Javier Bardem finds that Spain is no country for stupid remarks

His smouldering looks and on-screen presence usually do the talking. But this time it is what the Oscar-winning Spanish actor Javier Bardem has said that has landed him in trouble with his compatriots.

The boyfriend of Penelope Cruz stands accused of attacking his countrymen in an interview with The New York Times, labelling them "a bunch of stupid people". Bardem was replying to home-grown criticism that he had "sold out" by going to Hollywood.

Despite winning an Academy Award for his role as the psychopathic hitman Anton Chigurh in the Coen brothers' No Country for Old Men, Bardem said he was greeted with flak on returning home. "The Spanish are tough," he told the newspaper. "They criticise my work and say I sold out. You want to say: 'Stop it – you're a bunch of stupid people.'"

But when his controversial remarks were reported in Spain this week, Bardem felt obliged to do some swift back-pedalling. The 39-year-old actor has now issued a statement claiming there was an error in translation. He said he "feels a deep respect and thanks" towards the immense majority of Spaniards, and that he did not insult the Spanish people in the interview.

Bardem said he felt proud of his country and that he only meant to direct his criticisms towards a small group of people who had attacked his career. "Contrary to what I was quoted as saying, I feel very proud of my country and through my work I have always tried to contribute to its culture within and outside Spain and to honour my people," he said.

He insists he has not been seduced by Hollywood. He said that because he cannot drive, he finds it tough to get around Los Angeles and still feels that his real home is Madrid.

Bardem is known as a left-wing activist who has publicly demonstrated in favour of Spain's ruling Socialist party and for social reforms. He used his Oscar acceptance speech to criticise Spain's conservative Popular Party. Bardem's political activism has won him no friends on the right in Spain, and it seems likely that his latest comments were directed at politically motivated detractors.

Born into a family of actors, Bardem was raised by his mother, who was often unemployed for long spells. He has said that made him realise how tough life could be. "I come from a very political background," he once said. "It's good to go back to your roots and see everything with a second camera."

In the latest interview, Bardem did admit that he had fought to prove that winning an Oscar, had not changed him. "After something like the awards, you've changed a little bit, but everyone around you has changed tremendously. You have to bring them back, you have to show that you are the same stupid, limited guy and not this kind of golden boy."

Bardem stars in Woody Allen's latest film, Vicky Christina Barcelona, alongside Cruz, Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall, which was shot in Spain and will be released this month. Referring to his role, Bardem said: "I'm with these three beauties. I was afraid no one in the audience would believe they'd ever be with me. I was in the make up trailer saying: 'You'd better work a miracle.'"