×
THESP FILE
What actor/actress would you most like to work with?
“I always say I don’t believe in God, but I believe in Al Pacino. I think he’s the greatest actor of all time. I owe him so much as an actor. When I saw his performance in ‘Dog Day Afternoon,’ I was impressed with the way he takes risks.”
What’s your favorite film from the past five years?
“‘Shrek.’I would say that was an amazing movie. ‘Sideways,’ too. I loved it. That’s the kind of American movie I’d like to do.”
Which character in a film have you watched and wished you could’ve played?
“None, really. Sometimes characters wouldn’t be the same if they were played by different people. Look at ‘Scarface’ or ‘Raging Bull.’ They wouldn’t have been the same characters if not for those actors.”
What are you doing next?“Nothing. I’m just promoting, which is exhausting. It’s worse than doing five movies in a row. I love acting, but I don’t know if I like talking about myself.”

Not long after Javier Bardem took on the role of right-to-die activist Ramon Sampedro in “The Sea Inside,” he came to a jarring realization.

Popular on Variety

“We don’t own our lives as we are told,” Bardem says. “Our lives belong to political institutions most of the time.”

Sampedro was a paraplegic who fought the Spanish courts for many years before he finally took his own life in 1996. In researching the role, Bardem sifted through an extensive amount of material, including Sampedro’s book, “Letters From Hell.” Afterward, he came to understand that Sampedro’s story was less about that final act than it was about the impact his life had on all the people around him.

“He was a person who linked a lot of relationships to his family,” explains Bardem, who received an actor nom in 2000 for his portrayal of writer Reinaldo Arenas in “Before Night Falls.”

“He was the link that brought a lot of people to that house, a lot of people from outside the family,” Bardem adds. “He was a very important person, and a range of people loved Ramon.”

For almost the entire film, Bardem is confined to a bed. His challenge was to convey Sampedro’s plight and his passion to determine his own fate, but also to show how he used a sense of humor to cope with tragic circumstances.

“It was a way for him to break barriers,” Bardem says. “The first thing I learned is that he laughed about himself, to dispel the tragic idea of himself in order to make other people more comfortable. Ramon didn’t want pity or mercy from people. He wanted people to think for themselves, and a sense of humor put them in a different place.”

Working from a script written by director Alejandro Amenabar, along with Mateo Gil, Bardem says rehearsals involved some improvisation to help explore Sampedro’s relationships. But he felt it was important to remain faithful to the pages because it was so beautifully written.

“It was more about trying to achieve meaning in some of the lines in the script, which were quite hard to reach,” Bardem says. “The meanings in those lines were very profound, very precise, very emotional sometimes. We didn’t improvise and change the lines. We improvised around them.”

Throughout a physically demanding production, Bardem held fast to one belief.

“I support what Ramon believed 100%,” he says. “It’s a very complex issue. He was asking for the right to die for 30 years. Who am I to tell him what to do?”