'The Sea Inside'

In Alejandro Amenabar’s “The Sea Inside” quadriplegic Spanish poet Ramon Sampedro, played by Javier Bardem, is gently teased by his sister-in-law Manuela about the “harem” he keeps.

Indeed, for the poet who fought nearly 30 years for the right to die, his life would not have been the same without the various women who cared for him. Among them, at least three played pivotal roles in his life.

Manuela, played by Galician stage vet Mabel Rivera, is a silent and non-judgmental presence that attends to his myriad needs. Her stillness is disrupted when a priest loudly presumes that Sampedro’s desire to die stems from a paucity of love and attention from his family. Rivera’s delivery of a stinging diatribe at the visiting priest is a tour de force for this actress whose only other film credit is a small part in Jose Luis Cuerda’s “El Bosque animado” in 1987.

She nailed this same speech during the audition that got her the part. Rivera has also starred in the Galician sitcom “Pratos combinados.”

“The atmosphere on the set was that of a constant and creative calm,” she recalls. “Amenabar did not rehearse with me but simply gave me a few guidelines to follow.”

Award-winning Lola Duenas, last seen playing the nurse in Pedro Almodovar’s “Talk to Her,” portrays the needy one here. As Ramona, a vulnerable single mom of two, she reaches out to Sampedro, whose kindness and wisdom ultimately saves her life.

“Lola has all the brazen qualities of the character she plays, that touch of madness, as well as the intensity and humor,” Amenabar says.

To prep for her role, Duenas filmed the real Ramona while interviewing her. Duena’s credits include “En Medio de ninguna parte,” “En Camas separadas,” “1,2,3 Taxi” and “Open Luggage.” She has also performed on stage and in some television skeins, including “Journalists” with co-star Belen Rueda.

Rueda, who plays a lawyer with a degenerative disease, prepped for her feature debut by visiting rehab centers and hospitals. She is known in Spain for her ongoing stint in the hit sitcom “Los Serrano” as well as host in top-rated game shows, magazine programs and drama skeins on local television since 1990.

“People here associated me with lighter fare and didn’t think I could take on the role,” admits Belen. “I think comedy is actually more difficult to pull off.”

Having trained in ballet since childhood helped her cope with the physical demands of her character, who walks with a limp.

“Belen projected a natural intensity, a quality I sought in all my actors,” Amenabar says.

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