Just before his appearance at the Film Society during the Spanish Cinema Now spotlight on his work, acclaimed Spanish actor
Paul Brunick: Before we get into your films, we should mention that you worked in theatre and television for years before you crossed over. Tell our readers about Seven Lives.
: (laughs) Seven Lives was the first sitcom in Spain for four or five years, more than a hundred episodes…
PB: …it was the longest-running sitcom in Spanish history, right?
JC: Yes. It was very popular, and a lot of producers first saw me in this context.
PB: And it was based on Friends, the American sitcom? Or inspired by?
JC: Ah, no. In the beginning it was a reference people made, you know, seven friends sitting on a couch. But no it’s not the truth.
PB: Gotcha. Last note, the title refers to the idiomatic expression in Spanish that cats have seven lives—here in America they have nine.
JC: Ah, I will get an American cat then.
PB: Many of our readers may have first seen you in Sex and Lucia, but your big breakthrough in the states came with the starring role in Pedro ‘s Talk to Her. In that film, your performance feels very intuitive and organic—like you are Benigno. What was the process of creating that character like? How much did you know coming in?
JC: Well knows the roles better than the actors. Normally it’s the opposite. But knows, and he helps you a lot. And we spent four months preparing for Benigno by taking classes with nurses, in manicure and massage. These months helped me a lot to understand that Benigno needs to have a control, an absolute control of the little things in his life, because in his head he has a big problem. The lack of control for Benigno is a nightmare. At first we love Benigno, but as we come to discover more about him, we see darker thing. But I think wants not to judge. He takes this man, a rapist, and puts him in a romantic comedy. It’s a perverse romantic comedy, or no, a tragicomedy. (laughs) I have a lot of ideas in my head but not a lot of English words to go with them.
PB: At the start of Talk to Her, we might think—based on Benigno’s mannerisms and the fact that it’s an Almodovar movie—that Benigno is gay. But then we learn of his desire for the comatose dancer. In Hard Times, you’re stereotypically very masculine…
JC: But then you learn than he’s gay! Yes, I like to play characters that surprise you, that surprise the audience, that surprise me. My character has a curious story. He has just been released from jail after years inside, and he goes to find his old cellmate. [Who—spoiler alert—was his lover inside.] But he needed the love from a man only in jail, not outside again. It’s curious, but I understand perfectly that situation, but the character doesn’t understand what’s happened to himself.
PB: Two more films playing in the series–Torremolinos 73 and Chef’s Special—are both comedies, but they are very different in tone. In Torremolinos you play very close to the chest, it’s an understated and deadpan sense of humor. But in Chef’s Special the humor is very broad—lots of mugging for the camera, big gestures, pratfalls.
JC: The director of Chef’s Special is the creator and director of Seven Lives. He’s a man who worked in TV for five or so years, and he wanted to do a film. And he loves my movements, he loves rough comedy—movements, screaming, radical situations. The situation is about a gay man who owns a restaurant, but more than that it’s about the new liberty and freedom that’s now in Spain. Which is also what Torremolinos is about. And the other films too, in some ways they are all the same, all about a new freedom of…
PB: the pursuit of happiness.
PB: —with a name like that the headlines write themselves. Thanks for doing this.
JC: Thank you.