BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA – “I am so bad that I’m taking the heat off of James Bond,” laughs Javier Bardem, whose MI6 operative-turned-cyberterrorist in the film “Skyfall” is winning plaudits as the best 007 villain in a decade.
What the Spanish actor is getting at is that his character, Raoul Silva, is so rotten, so colorful and so memorable that he’s deflecting much of the usual criticism of Bond’s character as sexist, violent and outdated. If anyone knows the intricacies of playing a villain, it’s Bardem. The 43-year-old won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role as a ruthless hitman in “No Country for Old Men” (2007). A longtime fan of the 007 series, he thinks the latest chapter is especially interesting.
“I remember seeing the early movies and they were spectacular, but it meant something different then,” he says. “Some Bond movies did become more forgettable with time … The villains, the girls who were pretty but not unique, and the plots that sometimes you couldn’t remember or even make sense of.
“This time, the movie looks inside the family. The villain used to be part of MI6, and this time the mother of all the agents, M, is threatened.”
“Skyfall,” the 23rd official 007 feature and the third starring Daniel Craig, is already the highest-grossing film of the series. Once again, award-winning actress Judi Dench plays the role of M, the head of MI6.
“She is charming and very funny,” says Bardem of costar Dench. “And a great big talent who makes no mystery of acting.”
Part of the thrill of “Skyfall” is that the bullish and seemingly invulnerable spy boss is put in danger as her past returns to haunt her in the form of Silva, a forsaken agent who’s hell-bent on revenge.
“I don’t read all the reviews; there are too many,” Bardem says. “But sometimes I hear about parts of them, and a few say Silva is too extreme or too vicious. Especially because he was once a spy for Her Majesty. I completely disagree. We have one example in the Spanish Civil War — the most vicious wars are civil wars. When you know people, you know where to target them. They are not foreign to you. So you can do more damage.”
Spain’s particularly bloody civil war was won by Francisco Franco and his fascists (backed at the time by Adolf Hitler), and one of Bardem’s uncles was imprisoned by the Franco regime for antifascist activities.
Bardem is the son of actress Pilar Bardem, who raised him alone. Initially, he wanted to paint and only took acting jobs to support himself through art school (he also worked as a stripper, for one day). Eventually he decided he wasn’t a painter in the same league as Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali or Joan Miro, and appeared in his first major film, “The Ages of Lulu,” at 20. He got some attention two years later for his role in “Jamon Jamon” (1992) as an underwear model. The movie included a teenage Penelope Cruz, whom Bardem married in July 2010.
“Spain has evolved dramatically,” he explains, “but when I was growing up it was often very … stern. Judgmental, yes. If there was a household and the husband had left, it was condemned. The father was thought to be all-important. Even though the mother did almost all the work. So of course I love Spain, but I love today’s more open-minded Spain even more. What I love best in my life is being able to enjoy the entire world, as a successful actor. I am so grateful for that success.”
Bardem doesn’t always play the bad guy: His turn as a terminally ill father in “Biutiful” (2010) won him a Best Actor prize at the Cannes Film Festival. However he definitely has a knack for the dark side. He says that one secret to achieving these villainous portrayals is to tap the ideas and motives behind fascism.
“Fascism is a government and a church philosophy that says everyone should be the same. When I take a villain’s role, I think of a fascist in power, someone working for Franco or in the church that the fascists used as their weapon, to make everyone obey and be afraid. The essence of a villain in a play or a film is that same fanaticism, someone who will never listen to reason.”
Due to his background, Bardem is an atheist and is antichurch: “I believe in ethics and in treating other people with either kindness or politeness. I don’t believe in fictional beings.” He made national headlines when he told the Spanish press that if he were gay he would “get married tomorrow (to another man) just to f-ck with the church.” Which brings up a much-mentioned aspect of “Skyfall”: the scene in which Bond is bound to a chair in front of Silva, who flirtatiously strokes 007’s chest — to surprising effect.
Craig has responded to speculation by saying he doesn’t view the world in sexual divisions (heterosexual and homosexual), that Silva would f-ck anything, and that he loves the scene. Bardem has stated that Silva’s mind games involve making people uncomfortable.
Bardem now replies, “Since this movie is a genuine great big hit, why not? Is Silva bisexual? You tell me. And if he is, so what? I remember there were gay villains in one of the old Bond movies (Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd in “Diamonds Are Forever,” 1971). Also, you have Don Juan and Casanova, legendary Latin lovers. Besides the thousands of ladies they got to know, there were a few gentlemen, too. Anyone so obsessed with sex, sooner or later he will try something new, no?”
“Skyfall” opens Dec. 1. For a review, a competition and more Bond, please turn to this issue’s Film Page. For more information, visit www.skyfall.jp.
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