With his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Javier Bardem cements his status as a truly global acting icon, a Spaniard who’s seen success in his native language and in American movies. The broodingly attractive 43-year-old calls his sidewalk stature in Tinseltown a “great honor” and “kind of surreal,” given the vagaries of the business.
“It’s only a very small bunch of privileged actors who can make a living out of this,” says Bardem. “I’m one of them, and that’s a miracle. There’s a huge percentage of really talented actors who are not that lucky.”
Bardem learned the profession’s volatility at an early age: his mother, Pilar, is an actress, still performing today at 73.
“I saw the ups and downs,” says Bardem, who has never forgotten her mother’s advice since becoming a professional himself at 17. “She told me, ‘The important thing is that this is not a sprint, this is a marathon. Don’t run too fast, or too slow. Just keep moving.’ ”
Nearly 10 years of stardom in Spain in such movies as “Jamon jamon” led to international acclaim with his English-language turn as Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas in 2000’s “Before Night Falls,” which earned him his first Oscar nomination.
But as Vogue film critic John Powers observes, it was the one-two punch of 2007’s “No Country for Old Men” (for which he won the supporting actor Oscar) and “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” — chilling in the former, charming in the latter — that best clued audiences in to Bardem’s range.
“They were almost opposite roles,” says Powers. “There’s impending violence in that bullish quality he has, and he worked so well underplaying it for the Coens. Then in ‘Vicky,’ everyone was struck by the scene where he tries to pick up the two women. Most people I talked to at Cannes after seeing it said, ‘Oh, I would have gone.’ He’s got an animalistic component to that handsome face, yet he’s so good at comedy. Which makes him a perfect James Bond villain.”
Bardem’s appearance in the latest Bond epic “Skyfall” is the kind of gig that comes with iconic baggage — namely, 50 years of memorable villains — but the key for him was letting go of the childlike excitement.
“Of course I remember being 11 and going to the movie theater with my father to see my first James Bond movie, ‘Moonraker,’ and all those things come to you in a flash when you read the script, but you have to forget all that,” says Bardem. “You have to focus on what’s written, and in this case the material triggered my imagination, and I felt I could bring something to it. It was a very creative experience.”
The goal, says Bardem, is to approach acting as the fickle, vulnerable profession it is.
“Every day I try to earn the fact that this career is a gift.”
• Bardem brings out the best in Bond