There were many surprises in store for Javier Bardem when he signed on to play a James Bond villain, and here's one of the biggest: "It was fun."
"I was surprised by that because this was my first big movie," says the Oscar-winning actor. "I thought everything had to be in its place, and instead I found a great creative laboratory of performers with a great director in charge, and that was a nice surprise. Nothing was written in stone, which is great, and which is a big risk on a movie like this."
In Skyfall, opening Thursday, Bardem plays Silva, a sexually ambiguous character with the sort of courtly manners and charm that emphasize his cruelty. His character and Bond, the actor notes, "Are two sides of the same coin."
He was briefly tempted to go back and look at some of the classic Bond bad guys for this role, "But just for a second, and then I thought, 'No way'. Because many great actors have done it before, and I didn't want to interfere with what they did. And in a funny way, the memory of it is in the back of your mind anyway, because you've enjoyed these movies so long. I knew we had to find, and bring, a little of the classic Bond villain into him, but you know the flavour -- you have it in your skin."
Bardem has three Oscar nominations and the distinction of being one of only a handful of actors to have won an Academy Award, BAFTA Award, Critics' Choice Award, Golden Globe Award and SAG Award for the same performance: Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men.
North Americans began to notice the actor when he starred in films such as Before Night Falls (2000), The Sea Inside and Collateral (both 2004), but Bardem has been acting almost all his life and has been a big star in his native Spain since he appeared in Bigas Luna's Jamon Jamon 20 years ago. His co-star in Jamon Jamon was a teenager named Penelope Cruz; Bardem and Cruz -- she is Spain's second ever Oscar winner, after her husband -- worked together again on Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona in 2007 and have been together since. They have one child.
Bardem says it's only now, doing promotion, that he feels the pressure of being the villain in a Bond film that marks the film franchise's 50th anniversary.
"I see the poster and I'm like, 'Whoa! This is James Bond'. Of course, when you first see a script that says 007, something clicks inside of you. I'm 43, and I was 12 when I first saw James Bond in a movie theatre. It was Moonraker."
Bardem smiles sheepishly and adds, "I was really drawn to Jaws, I have to say, because I thought, 'this guy is such a nice guy. Why is he a villain?' I could tell inside he was a beautiful person." He laughs.
There was an incident during filming, Bardem admits, when the whole iconic Bond thing hit him -- he looked at Daniel Craig and Judi Dench one day and completely forgot his lines.
"I was like, 'Jesus! That's M, and that's James Bond, and I'm in a crystal cell, and they're looking at me, so I'm the villain in a James Bond movie!' I said to Sam (Mendes, the director), 'Sorry, man, but I'm a human being and I just realized I'm in a James Bond movie.'"