Javier Bardem Talks About No Country for Old Men

Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men. © Miramax Films

Javier Bardem called working with Joel and Ethan Coen on No Country for Old Men a dream come true. “The first moment I saw Blood Simple I was hit by it in a way I wasn’t hit by any other directors,” said Bardem who plays a killer with the peculiar habit of flipping a coin to decide on whether or not he lets potential victims live or die in the dramatic film based on the Cormac McCarthy novel. “They are great masters in filmmaking history, but the Coens are truly particular and truly unique," explained Bardem.

"For me it’s like an honor. I have to pinch myself sometimes. I mean, really, physically. And now even more because I knew the people and met them and they are amazing. They are so nice and respectful and funny and careful and creative. They really are great.”

Just Who is Anton Chigurh: Bardem didn’t come up with a detailed backstory before stepping into the role of a ruthless killer who hunts down the man (played by Josh Brolin) that stumbled upon $2 million in cash at the scene of a drug deal gone bad. “I didn’t think it was necessary to do any backstory for the guy since I see it as an accident. I see it as a logical, violent reaction to the violent action that some character in this movie does. Like, I’m an accident out there and a kind of an icon, a violent icon that represents a violent fate that you have called by your actions.”

His Character’s Physical Appearance: Bardem didn’t immediately warm up to the look the Coens came up with for his character.

“It’s funny because I saw that photo and I didn’t pay attention to the haircut because it was more of the way he was dressed as well as anything, but I guess they pay attention to the haircut (laughing). So, I went to the trailer and they cut it and I saw it and I said, ‘What the hell is that?’ But that helped a lot actually, because in a way he gave this reality to the character, this dimension of being very methodical.

Everything is in place. It’s kind of mathematical, like perfectly structured which is the way I thought the character should be: perfectly clean. I thought this could help, but not for my private life though (laughing).”

Transforming into a character is more than just changing hair styles and putting on clothes. “I’m obsessed with the body language. Not obsessed, but I pay attention to that, “explained Bardem about how he gets into character. “The only thing I can bring with me is the fact that I think that I know how to watch and bring what I watch to a performance. We all speak by our body language, probably more than we’d like to. One guy comes into a room and you know where’s he’s coming from and his background by the way he talks, sits and moves his hands. One of the funniest and most enjoyable things for me to perform is that: to bring behaviors. That’s what I always pay attention to.”

There’s not all that much dialogue in the film so the actors had to be able to carry forward their parts of the story mainly through body language. “It’s funny, because there is something in this movie that has to do with the fact that we don’t interact with each other,” said Bardem. “So I was there shooting one or two days a week with that hair cut.

I was going there killing people, ‘Boom, boom, boom, boom,’ going back to the hotel to sleep. I didn’t know what movie we were doing. So, yes, sometimes they do a shot of you thinking or you going into the room, but you put it together because it’s like, ‘What is my role in this movie? What do I have to bring with me to tell the story?’

I wasn’t really conscious of how to do it. Rather than being loyal all the time to being a machine, a guy who is totally numb to other people’s feelings and even his own feelings. I didn’t know how to perform somebody who is always on the chase. I didn’t know what they were doing. I didn’t know what kind of movie they were doing, because I was only one, two days a week.”

Finding the Humor in Dramatic Situations: Kelly Macdonald, one of Bardem’s co-stars, said Anton’s intense and scary, but she also found there to be a little humor mixed into the character.

“I saw that there was some comedy in there, but I didn’t want to pay attention to that,” said Bardem. “If there is comedy, it would have to be of the Coens to put it together in order for it to be funny. But the character had to be really damn serious in order to be funny, in case the Coens choose him to funny. Not for what he says or how he says it, but the reaction of the other people listening to him appears on screen which is what makes him funny. Also, being funny in a foreign language is not easy because being funny, being a good comedian isn’t easy in any language. You have to have a lot of control with the language and know the pace, the rhythm, the ‘boom’ – how to put the line in the right place, and in a foreign language it is almost impossible. You have to have a huge control of the language, which I don’t.”

Similarities Between This and His Character in Love in the Time of Cholera: Both characters are single-mindedly focused on one thing. In the case of No Country for Old Men it’s death. In Cholera it’s love. “And,” Bardem pointed, “both of them are insane, actually. One of the things I like about characters is that I like to perform characters that are close to me, otherwise I get bored. One of the challenges of my character, not in Love but in No Country is that there is no struggle in it. I like people who have to struggle because I myself have struggled like everybody, and I like to see that on the screen, people who have doubts. Performing a character that is so driven and straight, I have a problem with. So I tried, in this case, to bring something that I could relate to which is his clumsy way of dealing with day-by-day life. Let’s say, opening a bottle or answering the phone or opening an envelope, he will have problem with that. He’s out of sync with that. He’s not good at that - having a normal life - but once he gets a gun, he’s like a shark. With Love, I just wanted to add what he feels which is pain, pain of not being loved by the person he loves.”

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Javier Bardem’s His Own Worst Critic: Javier Bardem’s character’s so creepy in No Country for Old Men you’d absolutely never want to encounter this guy in real life. But while audiences should be terrified by this guy, Bardem was more frightened over the fact his performance might not have been perfect. “I terrify myself because I thought I was wrong, but not because I was scary,” explained Bardem.

“I don’t know any actor or actress that really likes to see themselves. So, I’m like that. I prefer not to see it.”

Even when a director pays him a compliment, Bardem’s leery of believing it. “No, I don’t believe them (laughing). You know when you’ve done something good because your instinct tells you that was right. But a lot of time you see that take and you go, ‘Wow, that was bad.’ And the other one you thought was horrible, it works. I don’t understand anything.”

Bardem prefers not to watch his own movies during their theatrical run. “I can watch myself on screen as long as it’s been a long time after I did the movie. Like, now I can see The Sea Inside four years after. Now I cannot see this because it’s too recent for me to know quite what I tried to achieve and most of the time I didn’t. It’s not being humble, it’s true.”

He loves the way No Country for Old Men turned out but that’s not because of his performance.

“I’m not in it all the time,” laughed Bardem about why he’s able to enjoy the film. “But I can now watch the The Sea Inside. Because you are there all the time, you go, ‘Omigod, omigod, here comes my nose and my funny, stupid eyes. Look at that big face, come on!’ I mean I have my ego, but it’s weird to see yourself on screen, man.

Your eyes are like this big….but you want to be on screen at the same time, because you want to perform.”