Supporting Actor: 'No Country for Old Men'

In the 1955 classic “The Night of the Hunter,” Robert Mitchum’s knuckles are memorably tattooed “hate” and “love.”

Those two words sum up Javier Bardem’s multifaceted acting choices for 2007: He’s the ultimate romantic in “Love in the Time of Cholera” and a veritable killing machine in both “Goya’s Ghosts” and, most memorably this awards season, “No Country for Old Men.” But even in these latter films, Bardem gives hate two very different faces.

In the Milos Forman-directed biopic “Goya’s Ghosts,” he plays a most sympathetic agent of the Spanish Inquisition, Brother Lorenzo.

“I saw him as a person who has been victimized by a totalitarian regime that created these monsters, these people who do anything to hold power and who come to believe they deserve that power. They are the true believers,” he says.

The Coen brothers movie “No Country,” in which he plays mysterious murderer Anton Chigurh and has critics salivating, required an entirely different approach to the thesp art — and a really bad haircut.

“That guy is not a human being,” explains Bardem, who was nominated for an Oscar for the 2000 pic “Before Night Falls.” “He’s an iconic figure of violence who comes out of nowhere and goes to nowhere and can’t be stopped. He has no personal desire or reason to exist except to create misery and pain.

“One of the themes of the movie is this huge wave of violence that the world has been taken by, and Chigurh symbolizes that violence in that he has no roots, he always takes things one step further and he’s unstoppable.”

Adds Joel Coen: “We needed an actor who would be able to flesh out Chigurh in a substantial way, but also without giving away too much, and keeping that sense of mystery. Hence, Javier Bardem.”

In addition to constantly switching gears as an actor, Bardem has the added challenge these days of performing in English, his second language.

“I feel totally insecure and it is a real struggle to make the language your own,” he observes. “It takes a lot of time and effort, but once you achieve it, it’s a great conquest.”

Fast facts

Favorite film: ” ‘E.T.’ I was 11 and I saw it 20 times. Even when I see it today, it hits deep in me and always makes me cry.”

Young actor you admire: “Emile Hirsch in ‘Into the Wild.’ “

What you want in a director: “Nothing. Just be a normal person with respect.”

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more