Javier Bardem started in showbiz as a child actor in Spanish TV series “El pícaro” in 1974, landing his first recurring role at age 17 in 1986 in drama “Segunda enseñanza.” Hollywood success followed; he played Cuban poet and novelist Reinaldo Arenas in Julian Schnabel’s “Before Night Falls,” earning the first of three Oscar nominations. In buzzy Greenpeace documentary “Sanctuary,” which premiered in the official selection at the Toronto Film Festival, Bardem forgoes his dramatic chops to produce and narrate this nonfiction work about preserving marine life in the increasingly warming Antarctic.
This isn’t the typical film role you get offered. What led you here?
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Greenpeace invited me to do this campaign. We’re trying to create the largest sea sanctuary in the world in the Antarctic Ocean. I didn’t blink; I said yes. They explained to me what exactly they’re looking to achieve and why. At that table there were scientists and biologists and people working on this for ages. It was mind-blowing to be surrounded by all these people who know what’s at stake.
Greenpeace has been around for nearly 50 years. What insights did you gain about the organization’s cultural relevance and the challenges it faces in its work?
Let’s take the captain of the Arctic Sunrise, the ship we were filming on. He’s been turning the wheel for 30 years. He’s been in prison I don’t know how many times. Just to listen to him, and all the action they’ve taken against whale hunting and fishing, oil drilling — this is a man who has given a lot of time in his life to captain a ship of people who are caring for all of us, when he could have been at home with his family and kids. Greenpeace is not a bunch of hippies smoking grass saying, “Save the whales, man.” They’re putting their lives on the line. That’s what I saw having the privilege of making this film. You have to be bulletproof to be one of these people.
Do you think Hollywood does enough to raise awareness around the environment?
A lot of people I know who work in this business, they care. They make a number of big donations privately. They also know they contribute to an industry that flies a lot of private planes and has a big carbon footprint. That’s the rhythm we live in. I think overall we need some regulation and information about how to achieve a near future where we can have a different way of living.
There’s been a lot of criticism that scripted content completely ignores the climate crisis.
In my humble opinion, I think that’s true. We should bring this to wider audiences in those so-called tentpole movies. I just did “Dune.” I play a character named Stilgar, who is the leader of the Fremen tribe. They’re the only tribe able to survive for years out in the desert by recycling their own liquids. It’s a scientific masterpiece. We went to Jordan to shoot in the desert, and I thought, “Sh–. This is not far from being real.” Hopefully that’s a powerful issue this movie can raise.
About Javier Bardem:
Age: 50 Birthplace: Canary Islands, Spain First Movie Role: “The Ages of Lulu,” alongside mother Pilar Bardem, in 1990
Favorite Animal: Penguin Previous job: Teen rugby player for the Spanish national team