is to be sacrificed in his next ritual. Bardem decides to have the girl, a rape that turns quickly into consenting rumpo, while Perez makes naughty use of the boy. Perdita Durango is such fun and Bardem is superb. His Romeo Doloroso is hugely charismatic, passionate and wild, sensitive but also capable of unspeakable violence (check out the broken bottle to the eyes!) - one of most compelling anti-heroes of modern times.

Incidentally, the same year, 1997, would bring a Bardem moment in which Javier was not involved. The movie Resultado Final would see three generations of the family working together, being directed by Javier's uncle Juan Antonio, scored by his cousin Juan and featuring his brother Carlos, sister Monica and nephew Guillermo (son of his cousin Maria, himself a scriptwriter).

Bardem's next appearance would be another cameo, this time for Santiago Segura, who'd played alongside him both in Airbag and Perdita Durango. This was a black comedy called Torrente: The Dumb Arm Of The Law where Segura would play Torrente, a racist, sexist, bragging fascist of a cop, involved in a scrap with an oriental mafia. The PC brigade went mental, accusing the movie of being abjectly crude and offensive; predictably, it would be the biggest box-office hit ever in Spain.

1999 would be another strong year for Bardem releases. First, he'd reteam with the Pereira/Oristrell partnership for Between Your Legs, also featuring former co-stars Victoria Abril and Carmelo Gomez. This would be a comedy drama, a pervy whodunnit, where Bardem and Abril would meet at therapy sessions for sex addiction and, quite reasonably, end up enjoying crazed coitus in a car. When a dead body's found in the same vehicle, Abril's cop husband is called in to investigate, with both Abril and Bardem suspected. Betrayal, blackmail and possible madness ensue.

Following this would come Washington Wolves, another collaboration with Ecstasy director Mariano Barroso and Live Flesh co-star Jose Sancho. Here Bardem and Eduardo Fernandez would be petty crooks - Fernandez a smooth hustler, Bardem a drunken slob - attempting to swindle their former boss out of 20 million pesetas he's trying to launder. Fernandez, meanwhile, is also hoping to rip off Bardem and run off with his ex-wife, the situation leading to some smart double-dealing and noirish thrills in a dark and rainy Madrid. Next there'd be Second Skin where Jordi Molla would play an engineer married to artist Ariadna Gil (former Bardem co-stars both), and beginning an intense affair with orthopaedic surgeon Bardem. As the film explored the hypocrisy and selfishness that make and break so many relationships, an indecisive Molla would flit between his angry missus and his sensitive, kind-hearted lover.

Though his fame was confined to his native country, Bardem's efforts had not gone unnoticed in the English-speaking world. Back in 1997, John Malkovich had approached Bardem to star in his directorial debut, to be titled The Dancer Upstairs. Bardem, though flattered that Malkovich had heard of him, turned him down on the grounds that his English was very poor. Undeterred, Malkovich would spend the next three years earning and seeking finance for his project - he'd be back later. Meanwhile, Julian Schnabel, the renowned artist and director of 1996's well-received Basquiat, was producing a movie to be based on the memoirs of Reinaldo Arenas, the Cuban poet and novelist, persecuted for his homosexuality and liberalism by Castro's post-revolutionary government. Schnabel had already approached Bardem's former bed-mate Benicio Del Toro, now well-established in Hollywood, to play the lead, but had been turned down. So he asked Bardem. He'd actually already asked Bardem to play the minor role eventually taken by Olivier Martinez and Bardem had said no. To convincingly speak English with a Cuban accent would be impossible for him. When he was offered the lead, though, he knew it was an opportunity too great to reject outright. Asking Schnabel for a few weeks to decide, he went on holiday to Cuba with Cristina Pales, staying at the foreigner-friendly National Hotel. Here he found he could not get an idea of Arenas and so took to the streets, seeking out the people who knew the poet, many of whom were still too scared to speak. Having thus convinced himself that Arenas would be a role he could be proud of, he entered a period of intense preparation. Physically, he needed to lose any hint of masculine muscularity and so dropped 30 pounds. He also spent eight hours a day with an English teacher.

Schnabel's film, Before Night Falls, would be a triumph, Bardem's performance amazing as he played Arenas from a 17-year-old innocent, loving life and on the verge of sexual awakening, to a pallid 45-year-old, crushed by AIDS and the cruelty of others, eager to die. As a boy he was superb, boyishly in love with love and literature. As a man he was passionate and sensitive, but not overtly camp, flamboyant but fragile, suffering terribly as he was beaten, jailed, tortured and betrayed, risking his freedom, even his life to smuggle his manuscripts out of the country (once, hilariously, he does this via the anus of drag queen Johnny Depp, Depp also taking a second role as a comically well-endowed government official sadistically sliding his revolver into Bardem's mouth). What a role for Bardem, what a test, forcing him to exhibit frustration, desperation, terror and exultation. Deservedly he'd win the Volpi Cup at Venice, then be nominated for a Golden Globe and - as said, the first Spaniard ever to be so honoured - an Academy Award. His success would justify his new method. Bardem would state that, had he attempted to play Arenas just four years earlier, he'd have died from the pain of it. Now he had learned to put the character before his ego, to inhabit a role rather than attempting to be the person he was playing. It was certainly working.

Bardem's next release would see him provide a cameo in Spanish production Don't Tempt Me, featuring his former colleagues Penelope Cruz and Victoria Abril, as well as Gael Garcia Bernal (mother Pilar would also appear, in a photograph). This was a light but good-looking comedy where angel Abril and demon Cruz would compete for the soul of a young boxer. Then, at last, would come Malkovich's The Dancer Upstairs. With finance secured and Bardem having learned English for Before Night Falls, the movie had been shot in Spain in 2000. Loosely based on the real-life hunt for Abimael Guzman, leader of the Peruvian terrorist unit Shining Path, this saw Bardem as a lawyer who's become a detective in order to better serve the cause of justice. Morose and private, he spends five years chasing his man, having to face up to the barbarity of his prey, the fear it's struck throughout the countryside and also the ruthlessness of the army officers who join in the search.

2002 would also bring another hit in Mondays In The Sun, Spain's biggest film of the year, even outdoing Almodovar's Talk To Her. This was a hard-hitting socio-political study of a group of unemployed shipbuilders trying to scrape by once the yards are closed down. Tranforming himself once again, Bardem would play Santa, a fiery activist who's the unelected leader of the men. Bearded, overweight and unfit, he's lost all self-respect and can't even get it up for Laura Dominguez. Dreaming of escape, he sits at his friend's bar, shooting the breeze as families and lives collapse around him. It was hard-hitting stuff, Oscar-nominated as Best Foreign Film, and would take five Goyas, including one for Bardem. Following this would come Variaciones, Javier Aguirre's visual accompaniment to a poem by Jorge Luis Borges. It would open with Bardem and Ines Sastre running together and kissing, then replay the scene over and over, manipulating the shot and altering the aurals and visuals. The voice of Fernando Fernan Gomez, star of Bardem's very first show nearly thirty years before, would also feature.

Before Night Falls had changed things for Bardem. Now he was known and respected worldwide. And he was sought-after. Immediately after Before Night Falls he'd turned down the Colin Farrell role in Minority Report and, perhaps more wisely, a part in Basic Instinct 2. Now, though, he'd step up for his first major Hollywood picture, Collateral. Directed by Michael Mann, this would see Tom Cruise (former star of Minority Report) as an assassin forcing cabbie Jamie Foxx to drive while he commits five separate killings in one night. Bardem would appear briefly as Felix, the drug lord who's hired Cruise to slaughter all the witnesses due to appear at his trial the next day. He was suitably sinister. Very different would be his other movie of 2004, The Sea Inside. Directed by Alejandro Amenabar (who'd earlier helmed Open Your Eyes, the original of Cruise's Vanilla Sky, and The Others, starring Cruise's recent ex Nicole Kidman), this would follow the real-life story of Ramon Sampedro. Paralyzed in a diving accident when a young man, he spent 26 years in the same room and the same bed. He's funded by the government, cared for by his family and loved by both a local DJ and a lawyer from a right-to-die agency. He can write by holding a pen in his mouth, he loves words and people, nevertheless he's had enough and is seeking a way to die where all others will remain blameless. The camera would spend much of its time on Bardem's face as he argues, bullies, cajoles, loves, plots and writes poetry. It was a tough shoot. To be convincingly aged, he was in makeup from 5am till 11, then filmed till 10pm. But again it was worth it. The Sea Inside would win the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, and would take 14 Goyas from 15 nominations, while Bardem himself would win the Volpi Cup at Venice once again, plus his fourth Goya, and would be Golden Globe-nominated for the second time.

Things were changing for Bardem, in his personal life, too. He'd split from long-time lover Cristina Pales and was rumoured to be seeing actress Belen Rueda, his co-star in The Sea Inside. Come 2008, the media would go crazy over a supposed relationship with Penelope Cruz - Spain's own Brangelina.

Such was his working reputation, Bardem was now working with some of cinema's greatest international talents. He'd also serve on the jury at Cannes in 2005, exactly 50 years after his uncle had done so. 2006 would see him in Goya's Ghosts, directed by Milos Foreman, who'd earlier helmed One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and Amadeus, and written by Jean-Claude Carriere, who'd penned Belle De Jour, The Tin Drum and The Return Of Martin Guerre. Here Bardem would play Brother Lorenzo, an ambitious inquisitor checking for blasphemy and obscenity the works of Stellan Skarsgard's Goya, also finding time to torture the artist's muse Natalie Portman. Fifteen years later, Bardem would become prosecutor for Napoleon himself. Though some reviews would dismiss the movie as slow and tedious, it was beautiful and filled with drama and pathos.

Bardem was now busy, busier than ever before as, for the first time, he would make two movies back-to-back. The first of these was No Country For Old Men, the latest by the Coen Brothers. Josh Brolin would play a poor Texan, living in a trailer with wife Kelly Macdonald. Out hunting, he comes across a drug deal gone wrong and makes off with $2 million, being pursued by sheriff Tommy Lee Jones, bounty hunter Woody Harrelson and implacable killer Bardem. As the almost comically evil Anton Chigurh, Bardem would come close to stealing the whole show, letting nothing get in his way, despatching victims with a gun meant for cattle. For his efforts he would win an Oscar, a BAFTA and a Golden Globe as Best Supporting Actor.

The second of his back-to-back films would be Mike Newell's Love In The Time Of Cholera, based on the best-selling novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This would see Bardem as Florentino Ariza, deeply in love with Giovanna Mezzogiorno's Fermina but kept from her by her father. He'd then spend the next 50 years wanting her but sleeping with others, a romantic without love. Following this would come an introduction to Woody Allen with Vicky Cristina Barcelona, also featuring Scarlett Johansson, Patricia Clarkson and former co-star Penelope Cruz, where an artist would conduct relationships with two American tourists and his ex-girlfriend.

At last, Javier Bardem was making headlines in America, the kind of headlines his mighty talent deserved. There was no chance, though, that he would entirely leave Spain and its film industry behind. His feet were firmly on the ground, he'd seen his mother unemployed enough times to recognise the perils of fame. Plus, he owned two restaurants in Madrid - Bardemcilla and Corazon Loco - his family were there, his friends, his mentors, his acting classes (yes, he's still learning), his history. He might be the most famous of the Bardems, but a Bardem he was still.

Dominic Wills

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