He has lived six decades under the protection of the most lustrous last name in Spanish cinema, but Carlos Bardem (Madrid, 59 years old) acting never seemed like an idealized guild. Far from the abundance in which so many surround this industry, he grew up seeing how his mother, the unforgettable Pilar Bardem (died July 17, 2021), chained one job after another and was unable to pay for electricity for many months of her life.

“Recognition came late, and with it also economic stability. I got to see her sleeping three hours a day and having a hard time paying for the light. Other children stayed at grandparents’ houses or day care centers, but she had nowhere to leave us and I spent a large part of our childhood in dressing rooms and film sets. Something must have rubbed off on us from all that, ”he jokes. “I never considered this profession glamorous for obvious reasons.” Although his brother, Javier Bardem, began flirting with the cameras at the age of five, Carlos did not make his debut until the comedy Mas que amor, frenesi. “It was the year 1996 and I was turning 33, it is not what an early debut is called. But by then I already knew that, above that, my thing was to tell stories”, he recalls in a conversation with EL PAIS.

The Madrid actor does it —literally— in the third act of The Sandman, Neil Gaiman’s trilogy that Netflix adapted last year and that Audible has just published in sound fiction with Carlos Bardem in the role of the narrator. “I have to confess that I didn’t know the novel, but I got hooked as a result of putting a voice in the first installment. I liked Gaiman’s ability to create worlds, with cultural references so diverse and distanced in time, connecting the impossible. He is capable of alluding to Shakespeare, Jesus Christ and classical mythology, on the same plane and without sounding implausible. It is not a small thing, ”he reasons.

Bardem already ventured into similar conflicts when the same company (owned by Amazon) proposed that he give voice to his novel Mongo blanco (Plaza & Janes, 2019), a book that truffles his facet as a writer along with Exemplary Deaths (1999), Alacran in love (2009) and the recent The maverick assassin (2021). “However, the big difference with that audiobook is that it was a simple reading of my own novel, although I remembered the father who wrote those 627 pages,” he says between laughs. “In sound fiction you act with the drama of cinema or theater. I like the latter more because of its richness and complexity, because you can play at taking the story through one intensity or another”. In The Sandman the character of the narrator is the one who carries the weight of the story,

Carlos Bardem in front of the microphone in the Eva Tecnison studio, in Madrid, last November. Luis Sevillano

Graduated in History from the Autonomous University of Madrid and avid reader by simple imitation of his father —“I took the books he finished and sat next to him whole afternoons”—, his first story was a story about a boy who played in the park and heard a bell. “It took him to another place, and so on, and I just wanted it to never end,” he recalls. Decades before succeeding on the screen with hits like Celda 211 or Alacran enamorado, he already wrote compulsively, also moved by his convictions. “I have never written to give answers, rather to ask myself questions. In the case of the novel Mongo blanco, for example, the need to understand evil in human beings called me. The meanest relationship that can exist between two people is that of slavery, and I managed to come across the character of Pedro Blanco: a slave trader from Malaga from the first half of the 19th century who did business like nobody else in Spain. He was the perfect canonical monster to represent that evil that Hannah Arendt described so well.

The investigation of that volume —and its brutal reception— led him to draw conclusions such as the enormous ignorance of many about Spain’s slave-owning heritage. “We Spaniards have always been told that the slave traders were the others, that the slaves had the appearance of Kunta Kinte and that this was a thing of those who live on the other side of the Atlantic. What many will not know is that Spain was the last country in the first world to abolish slavery, and the penultimate in the world only before Brazil.

With the contrast between his veteran diction and the fresh attitude of a novice, Bardem jumps between ideas and examples, stopping at the helm of Artur Mas, former president of the Generalitat of Catalonia, who in five years in office has never picked up a ship’s rudder. of its walls. “What many will not know is that the helm belonged to Sebastiana, a sailboat belonging to his grandfather whose ancestors were slave traders from Torredembarra. It seemed like a fond memory to him, but there is a clear thread between many of these men and the current great fortunes of Catalonia. Not to mention the rest of Spain, ”he advances, raising an eyebrow.

His career, he reasons, is an accumulation of the opposite: “The writer Rafael Chirbes said in his diaries that true creation is always linked to ethics, and I have always tried to write things that I would like to read.” With movies and television, he says, other factors add up: “It’s all in the script: no series or movie can succeed, even with the best actors in the world, if the text is bad. But I also have no problem saying that accepting a project has a lot to do with how easy it is for those months to pay the rent”, he settles smiling.

For one reason or another, he adds a recent filmography worthy of envy. In Echo 3, the series that Apple TV + premiered in November of last year, he plays a colonel in the Colombian army, filming from Bogota to the forests of Cartagena. In April he filmed the adaptation of Mark Millar’s American Jesus comic for Netflix. And days after this talk, he embarked for the Dominican Republic for the film Tabula rasa, together with Macarena Gomez, Amaia Salamanca and Pedro Casablanc.

They have been three years of formidable activity —with papers of as many colors as accents—, although greatly marked by the departure of that woman who took him to his shoots during school days. “If I have learned anything from the death of my mother, it is that mourning is a wound that does not diminish, and that time is unable to mitigate or justify. I miss her daily, and I know that it will be like that until the day she touches me ”. Along the way, she promises to continue asking herself questions in the form of stories: “The world is changing in a very profound way, and I am very astonished by the resistance of the old monsters to die. The resurgence of outdated discourses, based on hatred, racism, homophobia or machismo. It amazes me that they still have so many and such great speakers, that information is spectacle and clickbait is their tool, but I like to look at things in longer cycles, in bottom currents. I encourage others to do the same, because things are changing and if there is one thing that is clear to me, it is that no time in the past was better”.

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