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20 + 20 COVERS PROJECT: GAEL GARCIA BERNAL
PUBLISHED 2 MONTHS AGO
In Dazed's December issue we spoke to the talented actor about London as a source of inspiration and swapping philosophy studies for acting
TEXT BY SIMON JABLONSKI
Exploding onto screens with Amores Perros, with his trademark bright eyes sparkling under a veil of heavy introspection Gael Garcia Bernal has become one of the most consistently adorable and impressive actors of the past decade.
Dazed & Confused: What were you up to twenty years ago?
Gael Garcia Bernal: Twenty years ago I was moving to Mexico City, that was quite a transcendental year, it’s quite transcendental to move to Mexico City. I was twelve, so I was probably at school.
D&C: You were acting at that point as well, weren’t you?
Gael Garcia Bernal: Yeah that’s true, I was already doing stuff I was acting with my parents in the theatre and every now and then I participated in this TV programme in a soap opera in Mexico that was the first and last soap opera I did.
D&C: What was your role?
Gael Garcia Bernal: I was the cute kid with the dog that cried all the time, the dog almost talked.
D&C: What were you like as a twelve year old?
Gael Garcia Bernal: When I was twelve I thought I was a professional actor because my parents were actors and I was already living the life of an actor. I was quite insecure actually, but I wanted to have a laugh and I used to skate a lot.
D&C: Did acting help your insecurities?
Gael Garcia Bernal: Maybe actually the other way round, the insecurity helped my acting I think, especially with theatre because there was something I had to balance. This is going to sound quite romantic, but theatre really is one of the nicest places to be even though you’re completely vulnerable yet for some reason you’re very strong at that point because it’s all about what you can do.
D&C: Had you always aspired to be an actor?
Gael Garcia Bernal: No, there were times I thought I would never be an actor at all. I wanted to be a doctor, I wanted to be an architect, I wanted to be an anthropologist, I wanted so many things but then I ended up studying theatre here in London.
D&C: What prompted the move to London?
Gael Garcia Bernal: When I was studying in Mexico there was a student strike, but I wasn’t studying theatre I was studying philosophy. I came here during the strike, only a few stops from here in Swiss Cottage, there was a school called the central school of speech and drama, and I went there, and that when I went I have to become a professional actor and take it seriously. I was seventeen.
D&C: How did London inspire you?
Gael Garcia Bernal: In a very dramatic and quite miserable way because when you’re a student and you come without money or nothing and there’s a lot of time for your self. That introspection was very creative I guess, I hope. That’s why there are so many great musicians and artists here, there’s a lot of introspection. London was very transcendental. I was living here for 8 years, it was a good period. The last five years I lived in Shoreditch, I saw it change.
D&C: What was Shoreditch like when you were living there?
Gael Garcia Bernal: It used to be a vey communal place, it used to be a place where I would know all the people in the stores there, Spitalfields market was a market and not a mall. Right where I lived there is now an overground station. I used to play football between those platforms. There was something quite unique about Brick Lane, but now it’s so different, it’s changed much.
D&C: Did you have quite a romantic vision of London before you moved here?
Gael Garcia Bernal: Yeah, of course. I’d never been to Europe and I had a very romantic vision. I grew up with a lot of music coming form here, I went to school where a lot of the teachers were from all over England and I have a very romantic vision of it.
D&C: Dazed featured you about ten years ago, how important for your career was it to be supported by the magazine?
Gael Garcia Bernal: It was this magazine that I used to buy and then I just left school and I couldn’t believe it. It was a very funny thing for me to be all of a sudden in the magazine. It was quite meaningful because I was living very close to Old Street and I used to pass around there and see the place and it was amazing. All of a sudden, with that happening, it was really weird, because I just left school one year ago. I don’t know about anyone else, maybe nobody cared, but for me it was amazing. I would see it and I was like, ‘****ing hell man, I’m there!’ It’s really funny, you never expect those things to happen that way, and I never thought I was going to do cinema, so it took me by surprise.
D&C: Was it quite surreal seeing face on the cover?
Gael Garcia Bernal: I don’t know if it was surreal, I don’t know what to call it. All of a sudden it was really funny, maybe absurd, when will they find out that there’s nothing?!
D&C: Is this your insecurity coming out again?
Gael Garcia Bernal: Yes, it always comes out when I least want it to surface.
D&C: What have you learnt most about your art since first appearing in Dazed?
Gael Garcia Bernal: So much has changed since we did the cover, cinema was very different. First of all there were no cameras or mobiles and these great beautiful cameras were not close to existing. And it was a time when films like the Motorcycle Diaries, for example, found a way of getting financed and a few other films that were middle sized films. And all of a sudden now it’s either very very small films or huge films. You realise how cinema, in a way, is once again choked by the industry aspect. You have to convince people that you know what you’re doing. You really don’t know what you’re doing but you have to convince people a lot to put money into your film. And once you manage to do it, sometimes the accident is not a positive one and that becomes quite unfortunate.
D&C: Do you mean you don’t know what you’re doing as an actor?
Gael Garcia Bernal: Oh, as an actor you definitely have no idea. Acting in films you have no idea what it’s going to turn out like at all, you’re the least person to have a clue, it’s the film’s juxtaposing of images that tell a story, that creates something. If you want to be the owner of a character arc as an actor, then you do theatre, that’s where you see it clearly, but in film today we’re shooting this side of the film then the next day you’re shooting the beginning then this and that, then they just put it together and it changes everything that you do, so you really don’t know anything. And I’m fine with that, I love it, I love not knowing, I love trusting the director and thinking, ‘okay that person might not know as well what’s going to happen but at least knows what they want to tell.
D&C: You love the mystery?
Gael Garcia Bernal: Yes I love the mystery
D&C: How have you developed as an actor since first being featured in Dazed?
Gael Garcia Bernal: Well I spent 6 months as a girl after appearing on the cover as Dazed, someone else draw conclusions.
D&C: Career highlights since appearing on the cover?
Gael Garcia Bernal: My biggest highlight is becoming a father. Lázaro, he’s two years and half.
D&C: How has becoming a father affected your attitude?
Gael Garcia Bernal: For those kind of questions I have very common place answers, because they’re really full of meaning now, which is that it’s the best thing that has ever happened to me, to be a father. So just imagine that everything changes: the way I look at things, the way I look at the world, the way I look into the mystery has changed a lot and has become even more profound in a way and it’s more simple in a way.
D&C: Have you consciously tried to stay fresh and relevant throughout your career?
Gael Garcia Bernal: There’s an everyday reinvention you go through, but I might feel a better actor now with a few more experiences, but I might not be a better actor, I might feel I’m better, but I might not be.
Star of such major art-house hits as Y Tu Mamá También, Bad Education, The Motorcycle Diaries, and Babel, Gael Garcia Bernal has spent the past decade chiseling out an impressive résumé of provocative, politically engaged movies that speak to audiences around the world. His latest, Pablo Larraín's No, which debuted this weekend at the Cannes Film Festival, is no exception, recreating the moment when widely feared Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was shockingly ousted during a 1988 referendum by a brilliant marketing man (played by Bernal) who retooled his own soda-pitching prowess to get out the vote.
GQ: You're basically a Cannes vet at this point, right? Is this your sixth time?
Gael Garcia Bernal: There must be another time that I came. I think it's the seventh year I've been here.
GQ: Fair to say you're pretty comfortable here.
Gael Garcia Bernal: Yeah. And one thing that is wonderful about this festival is the fact that once the lights come down and everyone's in the cinema, we're all equal. And if the film's a good movie, everyone hears about it no matter what.
GQ: How do you pack?
Gael Garcia Bernal: Well, the first time nobody gave me clothes at all, but now my good friends at Dior send me stuff, and with that I'm sort of good. They give me a tuxedo to wear, and a couple of suits and things. That's fantastic because you can get kicked out if you don't dress up. I've been kicked out once.
GQ: You're kidding. When?
Gael Garcia Bernal: I came to a screening, and I was trying to go in with not a tuxedo suit, but, like, just a jacket and a made-up tie, and they said no. Impossible.
GQ: Fair to say you're not a fan of that aspect of Cannes.
Gael Garcia Bernal: Well, I'm a fan of now, since I'm still caring about those things. But one thing I must mention is that the parties used to be better.
GQ: How so?
Gael Garcia Bernal: When we brought the movie Deficit, we had a party from midnight until eight in the morning. We brought friends from Mexico that played music and everyone was dancing full-on—a complete blow-out. So much fun. God. Deficit obviously didn't win any awards, but the Hollywood Reporter did name us Best Party.
Gael Garcia Bernal: I'm very proud of that award. Yeah.
GQ: Let's talk about No. You mentioned how word gets out when there's a good movie, and this is definitely one of those moments. Why do you think people are responding to this film?
Gael Garcia Bernal: Because it's a good one! Its complexity is immense. It's a highly intellectual movie and a very moving film as well. It deals with a universal issue, which is the relationship of a person with politics and power.
GQ: But it's also about using ad language to sell human rights as a product.
Gael Garcia Bernal: Well, there is a clear warning in the film. Because we think that democracy can change a lot of things, but we're being fooled, because democracy is not the election. We've been taught that democracy is having elections. And it isn't. Elections are the most horrendous aspect of democracy. It's the most mundane, trivial, disappointing, dirty aspect of it.
GQ: Because it's turning voting into a commodity.
Gael Garcia Bernal: Every democracy is constructed day-to-day. And the electoral process reduces and minimalizes every single aspect of human complexity. We're putting it into pamphlets. We're doing a publicity show. We're becoming symbols. Let's not give the electoral process so much importance. We have to be cynical about it. Let's give importance to the real democracy that's constructed on a day-to-day basis. That's my hopeful perspective on it. But my realization while I was doing the movie was like, ****, the electoral process is really horrible.
GQ: Are you a politically active person? After all, your daughter's name is Libertad.
Gael Garcia Bernal: Well, fortunately that is a well-known name in Spanish, so it's not like all of a sudden calling someone, I don't know, Mountain.
GQ: But it must have been on your mind somewhere, right?
Gael Garcia Bernal: It was. It was. I mean, it's possibly the best word ever, together with Love. My daughter is incredible and she really symbolizes that.
GQ: At this point, you are such an international star, but you still seem very committed to making films in South America. Is that important to you?
Gael Garcia Bernal: Well, it's important because it's the best place for me to fly—I feel like I can play more roles. I can kind of get a more biological grasp on what's being done and then, I can play around more. In English, I'm a little bit limited. I speak English as a second language, and that's a little limitation that I have to work around and I have to use it to my favor. So, yes, that's why I end up wanting to do more things in Latin America.
GQ: You started acting at a very young age, and starred in a Telenovela when you were a teen in the late '80s. Since No was made with vintage U-Matic video cameras to recreate the visual flavor of the late '80s, was it crazy to see yourself shot on low-grade technology again?
Gael Garcia Bernal: Well, I wasn't aware of the technology when we were shooting the soap opera, since I was very young. But I must say that one great surprise that happened is that before doing this film, we'd talk about how horrible it was to do soap operas and how horrible that video was. But when I saw the movie, I was like, man, isn't it strange how all of a sudden this format seems so nostalgic and filled me with longing for that time. It's just kind of like, wow, this nostalgic feeling—looking at how light comes into the window and everything. It gave me a good feeling. This horrendous video feels so romantic now. Who would have thought?