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Awaiting His Crossover Moment

Hollywood Loves the Latest Gift From Spain. But Javier Bardem Is Proceeding With Caution.

March 25, 2001|JANET REITMAN | Janet Reitman's last story for the magazine was on rock climbers at Yosemite

Let's just say that Javier Bardem isn't altogether thrilled by the prospect of being the next conquistador of Hollywood. The endless rounds of photo ops and meet-and-greets and morning shows are a little surreal, and the Spanish actor would prefer to relocate to a calmer universe.

"All this--I think it's called press junkets," says Bardem, his husky accent on the "junk." "It happens in Spain, but it happens for three days. Here you're talking with people on and on and on and on and on. I mean it's great," he says, sounding far from convinced. "But it's a lot of noise for me."

This "noise"--Rosie, Charlie Rose, Vanity Fair, Talk magazine--is standard fare for those who are nominated for an Academy Award. And so, on this morning, the star of "Before Night Falls" sits at a window table at the restaurant of New York's Essex House Hotel. Brooding. Outside, the dog walkers and doormen of Central Park South shiver in the chill; inside it is warm and cheerful and the winter sunlight dances off the bone china and eggs Benedict and fruit plates. Bardem talks. He considers the utter weirdness of fame. But what Javier Bardem really wants most at this juncture is a Marlboro. He's jonesing pretty hard, while understanding that he will be denied this simple morning pleasure thanks to New York's byzantine anti-smoking laws.The smoldering dark eyes that made him one of Spain's major heartthrobs droop; the muscular shoulders underneath the faded green rugby sweater sag with exhaustion. Let's just say that a cigarette would go a long way toward quelling his inclination, growing by the minute, to blow out of this interview and head back up to bed, where it's dark and quiet and nobody knows his name.

*

JAVIER BARDEM IS A STAR--IN SPAIN. THE scion of one of that country's most prominent theatrical families (his mother, actress Pilar Bardem, has been compared to Geraldine Page; his uncle, Juan Antonio Bardem, was one of Spain's most celebrated directors), the 31-year-old actor has made 16 films released in the last decade and won several European film awards, including two Goyas (Spain's Academy Award). In 1998 Bardem won the Public's Award for Best European Actor at the Berlin Film Festival for his work in "Perdita Durango" and the Audience Award for Best Actor at the European Film Awards for "Live Flesh." Last year he won best actor at the Venice Film Festival for his work in "Before Night Falls," as well as the best actor award from the U.S. National Board of Review and National Society of Film Critics. He has the kind of diverse film resume that, were he to have established his acting career in the United States, might prompt comparison to someone like Sean Penn. As it stands, Bardem has been known to American audiences--if at all--through the art house films of Pedro Almodovar ("Live Flesh") and Bigas Luna, whose 1992 comedy, "Jamon, Jamon" made Bardem a star. In Spain.

Now, with his performance as gay Cuban novelist and poet Reinaldo Arenas in Julian Schnabel's "Before Night Falls," Bardem is being lauded by critics worldwide and applauded by actors ranging from Gary Oldman to Jack Nicholson, who recently arranged a special private screening of the film. He's met with Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese and Adrian Lyne and Ridley Scott. His stature as Hollywood's latest foreign import has been solidified by the best actor Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe nomination, and a few turns on E! haven't hurt either. And yet.

"As long as I can remember, I've never gotten into my bed, closed my eyes and dreamed of Hollywood," Bardem says. "I dreamed, with many actors from Hollywood, [of working with] Sean Penn, Al Pacino. Now, I've met Al Pacino. I've met Sean Penn. It's great; they're amazing actors. But I've never had the dream of 'I want to be a star in Hollywood, no.' " Bardem stares pensively at the barren trees in Central Park.

We are meeting in mid-January, just after the Golden Globes, after Javier Bardem's dark, equine features have been broadcast live into living rooms from Seattle to Bangkok to Madrid.

"There's a difference between me and an American actor. An American actor has the need to make it in his country. I don't have that. I have my career in my country, and if something good happens here, I'll do it, and there are many great directors here I'd like to work with. But if that doesn't happen, it doesn't mean that I don't have a career. I already have one--in Spain."

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