Bardem in ‘Biutiful’: It’s the Heartbeat of Life, Life, Life

From TheWrap’s Academy Screening Series: “I’m sure somebody saw in this character something that he needed to be reminded of, whether it’s compassion, forgiveness or love”

“I’m alive, don’t worry,” quipped Javier Bardem as he took the stage Tuesday night following a screening of his latest film, “Biutiful.” Audiences had just watched him perish from cancer as he lay by the side of his 10-year-old daughter — by all accounts a gut-wrenching moment.

He wasn't exaggerating about the feeling of reality in the critically acclaimed film. Bardem recalled a scene between himself and Hanaa Bouchaib, who plays the daughter. She confronts him when it’s clear that he is very ill.

The sound man placed microphones inside their clothing so that when they hugged, their actual heartbeats were picked up. “I think that’s the heart of the movie,” declared Bardem. “Those heartbeats explain it — life, life, life.”

Bardem joined TheWrap’s Editor-in-Chief Sharon Waxman at the ArcLight in Sherman Oaks for a spirited and often hilarious discussion before a packed house, part of the site’s ongoing Academy Screening Series. (All photographs by Jonathan Alcorn.)

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s follow-up to his Oscar-nominated “Babel” stars the Spaniard as a working-class father of two who discovers he is terminally ill. His attempt to put his life in order takes audiences through a modern nightmare of exploitation, despair and desperation.

Oscar buzz surrounds the film ever since Bardem took Best Actor honors last spring in Cannes. Surprisingly, though, he shied away from the challenge at first. “I got scared ‘cause I knew this was a life journey, not a performance,” he revealed. “There’s no way you can do that without immersing yourself in the skin of that person.”

To prepare for the role, he returned to the acting school he’s been attending for over 20 years. After meeting with his coach, he realized he was going to have to live the pain of his character in order to achieve the emotional veracity demanded by the role. “I didn’t perform in this one,” he confessed. “There was no way to perform it rather than be it.”

“You ask yourself, is it worth it, what I’m putting myself through?” he added. “The answer is yes. Why? Because it will be meaningful to someone. I’m sure somebody saw in this character something that he needed to be reminded of, whether it’s compassion, forgiveness or love.”

Bardem and wife, Penelope Cruz, are expecting their first child early next year and he thinks “Biutiful” speaks mainly to men and fathers. He confessed to crying each time he’s seen it. “I think it’s very deep what happens there,” he ruminated. “It may be because I'm going to be a father.”

Much praise was reserved for Iñárritu. “He’s very good at creating an imaginary world that will help you to understand; like music, like painting,” revealed the actor. Together, Bardem and Iñárritu studied the paintings of Francis Bacon,discerning the beauty behind the pain and suffering in his portraits.

If Bardem wins the Oscar this year, it will be his second after taking home the statuette for his performance in 2007’s “No Country for Old Men” directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. Of the brothers, Bardem said, “They’re fun. They’re great. They don’t care. I go into a place and blow people’s brains out, they were, ‘Ha ha ha that was funny!’ They are sick.”

According to Bardem, Oscar voters embraced his portrayal of hit man Anton Chigurh in that movie because they said he constantly looked like he was going to attack. “No, I didn’t know what I was saying,” he recalled about his struggle with English. “I used it. ‘What the hell am I talking about? I don’t even know these words!’ They gave me an Oscar for that!” he exclaimed to raucous laughter.