Interview: Gael García Bernal
Tue, 12 May 2009 13:08:01
Gael García Bernal Videos
It has been nearly a decade since Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna—last seen together in 2001’s oversexed teen road trip movie, Y Tu Mamá También—have costarred in a film. Though the real-life friends have worked together in various capacities since then, most recently producing first-time director Cary Joji Fukunaga’s critically-lauded Sin Nombre, Rudo y Cursi is, in large part, generating excitement for dramatically reuniting the now bona fide movie stars.
In the film, directed by Y Tu Mamá scribe (and Alfonso’s brother) Carlos Cuarón, Bernal plays “Cursi,” the “corny” counterpart to Luna’s “Rudo” (“tough”). The on-screen brothers toil away in what they feel is a mundane existence, spending their days working on a banana plantation and their leisure time on the football field. When a wily scout (Guillermo Francella) sweeps Cursi—whose aspirations are more focused on a singing career, tonally-challenged as he may be—away to rear him as a sports star, it creates a fraternal rift. What ensues is a simultaneously funny and tragic story about the empty quest for fame and brotherly bonds which survive the dizzying journey.
I recently spent a morning speaking with Bernal at West Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont, where he offered thoughtful reflections on the film’s parable about superficial fulfillment and the evolution of Mexican cinema in a decade’s time.
What do you make of how the reception of Mexican cinema has changed in the 10 years since Y Tu Mamá También?
It’s changed a lot. In a way it’s been a sort of organic path. Before [Mexican cinema] used to be some kind of pariah with us trying to get [films] the attention we thought they deserved, like with Amores Perros, for example. I remember doing every single interview possible because there was a sense of, the more you do the better for these films because we hardly ever get any [visibility]. And it’s true: there was very little diffusion. Those things didn’t get too much noise. Little by little that has changed.
[These] are not films that have a big publicity machine behind them. They are films that just exist, and if they are good, they make it. If they are not good, they lose. We have a great opportunity, and we have to be very responsible with that.
Could you intuit that you were a part of this important shift?
I feel proud to be among the company of a lot of people that are [experiencing] this. They are people who started to do films without asking permission. Those films end up becoming something, and we help each other out quite a lot. I feel proud to be part of a movement that has no structure and has no manifest. We have to be very responsible with that, because it is a fortune not to have a structure. If it was a bit more structured, then it would collapse immediately, I think. If you [made Sin Nombre] in either in Europe or in the United States, you would have to obey certain rules: Hire a famous actor, or someone that at least draws some attention. In Mexico, it’s not such a star system. It’s great. There’s a lot of freedom. We can end up doing a film like that without asking permission.
“On working with Diego: 'We draw on that game dynamic we’ve always shared and have always had fun playing with.'”
How did Carlos fare as a first-time director?
He did fantastic, I think. He managed to do a really good job. On paper, he’s a first-time director, but he’s worked a lot and, also, he has a great understanding of cinema. He has a beautiful way of understanding cinema, and he helped us a lot. When he was [making] the film, he knew what he was doing. He was unlike any first-time director I’ve ever worked with.
Did you and Diego draw from your personal relationship to form the fraternal one onscreen?
Yeah, maybe not consciously, but I guess intuitively we draw from our personal dynamic. What we draw from, objectively, is that we both come from theater families in a sense, and we’ve always been exposed to theater. We used to play as kids, doing improvisation. We would bother our friends, asking them to give us situations, and we used to put on [plays] with a bunch of other friends. Ever since we were little we took the game really seriously. I think we still do. We’re actually quite disciplined in the work, which is a game for us in a sense. So I think we draw on that game dynamic that we’ve always shared and have always had fun playing with.
What was more taxing, the football training, or publicly humiliating yourself during the musical numbers?
Which do you think? [Laughs] I had a lot of arguments with the music supervisor, because she would say, “You have to do it better. You have to do it with a another voice.” And I was like, “But the character sings like this!” [Laughs] She said, “Are you sure you want to go for it?” And I said, “Of course; it’s called acting.” At least he’s in tune. It’s like diving into cold water.
Lessons about celebrity are integral to the story. Can you speak a little bit about what fame means to Rudo and Cursi?
It [is] a story about the confusion that these kids have, biting the bait of fake success, being famous. [It's about] certain things that they buy into, when really they had all the elements to be happy [at their disposal]. I think there is a relationship between that and the state of things [in the world] right now. We’re sort of coming out of this horrendous hangover of realizing that, as society, we bought into fake success and not realizing that [what's important] is actually just to be happy. I think that’s why you feel good about the movie after seeing it, because you think, "Okay, yeah, it’s true, the kids are fine." There is hope in that, I think.