Gael García Bernal
Photo by Claude Medale

Gael García Bernal: “Growing up is such a gift”

Short Profile

Name: Gael García Bernal
DOB: 30 November 1978
Place of birth: Guadalajara, Mexico
Occupation: Actor, film producer

Gael García Bernal stars in M. Night Shyamalan's new film, Old, in theaters now.

Mr. García Bernal, would you say you’re the type of person who lives in the moment?

Oh, no! I think I'm a very existentialist person in the sense that I believe that the only real thing is the future. The present exists and it's completely inexorable, you cannot escape from it. But the future is the only thing that keeps us going. And thinking of the future, in a way, makes us more conscious of how to make things better. Of course it is important to be present in the moment, absolutely. But it is also important to not completely put aside everything that we have to take care of, especially with the climate emergency. If we live in the present, if we say, “Oh, I'll just forget about it, let's just live in the present — let's just burn the forests. It doesn't matter what will come tomorrow!” No, it actually does matter. There’s still the future to think about.

And what about your personal future? Are you thinking about that, too?

Well, just yesterday I was talking with some friends and thinking about, like, is doing film something for older people, or only for young people? What would it be like for me to continue this path, if I'm 80 something and I'm still doing films, would I enjoy it? I don't know. I think I would enjoy a lot being an actor in theater, maybe that’s something I might enjoy a lot more than making films, but who knows? Maybe when I'm that age, I’ll find a way of enjoying this even more. But right now, I’m in a moment where I really love the experience of being an actor.

“So much has happened in between, and it all still feels like yesterday.”

You’ve been acting for a long time, since you were just a child. What has it been like for you to grow up in this industry?

You’re right that I've been working for a long time — I think professionally, I would rather say I've been working since I was 20. (Laughs) I've had my moments just like anybody where I’m thinking, like, “Wow, now I'm 27! Now I’m 30! Oh, my God, what's going to happen at 35? 40?” And obviously those those moments hit you… But I'm pretty amazed that so much has happened in between, and it all still feels like yesterday. I'm really glad about the decisions I’ve made along the way, I’m very happy about being able to still work in Spanish, and to work in Mexico where I can really fly, and my reality is the one I want to express. I'm really glad the way that it's been going.

How do you look back on the actor that you were in your twenties?

I mean, growing up is such a gift, no? And when you ask this kind of specific question about what time means… It’s only someone that is older that can talk about time, and about the different ways that you experienced time throughout your lifetime. That is a privilege. I think that one of the main things that has evolved since I was a kid studying to be an actor is that at the beginning, I was trying to find an appropriation of an artistic journey. I wanted to find myself, to find the pathway for myself of what an artistic journey meant. And now I feel much more at ease with a commitment to that artistic journey, you know? And before it was more complicated, because obviously, you're pulled into many directions. And then there's the way things are especially for people that don’t come from an English speaking country.

You mean terms of expectations?

Yeah, like whatever the Hollywood industry kind of expects, there is a route that you have to take. And I really didn't want that route. I wanted to make my own thing. So that's been really, really wonderful to be doing it that way. And now, I'm much more at ease with that.

What else are you grappling with when you think about the passing of time?

The thing is that whenever you’re engaging on any project, there’s an introspection that takes place about all the things that are at stake. Recently on Old, for example, the premise of the film is actually what would happen if time travels really quickly. You know, time is the greatest common denominator of existence, and when it gets perverted or transformed, when it suddenly travels really fast or really slow, then all the points of reference we have, all of what we understand about logic gets lost completely. It disappears! So this natural introspection, all of this philosophizing… I had a lot of dialogue with myself about it, and also with my counterpart in the film, Vicky Krieps.

“I live such an uncertain life. And if I didn’t like that, I couldn’t be an actor.”

What kind of conversations were you having?

Endless discussions about time, which ended up offering almost no definite answers! (Laughs) Also because this film was shot during one of the biggest moments of uncertainty during the pandemic last year in the fall… There were many, many things made me question what what was going on, you know, what is this about, what’s going to happen? We just had to see where it would go. The good thing is that I’m much more adventurous than my character in the film! Sometimes I have a schedule, but most of the time I don’t. I live such an uncertain life. And if I didn’t like that, I couldn’t be an actor.

Has that unpredictability also helped you to figure out what really matters in life?

Of course. One of the biggest things that come up whenever we're thinking about time is that the essential kind of surfaces immediately, you know? We question what's essential and what's not. And I think the pandemic kind of gave us an insight into that. Extreme situations have always given us an insight into that and asks us to think a lot about what really matters.