Gael Garcia Bernal: I'd love to do a Bollywood film
Ankur Pathak catches up with The Motorcycle Diaries actor Gael Garcia Bernal at the Locarno International Film Festival.
Gael Garcia Bernal is probably the most cross-culturally successfull actor in cinema today, which puts him in a unique but important position.
At just 34, the Mexican actor-director has appeared in numerous award-winning films, emerging as a pathbreaking icon.
At the Locarno film festival, the actor was honoured with the Excellence Award for his significant contribution to cinema.
Clad in dark denims and a pale blue shirt, Bernal exudes charm and charisma even as he appears laidback.
His uncompromising position on social justice is evident in the choice of his films, both as an actor and director. His most recent work is the Chilean election drama No, that opened to universal critical acclaim at Cannes early this year and premiered at the Piazza Grande on Wednesday night.
The film follows an elaborate marketing campaign that overthrows the regime of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Bernal plays the leader helming the 'No' campaign.
Image: Gael Garcia Bernal
Photographs: Reuters/Fiorenzo Maffi
'Films are organic things'
"Films are organic things. They start out small, but eventually transform into something big. Thus there is a lot of responsibility that is at stake simply because it is art and it influences a lot of people. There is no escape. As filmmaker, I think of myself as a very responsible person."
Perhaps it is this sense of responsibility that is visible in his films that often dwell on politcally motivated themes.
"An art form is a place that encourages debate. It is an open, free space. Most actors choose to go the safe route and hence would disagree but I enjoy films that raise radical questions.
"We always live in a time when there are certain themes that are considered as taboo. Through my films, I like to bring them in the forefront and dispose off the prejudice attached."
Image: Gael Garcia Bernal
Photographs: Reuters/Fred Prouser
'The director has to seduce me, it's like a wedding without a ring'
His internationally well received work may have led him to opportunities in Hollywood but his commitment towards the Latin American films, a sphere close to his origin and his heart, remains unaffected.
"That particular space has scope to raise so many interesting questions. There are million of stories at every corner waiting to be heard. But I guess, you can say the same thing about any multi-cultural country, like India as well."
About getting involved in another political drama like No, Bernal says it was the director Pablo Larrain's approach that did the trick. In fact, he maintains that he wouldn't normally do a film unless the director excites him.
"I had enjoyed his previous film (Post Mortem), so when I got the news that he was interested in working with me, it was great. I was shooting a film in Bolivia. We met and got drunk together. That is very important. You have to entirely know the person helming it. It is like getting married but without the ring. The director has to seduce me," Bernal laughs.
"I went through the script which was deeply engrossing. But the final product isn't what was initially on paper although the essential idea remains the same."
Image: Movie poster of Even The Rain
'I love travelling and meeting new people'
"It is an interesting journey of this character who is apathetic towards politics but when he learns that he has the power to change things, it depresses him.
"It is quite an honest reaction because the time you know you can make change, it scares the hell out of you because these decisions affect millions of people, an entire nation," he tells of the characteristic graph of the part he plays in No.
"Being different from the establishment gives me a great kick. What excites me about cinema is that it allows me to travel extensively and lets me meet people of different cultures from all over the world.
"I love travelling and meeting new people. So in that sense, I have very practical reasons to be an actor. I consider it as an incredible privilige, one that has come from a lot of luck and I am forever grateful for that," he says.
Image: Movie poster of The Motorcycle Diaries
'We were very scared when we started work on The Motorcycle Diaries'
On his experience of playing the most iconic Marxist in popular culture, Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, the actor remembers the anxiety that preceeded the production.
"When we were making The Motorcycle Diaries, we were very scared. What if our interpretation went wrong? At that time, Alberto Granado, who took the road trip with Che, (played by Rodrego Serna in the film) came to us and said some very important words. He said, 'Don't try to interpret Che and me. Don't use our voice. Use your own voice. The story belongs to you.'
What he meant was that we take our own road trip, just the way they had, and we will come to discover for ourself, as we were of the same ages as Che and Granado, when they had taken the trip."
So for an actor as prolific as him, has it ever crossed his mind to do a Bollywood film? "Of course I want to do a Bollywood film. They are a lot of fun," the actor cracks up, breaking into a jig.
"I was in talks with this one production house based in Bombay (Mumbai) but the film never materialised. I'm hopeful that something interesting will come to me soon," he says.
Image: Movie poster of Amores Perros