Bardem back in the bad books with Bond

MANY years ago, I got to talk to Javier Bardem about Perdita Durango, a film he made with cult horror director Alex de la Iglesia.

Bardem played one half of a couple on a thrill-killing bender; it was impossible not to tell him that it made for fairly repellent viewing. He smiled: ''But look at this face!'' he said. ''This is not a hero's face. I am not going to be asked to play those parts. This is the face of a bad boy.''

Things have changed since then. Bardem was already a huge star in Spain - a bad boy, certainly, but the sort who attracted the teenage autograph-hunters we saw outside the hotel window.

Fifteen years later, however, he is exactly the kind of leading man he thought he could never be: a romantic lead opposite Julia Roberts in Eat Pray Love, a comedy Latin lover in Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and an Oscar winner. And all this in English (with his wife, Penelope Cruz, he is Spain's biggest film export), even though he has continued to work mostly in his own language.

Even so, it was as a very bad boy indeed that Bardem won his Oscar, as best supporting actor in the Coen brothers' No Country for Old Men. As Anton Chigurh, he was dead-eyed, menacing and crazed. Now, as Raoul Silva in Skyfall, he joins the pantheon of Bond villains. Bad boys don't come much more heinous than this.

Bardem had been offered Bond films before, but he turned them down. When it came to Skyfall, he says he read the script ''and saw a very good movie, a very powerful movie''. He also liked the fact that Silva was not just another crazy who wanted to rule the world, but someone who had suffered unimaginably, leaving him physically mangled and fixed on revenge. For an actor whose primary source - according to director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu - is ''a profound and complex interior life'', this was crucial.

''Hopefully it makes me more reachable, more approachable, for an audience,'' Bardem says. ''It definitely was for me as an actor, that it's a man with a very personal problem, a person broken inside.''

Coming from a family of left-wing actors, Bardem applauds the fact the economic crisis has brought Spaniards back onto the streets. ''I am proud of my country for many things,'' he says. ''But one of them is how politically involved the society is.''

For his own part, he produced and narrated Sons of the Clouds, a documentary about the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara, after being invited to a film festival in one of the blighted region's refugee camps.

It is the first duty of an actor to do his job, he has said - ''to portray that situation as an actor, you're not a politician''. Acting is its own commitment. ''Thank God, or whoever is up there … I'm making a living out of it,'' Bardem says.

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