Film: More beefcake, sir?

No thanks, says Javier Bardem. I'm ready for something just a little more serious.

MOUTH TO Mouth, Golden Balls, Live Flesh: they sound like movies you might find on the shelves of a Soho sex shop. In fact, they're all titles from the testosterone-charged filmography of the Spanish actor Javier Bardem, art house stud and crotch-grabbing icon of ironic, post- Franco machismo. "Me, a sex symbol?" Bardem laughs. "The only sex symbol in Spain is Antonio Banderas.When I meet girls they just ask whether I know him. I'm jealous of Antonio."

Such protestations are charming, but not all together based on fact. In his native country the 29-year-old is already big enough to have stopped giving interviews.

But, visiting London to pick up an award for his performance as a paraplegic policeman in Pedro Almodvar's Live Flesh, Bardem has found time to plug his latest movie. Perdita Durango, a bizarre black comedy, is his first English language film, and Bardem clearly hopes that it will help boost his career on to the international level of his world-famous compatriot.

Born into a show business dynasty (his grandparents were actors, his uncle was the celebrated film-maker Juan Antonio Bardem) Javier decided not to enter the family business after being force to witness, as a child, his mother's gut-wrenching stage fright. Doing casual jobs as a waiter, a security man, a cartoonist and a stripper, he successfully dodged his vocation for several years, until he had a chance encounter with the director Bigas Lunas.

"I went with my sister to her audition but he cast me instead," he recalls apologetically. "She was very angry, but after making the film I realised that acting was the only thing for me to do."

The film was Jamn Jamn, a wildly overblown sex comedy that took the stark landscape and bloody passion of Federico Garcia Lorca's tragedies and remade them as brutal farce. As Lunas' lover-hero, Bardem ate a diet of raw meat and garlic, indulged in a spot of naked bullfighting, modelled underwear, and clubbed his rival to death with a leg of ham. Best of all, he did it straight. Bulging with muscle and oozing raw sensuality, Bardem didn't have to send up outmoded sexual stereotypes; he was one. A male Jane Russell. A walking satire.

Since then, Bardem's blunt profile - and his butch charisma - have graced a series of similarly kitsch melodramas. Now, in Perdita Durango he's Romeo Dolorosa, a good-looking Mexican devil who kidnaps a pair of blonde American kids to sacrifice them in a black magic ritual.

There's no question these days whether Bardem can do macho. The question is can he do anything else?

"It was the only thing they would give me," he sighs. "Critics, actors and audiences in Spain know I can do anything now, but it may take longer elsewhere because foreign audiences have only seen the tough guy roles."

Even then, Bardem admits he may not be able to have his beefcake and eat it, to shake off the sex symbol tag and get serious.

"These characters are not a real reflection of the Spanish male," he says, "but cinema promotes national stereotypes. Look at Banderas - he's in Hollywood but he's still doing the Latin lover thing."

For his part, Bardem aspires to the social realist, "Ken Loach is my favourite director, but films like his don't get made much in Spain," he points out. While Almodovar has never exactly plunged his hands into the kitchen sink, Live Flesh was one of his least stylised pictures and Bardem clearly relished the chance to play a character with more emotional depth.

"I was pleased with my performance," he says, "because the people in wheelchairs taught me well. They taught me how to think, how to move - everything. Those people live with a passion that is amazing." Working with Almodovar, however, was "not much fun". Describing the director's working methods, Bardem cracks an imaginary whip. "He's a perfectionist; he made me repeat one scene 38 times."

The actor's next project promises to continue his journey from phallic fantasy to reality. The film, which is about the Shining Path in Peru, will be directed by Hollywood veteran John Malkovich.

"I was nervous and shaking when I auditioned," remembers Bardem. "I completely forgot my English in front of this actor I really admire. When he was reading the other character I'd think, `wow, John Malkovich is reading for me', and then I'd go and forget to read my line again. Afterwards he said, `OK, I think you are the character and I can't believe that you did it so badly', so he gave me another 13 or 14 chances to actually get it right."

So is Bardem about to fight Banderas for the role of swarthy Hollywood love interest, or will he find success on his own terms? "To be compared to Banderas is an honour, because he's done a lot for Spanish movies," says Bardem, "but his career and what I want from my work are not the same. He's a star, a celebrity. I'd hate all that."

For now, Bardem is happy to bide his time, watching Loach and waiting for Malkovich. Oh, and he's just finished shooting another movie with Manuel Gomez Pereira. Its title? Between Your Legs.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Shenaz Treasurywala
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

    The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
    Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

    Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

    France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
    Sports Quiz of the Year

    Sports Quiz of the Year

    So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

    From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

    Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect