Javier Bardem on Playing the Villain, Adapting to Hollywood, and Acting For His Kids

The film delves into the struggles that Desi and Lucy faced as a prominent showbiz couple, and the personal toll it can take when your marriage is offered up for public consumption. It’s not a stretch to wonder if this is something Bardem can relate to, considering that he and his wife are significantly more recognizable than the actual king and queen of Spain.

“I never thought about it for a second,” he says. “Desi and Lucy were making a show about their marriage, seen by 40 million people every week. They created a brand together. That’s so much detached from what I am or what I stand for, or my wife, about being so much in the spotlight.”

Bardem and Cruz, who did not even confirm their relationship until they married in 2010, are famously private, though they do have a long intertwined history. Years before they were a couple, the pair starred in the same breakout film, 1992’s Jamón Jamón. He was cast as a himbo’s himbo, working for a ham company; she was a young and beautiful employee at an underwear factory. A campy send-up of stereotypical Spanish machismo by director Bigas Luna, it includes—hand on my heart, this is all true—butt-naked bullfighting by Bardem; a seduction scene in which he rolls up on Cruz in a car, wheeling a trailer-size promotional ham behind him; and another scene in which he bludgeons someone to death with an actual leg of jamón ibérico. Despite all the ham (or perhaps because of it), Cruz and Bardem exhibit the most undeniable chemistry ever witnessed between two human beings.

The two ignited the screen again in 2008’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona, then got together at the end of the shoot. They’ve collaborated a handful more times since, most recently in 2018, with Loving Pablo, followed immediately by Everybody Knows. After that, they needed a break.

“We felt like, okay, we cannot do this too much,” he says. “Because we have to go back and be Daddy and Mommy and be able to step out of this crazy world.”

It’s been 20 years since Bardem made his breakout in the States, portraying the gay Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas in Julian Schnabel’s movie Before Night Falls. Around this time, he didn’t exactly seem in the mood for promotion. When he had to do press, he would shrug and talk about how if he didn’t make it here, that would be fine, because he already had a career in Spain.

“I guess it was a little bit too…what’s the word? It’s obscene to say that, unrespectful to say that about the job itself. The word in Spanish is soberbio, he says, flicking his hand under his chin by way of explanation.


But Bardem can understand why he felt that way. He was introduced to the machinations of the film industry in a way he had never encountered before. The pressure from agents to be everywhere and do everything. “It’s like, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. The way I see this is, I take jobs because I believe in them,” he says. “Yes, I can do something for money, because we all have to pay our rent, but my objective is to try to do something that is worth it to watch. And for that, I need good material and belief in what I’m doing. When here it was like, ‘It’s your moment. You’re hot. You’re hot. Do it.’”

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