Por: Roberto Quintero
Fotos: Carlos Eduardo Gómez
Ricardo Darín steps onstage and the world falls at his feet. Stepping out of the elevator, he has kisses and hugs for everyone he meets and poses for photos with fans as we head to the terrace of the American Trade Hotel where our interview is to take place. His presence at the International Film Festival of Panama is a thrill for everyone (including me), and everyone is anxious to meet him, even if only for a second. And it’s no wonder; this Argentine actor is one of today’s biggest Latin American film stars. I watch the scene around me and can’t help think of all the famous people who, as a journalist, I’ve been privileged to meet, but who, with less fame, talent, and work, can’t stand people getting near them. Darín is genuinely friendly and charming, the perennial “nice guy,” relaxed and never bothered by anything, gracing one and all with the same affable smile we recognize from the big screen.
The fifty-seven year-old actor from Buenos Aires, whose career spans a period of forty years, has been associated with three of Argentina’s most important films, each of which is a true Latin American film gem. He starred in Nine Queens (2000), directed by Fabián Bielinsky, a police thriller that catapulted his career worldwide and became part of a New Latin American Cinema revolution. Next came Son of the Bride (2001) and The Secret in Their Eyes (2009), both by Juan José Campanella. Son of the Bride was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film and The Secret in Their Eyes became the second Argentine film to win the U.S. film industry’s coveted statuette.
When asked how he came by his involvement in such iconic works, he claims it was all just luck. This response seems amazing to a fan like me, coming from one of today’s most revered and respected actors, but it’s typical of this skeptic, who claims he’s chosen not to pay too much attention to all the praise in order to avoid believing the “hype.” During our friendly conversation, Ricardo Darín shared some exclusive and interesting details about his films and the directors he’s worked with.
You’re one of Latin America’s most iconic actors. How do you deal with this pressure while continuing to work as an actor who still has a lot ahead of him?
I don’t think about it; these things can paralyze you. In our line of work, the media and industry people tend to deify visible faces, for different reasons. That’s just the way it is and to a certain extent it can be dealt with, but you mustn’t believe all the hype. When you start to believe you’re a real phenomenon, that’s when trouble begins. I think being the child of a couple of stage warriors worked to my advantage. I’ve always had a hard time believing in either success or failure. Once you’re familiar with the way things really work, you aren’t so easily dazzled by all the window dressing.
Just the same, you’ve been in some of the top Latin American films. Let’s talk about Nine Queens, a landmark in your career, directed by Fabián Bielinsky, who built up an incredible filmography and left us all too soon.
Fabián and I met almost by accident. He hadn’t planned on casting me in Nine Queens, or Gastón Pauls either, for that matter. He actually had two other actors in mind, who for some wonderful, magical, inexplicable reason read the script and, I can’t imagine how, said they didn’t like it.
I can’t believe it!
Yes, and I thank them profusely [laughs]. That’s why I say it was an accident. He had many misgivings about giving me the part, which is why he didn’t call me in the first place. He didn’t want me, because of my personality, imprinting likeable characteristics on the character that he felt were unnecessary. He didn’t want the audience to like the guy. So we paid particular attention to going against what he thought was the character’s overly likeable personality. It was funny because we were very mindful of avoiding any gestures or idioms that people might like. He wanted the character to be annoying. We made such an effort that we failed completely [laughs]. Because any bad guy, if you over think him, will say and do things nobody believes, and in the end you end up liking him. That was pretty funny.
Nine Queens was one of the three or four films that have given me the most back; they’ve traveled the world and taken us to the strangest places, which just goes to show that when you tell a little story well, you make it universal. Wherever the story is presented, people understand what it’s about. And Fabián and I became very good friends, real partners, which is rare in this profession. I mean very, very good friends. It was fabulous, we really laughed a lot. He was an amazing guy.
You went on to work together in The Aura (2005), a very different film from Nine Queens, more of an auteur film, very cerebral, and dark.
The creative process behind The Aura definitely strengthened our friendship because we spent a lot of time shut up together, planning what we thought should happen. Fabian wanted to submerge himself in the hidden world of obsession, but it wasn’t just that: he loved making things as hard as possible, which is why he came up with a character who suffers from epilepsy. This places you undeniably in a situation where the brain can short circuit unannounced at any time. We divided the work between us: he was responsible for the story and the narrative structure, and he left me to worry about the character, researching what went on inside the guy’s head and in his life. It was a lot of fun; I’d never done anything like it and I don’t think he had either, but we thrived on the joy of working together. We got together almost every day for many weeks, like a couple of guys plotting a robbery. We stuck cork boards and posters filled with notes on all the walls. One of us would come in and say, “let’s try this music!” and by listening to music we’d try to imagine what the life of this poor kid Espinosa was like.
We had a great time; it was fantastic, but we ended up wasting thousands and thousands of feet of celluloid. If I remember correctly, we used close to 400,000 feet of film, enough to make about three movies.
It really is a wonderful movie…
Yes, it’s a different kind of film, very strange… And he didn’t want to condescend to his audience. He didn’t want the film to have a happy ending. He wasn’t a fan of happy endings because he said life wasn’t like that. It was a great experience that brought us even closer. And we argued a lot, which is as it should be. And right when we were about to begin a third project, he had to travel to São Paulo to do some kind of casting call. One night we spoke on the phone and told me, verbatim: “I have a story in my hands that you’re going to like a lot more than I do.” I’d been saying we should do a comedy; after The Aura we needed to get back into more relaxed waters. And he said: “I have a story that you’ll love. When I get back on Thursday we’ll have lunch and I’ll tell you all about it.” And that night he died. Ever since then I’ve been trying to figure out what it was. His wife and I went through his computer and all his notes, very carefully and lovingly, taking a close look, but we never figured out what it was. It was obviously all in his head; he hadn’t written it down yet.
Juan Jose Campanella has also been an important director in your career. You made four films with him, one of which—The Secret in Their Eyes—won an Oscar for Best Foreign Film. I imagine that working with him is very different.
It’s completely different. I’m very lucky, because I get called to work with all different types of directors. Although they both have one very powerful thing in common: they’re both crazy about movies. Very few people know this, but Campanella is also an extraordinary editor. If there’s one thing that he’s really passionate about in this business it’s sitting down to edit his films. And he does it very well; he knows a lot about timing, about cutting a film… he’s very studious.
How did you meet?
That’s another strange story. We met walking down the street in New York, when we were both very young. He was with Fernando Castex, the co-writer of almost all his films. They were studying film in New York and we ran into each other on the street and said hello. I was already known to a certain extent in Argentina because of the soap operas and light films I’d done. So we met, had a drink in some bar, and that was that. Cut. Ten years later, they looked me up in Buenos Aires; Juan came to me and said: “You don’t remember me but…” and I did remember him. He said, “Fernando and I wrote a script for you and we want you to read it.” I thought, “Uh-oh, this is tricky,” because often someone will say, “this is perfect for you” and you don’t like it but you don’t know how to get out of the situation. But he gave me the script for Same Love, Same Rain and it literally knocked me on my ass.
It was perfect for you.
Not only was it right for me, but I had never ever been offered anything that good and with so many possibilities. And from that very moment, right from the start, I was in a position of maximum commitment. But I really liked it. We’ve made four films together and the truth is that we now understand each other with just a look. For example, The Secret in Their Eyes was shot against the clock because we had to film inside the Palace of Justice and could only work during very limited hours. That’s when we realized that we understood each other instantly, with just a glance. In all honesty, my experiences with John have always been very comfortable. Aside from being a great editor and a great writer, he’s the kind of director who really enjoys contact with his actors. He likes to get involved in an actor’s creative process, to be there with you, searching, researching. And although he’s always very clear about what he wants, because he’s a professional and comes to the set having done his homework, he still leaves room within that space for some play.
You must get a lot of scripts. What kind of stories do you like?
I like stories that move me, not stories based on design, but ones that tell us things that interest us. And I feel that way about simple and profound films that tell us what happens to humans.
That reminds me of A Chinese Tale (2011), which is a small film with a very powerful script. I had the chance to see it at both the Havana and Panama festivals and in both cities the audience had an amazing reaction.
That’s right, it’s a small story, very simple on the surface, but universal. Humanity’s great everyday theme is our tolerance or intolerance for those who are different. We played around with this theme and I think A Chinese Tale somehow “comically” places two very different kinds of guys with very different stories in an extreme situation, where at one point they actually experience more or less the same thing. That is perhaps the most interesting thing about Sebastián Borensztein’s script, which generates the identification you mentioned. Humans are not so different; we may look different, but we experience more or less the same things. We want to live in peace and not be discriminated against, we want our children to be happy and have a chance to grow up. I know it sounds a bit utopian, but we all share more or less the same ideals. Except for some people who are mixed up in other things, but we’re not interested in them.