Despite becoming an international actor who’s worked with Pedro Almodóvar, Michael Gondry and Jim Jarmusch, Mexican actor Gael García Bernal has always kept a foot in his homeland. After breaking through with Amores Perros and Y Tu Mamá También, he’s frequently returned home, be it to direct movies—including numerous shorts and the slender feature Déficit—or to establish Canana Productions with his También (and Rudo y Cursi) co-star Diego Luna, whose duties include a traveling film festival of documentaries on social justice. Casa De Mi Padre is technically a Will Ferrell vehicle—a pastiche of telenovelas in which Ferrell speaks Spanish—but it gains much credibility from García Bernal and Luna. García Bernal talked to PW about doing comedy, crying and accents.
PW: You’ve done films with comedic elements before, like Y Tu Mamá También and The Science of Sleep, but this was your first broad comedy. How was it?
Gael García Bernal: It was great. It was very liberating because it’s ridiculous and surreal and anything goes. It’s not that different from drama. It shouldn’t be too different. It can be seen as something different, but in essence it requires the same true-to-self to enter the moment.
PW: What was it like acting in a comedy beside a comic as outsized as Will Ferrell?
GGB: It was really easy. He’s a very good companion. With acting, be it dramatic or comedic, you have to be on your toes and able to incorporate new elements, to improvise and surprise eachother, and have timing. He’s very good at setting the tone. Also because Diego was around, it made it much easier for him and for me.
PW: Ferrell can’t speak Spanish fluently. What was it like working with someone who doesn’t completely understand the language you’re filming in?
GGB: But he speaks well. Maybe not that he can do Don Quixote or a whole traveling monologue or rap in Spanish. But he’s able to understand everything we’d say, so it would have been very dangerous to say things behind his back. [laughs]
PW: What was the set like given there were American filmmakers and Mexican crews?
GGB: I guess just like any film in California. [laughs]
PW: You acted in telenovelas as a teen. What was the experience like?
GGB: I just did one. I was the kid with the dog. That was my character. I cried all the time. I remember reading the day plans, and there were 10 scenes of crying. Horrendous. It’s so exhausting.
PW: The three films you’ve done with Diego Luna are quite different.
GGB: Next time it’s going to be in space, yeah? [laughs] We thought about that recently, when we were talking, we were wondering what we should do next. These three films are in different settings, but there’s still a world to explore. I hope we wind up working once every couple of years, because we have a lot of fun working together. I’m better at football than he is, though.
PW: Surely better than I am. I can’t play at all.
GGB: Yeah, but I think that’s just one of those things. Like with accents, for example. When you’re born till you’re 15, your larynx and the way that your voice resonates is fixed. It’s built to be able to speak the language that you’re trained in. When you’re talking, you’re training your vocal system to be able to be good at the language you’re speaking. Even though I’ve been speaking English since I was 10, I will always have an accent. Everything is shaped differently. Therefore if you’ve never played football, it’s going to show that you’ve been doing something else.
Read our review of "Casa de mi Padre" here.
With all the shaky zoom-lenses, deliberately cruddy production values and self-consciously melodramatic, heightened dialogue, Casa de mi Padre is purposefully shitty, employing some elbow-to-the-ribs fake backgrounds, wooden prop horses and an aura of smirky incompetence.
Ferrell’s epic journey to speak another language has understandably dominated the press on the film, conceived by him but written by Andrew Steele and directed by Matt Piedmont, both Saturday Night Live and Funny or Die vets. Not that he can speak Spanish fluently.