Javier Bardem won an Oscar for his role as the menacing villain Anton Chigurh in 2007’s “No Country for Old Men.” In “Skyfall,” the 23rd film in the James Bond movie franchise, Bardem is a different kind of villain: Raoul Silva, a former spy who is out for revenge because of something that happened in his past. Whereas Chigurh was a humorless assassin, Silva has touches of humor as he inflicts mayhem on those around him.
“Skyfall” (directed by Oscar winner Sam Mendes) is the third James Bond film for Daniel Craig, who plays the iconic spy James Bond. For his role in “Skyfall,” Bardem was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the 2013 Screen Actors Guild Awards and the 2013 Critics’ Choice Movie Awards. The movie also received three Oscar nominations: Best Cinematography, Best Original Score and Best Original Song. Here is what Bardem said at a New York City press conference for “Skyfall.”
How large of a personality were you allowed to have with Silva? Were you worried that he would be too camp?
“Camp” is a word that somebody taught me the other day. “I don’t know what you mean by ‘camp.’” But now I know what “camp” is … I always say that everything has to be on the page. And the first time I read it, I realized that the character was there, with many colors and layers to fulfill, but it was important for me to see what Sam [Mendes] would say about it or what’s his take on the character.
Once I talked to Sam, and he gave me pre-productions, I realized that we were dealing with something that was fun to create and would also [be] a little humble homage to the Bond classic mixed with something more modern in the combination of creating somebody that above all is a human being — a figure, a larger-than-life character who is more of a broken person with a very definitive and a very specific goal to achieve, which is way easier to portray than a symbolic idea, which is more or less what it was in “No Country for Old Men.” That was the idea of violence, a horrible fate itself is what [Anton] Chigurh [in “No Country for Old Men”] was. There was no human being behind it.
Here, [in “Skyfall”], there’s a broken person. And then, everything was on the screen. It’s true. We started thinking about it, and Sam gave me this great note, which is “uncomfortableness.” We wanted to create somebody who creates uncomfortable situations, rather than somebody scary or threatening, somebody who really creates the scenario of insecurity, of something unexpected to happen in front of the person who he’s dealing with.
And from there, came the looks. We brought pictures, I brought some ideas of people that I know and people I’ve probably known. And we worked with them to the point where we found it would make sense, because this thing about hair or looks, they all have to make sense. I don’t believe in the firework of it. I don’t believe in just doing that because you want to have fun with it. It always has to make sense.
And again, my hope and my wish that when you watch the movie and rewind, and you see what character is Silva and what he is inside, then you would understand the outside. And from there, we went to the set, the scenes were there, but the approach we did was very different.
The great thing with Sam is that he really encourages you to approach the same scenes from different angles. “Let’s go higher in this tone now. Let’s put it down. Let’s go this other way.” It was fun, which for me was a very huge surprise.
This is my first big movie, and I thought it was going to be more kind of “everything has to be in place.” And I found a great creative laboratory of performers with a great leader in charge. And that was great relief. Not that I was afraid of it being the opposite, but it was a nice surprise.
We had a lot of fun. Different options on the scenes, and I guess he put together the ones he considered the best ones, and that’s what you saw. But nothing was written in stone. It’s a great risk for a movie like this, where everything has to be in place.
Which villain was more difficult for you to play: Raoul Silva or Anton Chigurh?
I don’t know. Everything is difficult, especially when you’re speaking a foreign language. It’s kind of difficult. I guess, as I said, when you face Anton Chigurh … you have to always be loyal to the story you’re telling. What’s the story about?
The story is about, in “No Country for Old Men,” when you call for violence, by violent acts, violence will show up. And once it shows up, it’s unstoppable and it strikes everything. That’s the goal to achieve in the movie, and that was my take on the movie. You have to go trade that idea.
In [“Skyfall”], the movie is about the old meets the new. The old essence of things that used to work now, if you review them, they may need a change for things to move forward. It has to have that. That’s why we brought some classic in it and also something more modern about behavior, for example, like more in the natural world. So everything’s different. But that’s the challenge: to bring the storyline into the character.
What did your wife, Penélope Cruz, think of your blonde hair when you played Silva?
I don’t answer personal questions. I’m sorry.
One of the more memorable scenes is when Silva flirts with James Bond. How did Silva’s sexuality inform your interpretation of Silva?
He was part of the game, but it’s not entirely the game, in the sense that the sexuality was there as something important to create a behavior, but it’s not the main thing. The main goal was to create this thing that I said, which was uncomfortableness. Within that, you can read anything you want or you wish.
But it’s more into the thing of putting the other person in a very uncomfortable situation where even James Bond himself doesn’t know how to get out of it. And with that, comes the rest, with James Bond or Judi Dench [as M] or Sévérine.
What did you discuss with Daniel Craig about the Raoul Silva character?
We were talking about a guy who used to be M’s favorite … I thought it as fun to create a guy who knows what he’s talking about. That’s the danger. He knows everything. It’s very difficult to defeat. And that will allow you, as a character, to look eye-to-eye with James Bond, like, “We are the last two standing here. We are the same but a flip of the coin. It’s a different side of the same coin.”
And with Daniel, it’s always about people. I’ve been doing this for about 25 years now. And I can say that in the end what you remember, what stays with you is not the failure or the success of the movie but how the spirit was. It’s always about human beings. He’s a sterling human being. He’s great, generous, careful — careful in the sense that he takes care of people.
The atmosphere on the set was to make you feel protected and secure and also free to go and so your thing. He and Sam gave me space enough to try different things. And it was easy. When you’re working with professionals who know what they’re doing and they do it so well, it’s always easy.
The problem is when you don’t know what the hell you’re doing and you’re under the command of someone who doesn’t know sh*t about what they’re doing. In this case, it was the opposite. I was really looking forward to going to the set because I knew I was going to have fun, creative fun, in the sense that it was a place that I was allowed to really create something. And that’s beautiful. And that’s what you are dreaming with as an actor.
Can you talk about what was done for Silva’s scary-looking teeth?
I don’t think I should answer that. We don’t want to spoil those things, no? There are certain things I don’t want to spoil. Otherwise, it’s not fair for the audience. That’s my take of this. It’s good to bring people to the movie … and they’re surprised to see certain things.
Was there any pressure on you because “Skyfall” was being released during the 50th anniversary of the James Bond movie franchise?
No. The pressure I’m feeling is now in promoting the movie and in seeing the poster. Whoa, this is James Bond. We do receive a script that says 007, and of course, something clicks inside of you. I’m 43, and I was 12 the first time I saw Bond in a theater. It was “Moonraker.”
I was immediately drawn to Jaws, I have to say. I was little. I thought, “This guy is such a nice guy. Why is he doing a villain?” I could tell inside that he was a beautiful person. There are so many memories of the times you go to the movie theater with your parents and on your own and with your friends. And enjoying those movies comes to you in a flash, in a moment.
But then I had to really forget about that, focus on the material, read it for just what it is. And then once I realized, as I said before, that the ground was a very fertile ground to work with, it’s was like, “Do your job, and don’t think too much about the rest of the things.”
But there was one thing in the story that was true. We were shooting and Judi and Daniel were looking at me, and then you forget the lines. You’re like, “Jesus, that’s James Bond and I’m the villain.” I forgot the lines, and Sam came to me and he was laughing. I said, “I’m sorry. I’m a human being. I realized I’m in a James Bond movie.”
That same day, we were shooting the scene with Judi. A very intense scene. And then I hear [the James Bond entrance music], and I was like, “What is that?” And that was the music, the [ring]tone of Judi Dench’s cell phone. That was pretty brilliant, I have to say. It was like a dream come true.
But no, you can’t think too much of it. You just do your thing. One can say it’s a privilege for me to be in a movie that celebrates 50 years of Bond and being such a good movie … I thought what I saw on the page was on screen. It’s a good movie. And on top of that, it’s a James Bond movie. It’s a good movie with great characters.
How did the “Skyfall” crew and cast members react to the Silva persona?
The reaction from the people in the crew when they see me like, it will last for no more than two hours. I remember Ralph Fiennes, he had the room in front of me. And they opened the room very quick to go to the corridor.
I remember his face was like, “What? What is that?” He said, “That’s brilliant” And I said, “I don’t know.” We laugh a lot about that. But people get used to it in a very weird way. I had to remind myself, “This is not normal. Why are they talking to me like it’s normal?”
Do you think Silva was born evil or do you think he became that way from his circumstances?
I think it’s to [his] motive what happened to him that changed his whole perspective of the world. It has to do with his motive in the movie. I think the power of this character is that we understand what he’s going through, what he went through, and we want to know more about that, how he wants to proceed to fix that situation. It’s very personal; it’s very human.
And that’s why when I read it, I thought, “This is powerful, because he’s not a man with bigger thoughts of destroying the world. It’s more like a person with a very specific goal in mind.” And that makes him even more dangerous, because it’s very clear what he wants to achieve. He knows the skills that he needs for that — and he has it.
Do you want to do a movie where you’re the main action hero?
When I think of a character, I don’t really care if it’s a villain or good or tall or short or bald or with long hair. It’s always what’s behind the role that makes it more intriguing for me to put my head into it and discover what’s behind. In 25 years, I’ve only done three what you can call “villains.” On in ’96 in Spain, in a movie called “Perdita Durango,” which was a crazy movie. It was a good movie with a crazy character. “No Country for Old Men” And this one [“Skyfall”].
But “No Country for Old Men” had a lot of exposure, sensation. But it’s always about the people behind those roles. And in the action thing, I didn’t do anything compared to what Daniel [Craig] did. And I was watching Daniel doing those things, and I was like, “Oh my God,” because he’s so well-prepared, and he’s so committed to go far with it.
I did my own thing, a couple of things. And the rest? Let the stunts do it. They are brave people doing amazing things. But generally, when you do things in a movie that you want to have a flavor of it and do a little bit of thing they ask you to do. But also, this [Silva] role is not that physical, which is good. I prefer that.
Did you look to any other villains as inspirations for how you played Silva?
I think it was only for one second that I thought of going back to review other Bond villains. It was only for one second. And then I said, “No. No way.”
Many great actors have done it before, but I didn’t really want it to interfere with what they did, having in mind what they offering to me is what they offered. It’s a different thing. But in a funny way, the memory of that is in the back of your mind, since you’ve enjoyed the [James Bond] movies for so long.
And I knew we had to find and bring a little flavor of classic Bond villain into him. You know what the flavor is. You have it in your skin. “OK, I know what it is, and we bring it on.” But I didn’t really revisit anything. It’s really difficult for me to do that. It would interfere with what I see.
And would you ever like to play a comic-book character in a movie?
I don’t know. Yeah.
Can you talk about the humor that the Silva character has?
Yeah, based on his word that he said to me, which was the key word from where we built the character, which was “uncomfortableness.” We also brought the sense of humor, which was on the page. Some of them were probably more on the set when we were trying different things.
But also, a sense of humor has to be something uncomfortable to feel. When they’re making fun of something, and you don’t know what it is — “Is he serious? Does he mean that? Is he joking?” — it’s very uncomfortable sometimes. And the sense of humor has to go from that point of throwing something to him and he doesn’t know how to deal with that, if he’s serious or not, if he means it or not.
And yes, we were laughing quite a lot. Sometimes we were laughing, but we don’t really to get lost in our laughing. We laugh, and then it’s, “Let’s keep on working, man.”
I’m one of those who thinks that what works on the set doesn’t necessarily work in the movie. Sometimes you make a joke and people in the crew celebrate that, but it doesn’t work in the movie. So it’s not a good sign to really pay [too much] attention to what works on the set. That’s my opinion.
For more info: “Skyfall” website