Javier Bardem
Photo by Maarten de Boer

Javier Bardem: “My slate is clean”

Short Profile

Name: Javier Ángel Encinas Bardem
DOB: 1 March 1969
Place of birth: Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain
Occupation: Actor

Javier Bardem stars in Asghar Farhadi's new film, Everybody Knows, in theaters now.

Mr. Bardem, what is the most important lesson you learned from your childhood?

There are many. We are open, we all learn lessons as we go. But we have to be open to learn. As we grow old, the danger is to think that we know it all — when actually we know less and less. It’s only children who know it all. They really know! I come from Spain, which is a very patriarchal state and country. My father was kind of absent during my childhood for several reasons, God bless him, but I saw the world through a woman’s eye. My mother was both mother and father. I saw what it means to be a woman in this world. And what it meant to be an actress in the sixties in Spain.

It wasn’t a respected profession?

It was less than a whore! It was not taken seriously at all, it was repudiated. And the strength of this woman, my mother, by bringing dignity to everything she did, how hard she fought to raise us three kids without losing her temper, but with the strength of a lioness… And that’s what makes me think we are so unprotected by them. We men are the weaker sex! (Laughs) Her strength is something I will always worship. And one of the most important lessons I learned from my mother as an actress is that you never get married to success or failure.

“The flame can be success or failure, but you have to stay away from that. It does not mean anything.”

Wasn’t it Rudyard Kipling that said that if you can meet success and failure and treat them both as imposters, then you are truly balanced?

Yes, as Kipling said, they are both liars! I love this song from Metallica that is called “Moth into the Flame” from their last album. The moth is attracted to the flame — it’s like fame — but it gets burned. So, the flame can be success or failure, but you have to stay away from that. It does not mean anything. It means that you have to keep flying, growing, learning. But we live in a world where the attraction, the spotlight, the jewel, the gold is so huge, that people get into the flame…

Have you ever been burned by this flame?

Every day.

In what ways?

You get burned when you least expect it. The flames that make even more light than others, those you are the ones you have to get away from. You walk on the carpet the other day. And they are screaming at you, “Javier! Penelope!” And you turn around, and there is a moment when you think you have done something bad. What happened? But it’s just that somebody didn’t have the right angle for their shot…

It’s the most trivial thing in the world.

Exactly, it’s not my fault.

What does success look like to you these days?

I am getting older so the things I appreciate most now… To be a good dad, to be the best husband I can be, which is the hardest thing in the sense that you have to put your attention into it and give time and love to the people that you really love and care about. Time is everything, time is quality. Especially for kids.

Has fatherhood changed your attitude towards acting at all?

Only in the sense that nothing is that important anymore. Helping to educate someone, knowing you have to educate yourself, knowing that what you learned once may not be what you need to know now in order for someone to be held. It’s a great thing. Now there are new times, there are new values, thank God, and you have to learn them. Time and experience help Penelope and me as parents and as a couple who also work together.

Has that been challenging for you?

Well, we say “I love you” often. It’s important to tell the other person that you love them. Movies can be a very intense process but we know what is fiction and what is reality — and we don’t share anything at home in terms of working.

Robin Wright said that her career has always come second to wanting to raise kids and have a family.

Family is sacred for everyone. Where film is concerned, it’s important to show everybody with their own motifs and goals: “This may not be the person you are rooting for, but you should listen to him or her because they have a point.” And that can be very difficult. That’s why a director like Asgar Farhadi, for example, uses family as a key in his movies, because it’s such a sensitive matter for all of us. In Everybody Knows, we can see ourselves in those characters.

“The feeling of ‘what’s next’ is an exhausting process. It gives you a life and keeps you motivated, but thinking about what you have done, that is irrelevant.”

Apparently that part was written for you. What did that mean to you?

It gives you a deep honor. I remember I saw A Separation on a screen, I could not move, it was like I had received a blow! Boom! I thought, “If I could one day make a movie like this with a director like that…” But I thought that would never happen. Cut to five or six years later, he is writing a part for me. It’s a big responsibility, and I try to earn it. So, a role like this, it’s a big thing! You are excited and happy and you are wondering what the reactions are going to be. All those things, they are human. Today I am like: “What is next?” That’s how this work is. It’s exhausted, that’s past, what’s next?

And what is next for you?

I don’t know. The feeling of “what’s next” is an exhausting process. It gives you a life and keeps you motivated, but thinking about what you have done, that is irrelevant. My slate is clean. I have paid my dues. I have solved important matters. If I die today… I tried, I did okay.