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'Being the Ricardos' actor Javier Bardem on pushing for broader Hollywood representation
Judy Woodruff: Academy Award-winning actor Javier Bardem is taking on his latest challenge in the film "Being the Ricardos" and pushing for broader representation in Hollywood.
Jeffrey Brown spoke with him as part of our arts and culture series, Canvas.
Jeffrey Brown: In "Being the Ricardos," Javier Bardem plays Desi Arnaz, the real-life actor, musician, and producer who worked with his real-life wife, Lucille Ball, played here by Nicole Kidman, on the legendary TV comedy "I Love Lucy."
Javier Bardem, Actor: Lucy, I'm home.
Jeffrey Brown: The Spanish actor didn't grow up with "Lucy," but when he watched it later in life, he was hooked.
Javier Bardem: I discovered this amazing world, this amazing comedian, this -- the artistry, the physical comedy that they created.
Desi Arnez, Actor: Are you sure you're all right?
Lucille Ball, Actress: I'm fine.
Jeffrey Brown: The character of Desi, he says, was especially intriguing.
Javier Bardem: What I found is this energy of Desi that I profoundly felt attached to, the comedian, the musician, the entertainer, but combined also with the producer, the person who really works hard to be heard, because, also, he was a foreigner. And he had to make sure that people will respect him.
I was chased to this country, Lucy!
Jeffrey Brown: The film, written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, takes several true events, and dramatizes them into one week of the show's production in 1952, a public accusation that Lucy was a communist, this amid the height of McCarthy and the Red Scare, another of Desi's philandering, and a very real pregnancy that had important implications for a hit TV show.
Javier Bardem: We have been through worse than this.
Nicole Kidman, Actress: We have?
Javier Bardem: No.
Jeffrey Brown: Plenty of drama for Bardem to bite into. But it also called for singing, guitar playing, and showmanship.
I understand you told Aaron Sorkin that you could do all those things before you really could.
Javier Bardem: Absolutely. I lied. I lied.
Jeffrey Brown: So, you were just faking it?
Javier Bardem: There were so many boxes to check when you play this character that it was kind of overwhelming.
But I wanted the part. And he was nice enough to trust me. He knew I was lying. And I guess he knew that, in the moment, I will hang up the phone, I will put myself to work, which is what I did. I worked tirelessly.
Jeffrey Brown: Bardem has worked his way to become one of the world's best known film stars. He won an Oscar for best supporting actor in 2007 in "No Country For Old Men"...
Actor: I need to know what I stand to win.
Javier Bardem: Everything. Just call it, friend-o.
Jeffrey Brown: ... and has appeared in a variety of English- and Spanish-speaking films, including with his wife and fellow international celebrity, Penelope Cruz, in "Everybody Knows" in 2018.
And he's on quite a roll now. In addition to "Being the Ricardos," there's "Dune" and "The Good Boss," a highly acclaimed Spanish movie expected to vie for best foreign film at the Oscars.
Actor (through translator): What do the banners say?
Javier Bardem (through translator): What banners always say. Nothing good.
Jeffrey Brown: But his casting as the Cuban-born Desi Arnaz drew social media criticism from some, wanting the part to go to a Cuban or other Latino, part of an ongoing call for more representation in Hollywood.
Bardem says he sought the part, but was at first put off.
Javier Bardem: I was told that they were going first to actors that were from Cuba or had Cuban roots, which I absolutely understood and supported.
But then that didn't happen, for different reasons. And they came back to me. And I said, of course, I will do it. And I worship the fact that he was from Cuba, and I will work hard to earn it.
Jeffrey Brown: Director Sorkin defended his choice and told The Times of London the criticism is -- quote -- "heartbreaking and a little chilling to see members of the artistic community resegregating ourselves."
Bardem sticks to his decision as well.
Javier Bardem: I know what a minority representation is, and I absolutely respect the fact that, of course, they have to be represented.
But, at the same time if, for whatever reason, let's say the director doesn't want that option, and they want to go to another actor that doesn't necessarily -- is from the place that the character -- we have to respect that, because that's what we do as an actor. We become different people. We portray people that we're not.
Jeffrey Brown: Bardem recently picked up a Screen Actors Guild nomination for his performance in "Being the Ricardos," and more accolades may well be coming.
More films are definitely on the way.
This is your family business, right, from several generations? Did you ever think of doing anything else?
Javier Bardem: Yes, I studied for painting. I love painting. But then I guess it was in my blood, in my DNA to perform. And I -- that's what my mother did, my grandparents did, my great-grandparents did.
So I guess it was -- I was called to it. And thank God I was, because I think it's beautiful craft. It's a beautiful job. And I think it's necessary as well, all of us are locked in our houses. The importance of storytelling, it's -- is huge, as we see.
Jeffrey Brown: Finally, I see that you're playing King Triton in "The Little Mermaid," and you just wrapped production on "Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile," which I know from the classic children's book.
What's going on? Are you mellowing?
Javier Bardem: I like to try different things.
I like to put myself in a place where I haven't been before and see how I can cope with that, maneuver through that. And it was fun. It was great.
And, also, the good news is that my kids can watch those movies, because most of my work is not kid-friendly. So, at least they can watch some movies of his father.
Jeffrey Brown: All right, Javier Bardem, nice to talk to you. Thank you.
Javier Bardem: Thank you very much for your time.
Judy Woodruff: I loved "I Love Lucy." I can't wait to see that film.