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Javier Bardem on “Goya’s Ghosts”

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By Dan Persons

IFC News

[Photo: Javier Bardem in “Goya’s Ghosts,” Samuel Goldwyn Films, 2007]

It’s a good year for bad deeds, particularly if you’re Javier Bardem. Not only is he receiving praise for his portrayal of Anton Chigurh, a near-mythic hit man in the upcoming Coen brothers film “No Country for Old Men,” he also takes center stage as an Inquisition-era priest who doesn’t mind shifting convictions to accommodate the prevailing winds in Milos Forman’s historical epic, “Goya’s Ghosts,” opening this week.

When you’re approached by American producers, are there any special criteria you use in evaluating those roles?

I think it’s that same as I do in Spain: Would I be interested in watching this story as an audience [member]? If I’m touched by the story — because I think the most important thing is the storytelling — then I do it. I don’t really pay too much attention to who’s behind it. Of course, if who’s behind it is Milos Forman or the Coens, that helps. But at the end, when we have movies that we like so much, we remember the stories.

Is there an aspect of exploration that you need as well?

Once you get there, if the author of that story is telling you something you want to explore, then you take a good look at the role and see if the role helps you to explore that situation, or if it’s a passive character that doesn’t do that much. The insight, for example, in “Goya’s Ghosts” helps you to say, “Okay, I want to take the journey to see what’s behind those lines, what’s behind that man.” And maybe I’m lucky to find something for myself.

The character you play in “Goya’s Ghosts,” Brother Lorenzo, is quite the opportunist, isn’t he?

Yeah, totally. I saw him as a victim. I saw him as a victim of the totalitarian regimes that happened in that moment in history, — Inquisition or French revolution, whether it’s in the name of God or in the name of human civil rights — what [the regimes] were doing was trying to gather power, power through fear. In those moments, I think those regimes create people like Brother Lorenzo, who go so radical because they need to make [others] believe that they are true believers.

Are his actions out of desperation?

Not desperation, but fear. Fear of losing what he has become, fear of losing what he dreams of being in the future, which is being on the top, being close to the high priest or the king. It’s like he thinks of himself as being a grandiose person, and everything that [stands] in the middle of that journey, that achievement, has to be destroyed.

In fact, the overarching theme of “Goya’s Ghosts” is how people trim their moralities to fit the temper of their times.

I think the ethical point of this movie is that ethics are something that people hold inside, they’re not something you can be taught by any statement or any system. You either have it, or you don’t. It appears that my character is the most ethical of all, but in reality he’s the opposite. While Goya, who is just a witness and cannot step forward because then he would be punished, is the most ethical of all. His ethics are his paintings — that’s where he really makes justice. He’s fair with the human race, putting what he sees in there for people not to forget, ever.

What connected you to this story?

The history. The fact that Milos Forman came to Spain and wanted to portray a time when beautiful Spain was like a raped country, where everybody was coming in and abusing [it]. I liked the idea… and also I have this relationship with the Catholic Church that I want to explore. I was raised in the Catholic Church and I have my problems with it. That’s how I chose [Brother Lorenzo’s] voice — it’s a risky voice, but I saw, when I was little, when the Franco regime was coming to an end, I was five, I was six — I saw many of these people speaking with this beautiful voice about being at peace, while acting exactly the opposite. Those things were engraved in my mind: How can you say one thing and do the opposite?

In a number of your roles, you’ve come to explore many gradations of evil. Have you come to understand it any better?

Maybe with the Coens. There was a moment where I felt numb. It’s not that I was overtaken by the role, but I felt numb. When I was doing the role, I had a lot of free time, and I remember watching the news and seeing the horror that is going on out there, and I felt numb. And I said to myself, “Well, now I am dangerous.” I guess that has to do with the evil-minded — they feel numb, they don’t feel emotionally attached to others. That’s why they can make these decisions of killing.

Wanna go back there again?

No. No, no, no, no. I was so happy when I left those characters, especially Anton.

“Goya’s Ghosts” opens in New York, Los Angeles and other cities on July 20, expanding on August 3 (official site).

Other recent interviews on IFC News: Danny Boyle talks “Sunshine,” sex in space and sci-fi fundamentalism here; Steve Buscemi discusses directing and starring in “Interview” here.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….


IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.


IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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