I’m just a worker. I am an entertainer. Don’t say that what I am doing is art.
My mother is an actress and that always made me a little suspicious of acting. She’s been working for fifty years, and when I was young I saw everything. I saw years and years of unemployment with three kids. The profession is so fucking hard. People read about the actors that work but that’s only five per cent of them.
The whole Oscar thing is surreal: you spend months and months doing promotion and then come back to reality with this golden thing in your hands. You put it in the office and then you just have to look at it sitting on the shelf. And, after about two weeks, you go, ‘What is that doing there?’ It would be stupid to believe that they give it to you because you are a better man. I was just lucky.
I think that those who don’t believe in God try to believe in fate because you have to have something you believe in, otherwise life can be too random. When things go really wrong I wish I could pray to someone. But I think hope comes from yourself. When you rely on yourself, in a profound way, I call that grace.
I remember the moment when my father died. I wasn’t a very committed Catholic beforehand, and when that happened it suddenly all felt so obvious: I now believe religion is our attempt to find an explanation, for us to feel more protected. My truth — what I believe — is that there are no answers here, and, if you are looking for answers, you’d better choose the question carefully.
My parents divorced when I was young, but I don’t remember it being particularly bad at the time. I guess when you grow up you understand much better how it affects you in your unconscious. A lot of therapists make a living out of it.
I don’t need to like the characters that I play. There is this great actress in Spain called Victoria Abril, who said a line that I love which is: ‘We, the actors, are the defending lawyers of the characters we play.’ It’s true. You are a lawyer. You have to defend your character. If I was defending Chigurh from No Country For Old Men, I’d say he’s a man with a broken soul, a broken mind, but I would prefer not to see him at a bar; I wouldn’t call him to have a drink!
When you want to create a good performance, the key is not to make an exhibition of your skills. It’s about being honest; but it’s also about creating behaviours. We see people and we bring those people into our work. We construct people.
Growing up I wanted to become a painter. But after that thing with my sister, I realised that I was pretending. It is funny that in Vicky Cristina Barcelona my character is a painter. I could never be as confident as my character in this movie, either as a painter or with the way he is with women… When I painted alongside the professional, we’d do the same things but his would look amazing and mine would look like a piece of crap! You go, ‘Why? Why him?’ Well, the answer is very clear: You don’t have it. You just don’t have it. It’s something about the fingers… I belong to acting now.
I listen to a lot of music, and I am a huge, huge Pearl Jam fan. The early stuff, Ten, in particular was very important to me: the music, the sound, the fury, the instincts, the thoughts, the energy, the words. I’ve seen them playing four or five times now. I can’t stop jumping for about three hours when they hit hard, man. I go nuts, I’m in pieces and then the next time they put me together again. It’s like ‘Wallop! What a journey!’
My other big passion in life is rugby. Playing rugby in Spain is like being a bullfighter in Japan. I loved to play rugby — I have many scars — but you have to quit if you want to work as an actor. I did Jamón, Jamón for Pedro Almodóvar, and it was a great success and I kept on playing but the other players were always going, ‘He is the guy from ‘Jamón, Jamón’, let’s go for him.’ I was like, ‘Don’t give me the ball, don’t give me the ball!’
Being famous in your own country is fun at first because you’re twenty years old and everyone is giving you all this attention, but after a very brief while – I would say maybe a couple of months – I remember thinking, ‘This is bad, there is nothing good in this’, and I still think the same. I mean I’m doing this job, so it’s a contradiction, but there’s always a moment where you go, ‘Enough. It’s only a movie, for Christ’s sake!’
I hope for change with the election of Obama. In this modern world there has been a sheriff called George Bush who wants to kill the bad guys, like in a bad Western, but not everybody is bad. He made it into this the war between evil and good. What the fuck is that? Life is a little bit more complicated.
Sometimes I say to myself, ‘What are you doing in this absurd job? Why don’t you go to Africa and help people?’ But I cannot help people, because I am a hypochondriac and I don’t know how to drive a car. The only thing I can do is act, and it’s not something I even feel comfortable doing. It costs me a lot, because I’m a shy person, even if I don’t look it. But I don’t know how to do anything else.
Words: Will Lawrence
A full version of this article first appeared in Wonderland #17, Feb/Mar 2009