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The role of Ram??n, who spends virtually the entire film immobile in bed, was a huge challenge for someone with Bardem's looming, vigorous physicality. "I'm not a very good technical actor," he says. "I'm more of an impulsive. I believe in the constant movement of feelings and thoughts and body language. So here I am stuck in a body and only using my voice and my look. That was one of the reasons I wanted to do it--to see if I was able to express a different range of emotions with almost nothing."
To play a man 20 years older than he is, Bardem, 35, endured five hours a day in the makeup chair. He videotaped himself supine in bed. "It's not that I like to see myself," he says, "but when I'm portraying somebody real, I want to know, even if I feel I am getting it, that the camera is getting it. I wanted to see if I was showing that smile, that peaceful attitude that he had. It was helpful because I am 35, and I was full of energy and anger and pain, and he wasn't."
He also spent a day with Sampedro's sister-in-law at her home in Galicia. "She put me in the bed, and she treated me for the whole day like she treated him. It was the real house, the real bed, the real books, the real her, telling me the real things. That was the first day I felt, 'Oh, my God, I'm not Javier anymore. Today I'm Ram??n.'"
The son of actress Pilar Bardem and nephew of director Juan Antonio Bardem, Javier got his break starring in three ultraweird comedies by the Spanish sensualist J.J. Bigas Luna and later played the paraplegic cop in Pedro Almod??var's Live Flesh. When he began his acting career, he told himself, "You have a very respected surname. So in the name of that surname, man, break your back, go there, and do the best you can."
We're guessing that Mom and the whole Bardem family--and Spain--couldn't be prouder. --R.C. Reported by Kate Novack/ New York
Catalina Sandino Moreno | Maria Full of Grace
In the signature sequence of Maria Full of Grace, the eponymous heroine, a Colombian drug mule, swallows several dozen condoms stuffed with heroin pellets. If one breaks in her stomach, it will kill her. She has never done this before, and her horror is tangible--perhaps because, before shooting the scene, Catalina Sandino Moreno had never swallowed or even seen one of the enormous pellets either. (The pellets Sandino downed contained sugar.) Rather than rehearse or talk to women who had been drug mules, Sandino went in unprepared on purpose, because, she says, "Maria didn't know anything about it when she did it."
This bold choice was the correct one. Sandino does not so much act her role as experience it. The beautiful 17-year-old Maria is a universal adolescent--petulant, proud, innocent, willful, sexy, reserved, angry yet dutiful to her exploitative family. Above all, there moves in her a sort of inchoate idealism, a need to do the right thing, that carries her through the film's frightening chain of events.
Precisely because Sandino approaches every moment onscreen as she does the drug-swallowing scene--with eyes wide open--writer-director Joshua Marston is able to evade sentimentality. He trusts his actress's instincts, and that encourages the audience to do the same.