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The Untold Truth About Javier Bardem

Few modern actors have been able to convey the kind of range that Javier Bardem has. This performer, who hails from Spain, began his career in indie features before graduating to the world of Oscar-winning dramatic turns and James Bond baddies. In addition to forever changing how the world looks at coin tosses, Bardem has also cemented himself as an actor who always eschews the predictable in favor of exciting new territory. This trend looks likely to continue in the future. With upcoming projects that feature him playing roles as varied as Desi Arnaz, Dune's Stilgar and the live-action incarnation of Disney's King Triton, it doesn't look like Bardem will slow down his thrilling acting choices anytime soon.

No actor is defined just by their onscreen work alone, though, and the same is true for Bardem. Underneath his flexibility at his craft is a dense background as fascinating as any role Bardem has inhabited.  From the big-name dramatic actor who helped give him his first break in American cinema, to the way he blazed new trails with his enormous award season presence, to the rock band that helped him learn English, the untold truth about Javier Bardem is as compelling as his range as an actor is expansive.

Javier Bardem comes from a family of artists

Javier Bardem is so famous around the globe that you'd assume he's, by default, the most notable figure related to cinema in the Bardem family tree. However, his lineage is ripe with other individuals that left a notable mark on the world of film. This was made apparent in a New York Times article from 2000, which mentioned how Bardem's mother was performer Pilar Bardem while his uncle was the famous director Juan Antonio Bardem.

Despite having the shoulders of his ancestors to stand on in his home country of Spain, Bardem relished the challenge of establishing himself in America, a country that largely didn't know his relatives. "Everybody in Spain is sick of me," Bardem explained. "But in America, there's curiosity about the new kid on the block who doesn't speak English very well. The attention makes me feel vulnerable, which is something I hadn't felt in a while. But I like it." Even as he strove to chart his own path, the history of Bardems making it big in show business clearly was carried on by Javier Bardem's eventual success.

He worked (briefly) as a stripper

Javier Bardem's earliest days as an actor were fraught with challenges. He couldn't secure any major roles and he failed to garner much traction in the parts he did snag. The financial strain of this occupation proved so great that, for a single day, Bardem explored the life of a stripper. In a 2008 interview, Bardem, promoting his lead role in Vicky Christina Barcelona and fresh off his Oscar win for No Country for Old Men, finally divulged this detail about his earliest days as a performer.

"I danced one night in a place, there was a club," Bardem recounted. "And they asked for a guy to kind of make a striptease and I did it...It was for ten minutes. I needed money." The actor also revealed that there was an unexpected person viewing his single foray into stripping. "My mother was there in the audience," Bardem said. "She was so proud." In the years since this interview was conducted, let alone since Bardem engaged in this striptease in the 1980s, working as a stripper and similar occupations have become more mainstream. As a result of this becoming less stigmatized, this is far less "salacious" of a tale than it was on the Vicky Christina Barcelona press tour. However, it is an anecdote that shows Bardem's versatility as a performer. He can do everything from impromptu stripteases to Oscar-winning turns in Coen Brothers movies.

John Malkovich was an important figure in his career

When you think of John Malkovich, a wide array of achievements may come to mind. It's an understandable response when talking about an actor whose amassed such an eclectic and acclaimed body of work. But one of his most impressive artistic achievements is also one that isn't commonly known: Malkovich proved a critical figure in getting Bardem into high-profile roles in English-language cinema, with Malkovich casting the actor in the lead role of his directorial effort The Dancer Upstairs. The casting showed Malkovich's confidence in the performer, which existed long before The Dancer Upstairs ever hit the silver screen.

"John came to me five years ago with [The Dancer Upstairs]," Bardem explained to the BBC back in November 2002. "And I was shocked, because at that time nobody knew me out of my country and it was, 'What is this guy doing, talking to me in Spain? I can barely say anything in English and he is giving me this role that I cannot even read!' He was like, 'No, I want you. Don't worry, you will learn English, you will do it.' He was so confident." Despite Bardem's own personal uncertainty over the role, Malkovich's confidence proved well-placed. Bardem would garner positive marks for his turn in this project. As a result, Bardem was able to utilize The Dancer Upstairs as a springboard for a lengthy and acclaimed career in English-language cinema.

AC/DC helped him learn English

It's safe to say we've all learned some important things from the songs of AC/DC. For instance, this band's work has taught listeners the cost of dirty deeds as well as how long a lady shook the band's lead singer for. For Javier Bardem, though, the band proved extra useful in educating him in how to speak English. Yes, Bardem's enormously acclaimed career in English-language films like No Country For Old Men hinged largely on how much he learned from songs like "Thunderstruck."

During an appearance on Conan, Bardem explained how AC/DC influenced his grasp on the English language. "So, I know what hell means, highway, cursing, yeah! Bells! Those things I know," Bardem explained to the late night host. Another interview saw Bardem explaining that the band's song "Back in Black" was especially helpful in cementing his grasp on the language. "I love hard rock, and I love heavy metal," Bardem said. "It's always been something I've been drinking from, the energy of metal." Bardem's personal connection has led to him becoming a hardcore fan of the band as well as the genre they belong to. But what separates Bardem's affection from that of so many others is that his love of rock 'n' roll didn't just expose Bardem to great tunes. It also helped him open doors in the English-language film community.

His first major feature was a tiny role in Collateral

While Bardem spent the first few years of the 21st century acting in a smattering of small-scale American indies, his first appearance in a major American motion picture wouldn't arrive until 2004. That project would be Collateral, a Jamie Foxx/Tom Cruise thriller from director Michael Mann. Much of the film is focused solely on the cramped interactions between Foxx and Cruise in a taxicab, but the story does eventually expand its scope as the audience follows Foxx's protagonist trying to survive an unusual night.

It is during these exploits that Bardem gets his chance to leave an impression on the screen. Bardem plays crime kingpin Felix Reyes-Torrena, who has a memorable encounter with Foxx's Max while the latter poses as formidable gangster Vincent (Cruise). It's a part that requires Bardem to convey a lot in a short amount of screen time. The future Oscar winner is tasked with establishing that Torrena is both a crime figure not to be messed with and someone who could believably be shanghaied by Foxx's character. It's a balance that not every performer could pull off and struggling with this role would undercut a critical suspense sequence in Collateral. However, Bardem manages to pull it off with such grace that his brief role stands out in a movie with no shortage of memorable supporting turns. With this small role, Bardem had engaged in his first high-profile American movie, the first of many more to come.

Bardem almost starred in The Dark Tower

It took The Dark Tower a long time before it came to the big screen in 2017. For ages, producer/director Ron Howard was intent on adapting this story as an expansive multimedia endeavor encompassing three movies and two connecting TV series. During this phase of the project's existence, countless names got tossed around as potential candidates to play the protagonist of The Dark Tower, Roland the gunslinger. One such name was Javier Bardem.

News broke in early 2011 that Bardem was being eyeballed for the part of Roland, signifying that Howard wanted to get top-shelf talent for the project. But despite that, this adaptation of Stephen King's epic dark fantasy book series could not get the green light. The problem was that initial distributor Universal Studios was reluctant to commit to such a large project and massive budget. With the price tag constantly skyrocketing, Universal kept The Dark Tower from moving forward and Bardem ended up leaving this incarnation of the project, which eventually surfaced as a single movie starring Idris Elba as Roland. Considering how bad the reviews were for the final Dark Tower movie, maybe Bardem caught a break in not securing this part.

He almost appeared in a Francis Ford Coppola movie

Javier Bardem's star power became so hot in the late 2000s that one of the most acclaimed directors of all time wanted to work with him. Francis Ford Coppola, the man behind the Godfather films and Apocalypse Now, wanted to cast Bardem in his then-future project Tetro. It would have potentially been an exciting partnership between a bravura filmmaker and an equally audacious performer — one who was already constantly working with acclaimed auteurs like the Coens and Michael Mann.

However, Bardem never got to be a part of Coppola's Tetro. It turned out that Bardem's role in the project was eventually rewritten to be a woman, causing the part to be recast. "One of the important roles in the script is a mentor and teacher...and I originally wrote it for a man," Coppola explained. "As I read and reread (the script), I felt that the interaction between the two characters would be far more intriguing if they were of the opposite sex." Rumors also persisted that Bardem's busy schedule prevented him from taking part in Tetro. But according to Coppola's public statements, the shifting gender of the role is what cost Bardem a chance to work with the Oscar-winning director.

He has a historic streak of Oscar nominations

When 2001's Oscar nominations were announced, an unexpected nominee was found in the Best Actor category: alongside big name performers like Russell Crowe and Tom Hanks was Javier Bardem, who had been nominated for his work in the film Before Night Falls. Not only was Bardem the surprise nominee of the season but he also made history as the first actor from Spain to garner an Academy Award nod. Many people were surprised by his presence in such a high profile Oscar category, but that sense of surprise would soon wear off as Bardem continued his groundbreaking run with the Academy Awards.

A few years later, Bardem would return to the Oscars with a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his chilling turn in No Country for Old Men. That would eventually translate into his first-ever Oscar win, another historic achievement that made Bardem the first Spanish performer to score the film industry's top prize. Just three years later, Bardem was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar again, this time for Biutiful. This was an especially notable achievement since his nod for this film made it the first entirely Spanish-language performance to ever score an Oscar nomination. In the span of just under a decade, Bardem scored a trio of Oscar nods that were each groundbreaking in their own right.

His Cortez miniseries never got made

In 2014, the news broke that one of Hollywood's most powerful directors, Steven Spielberg, was looking to film a screenplay by one of Hollywood's greatest and most tragic screenwriters, Dalton Trumbo, about the explorer Hernán Cortés. At this juncture, it was already decided that Javier Bardem would play the historical figure. After the initial news emerged about the film and this tantalizing collection of talent, radio silence followed and it looked like this endeavor's existence would be limited to a single press release.

Cut to 2018, when a major update revealed that this production was being reimagined as an event miniseries for Amazon's streaming service. Though it would now be four episodes of television rather than a big movie, screenwriter Steve Zaillian was still on board to rewrite Trumbo's original script and, most importantly, Bardem was still attached to play the lead character. Minor updates would emerge over the next two years, but bad luck struck the project in the fall of 2020: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Amazon decided to pull the plug on Cortés y Moctezuma. Trumbo's script came so close to getting made and yet, despite the participation of Bardem, still has not seen the light of day.

Almost played Frankenstein's monster

There was a time when Universal bet heavily on revamping its classic Universal Monsters lineup through the Dark Universe franchise. It was an attempt to revive and reboot the studio's popular monsters from the 1930s, as well as develop the studio's own modern response to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. At one point in time, the second entry in this saga would have been a new take on The Bride of Frankenstein from director Bill Condon. Occupying the lead roles were Angelina Jolie as the titular creature and Javier Bardem as Frankenstein's monster.

It was a role that Bardem talked about publicly while joking about how his head size made him perfect for the part. The actor also took part in a photo shoot assembling the principal actors who had been cast for various Dark Universe projects up to that point. However, this ambitious shared universe never made it past the initial press announcement, the casting of the first few stars and a handful of tentative release dates. That's because the very first entry, 2017's The Mummy, opened in theaters to disastrous financial results, leading to the entire franchise being put on hold. With that, Bardem's chance to put his own spin on one of cinema's most famous monsters went up in smoke.