Why Javier Bardem Hates Watching His Own Movies

Something you often hear from artists working in the film industry is that they find watching their work incredibly difficult. Once everything is locked and put in front of an audience, it can be like pulling teeth without the added fun of drugs. For directors, it actually makes a lot of sense. A film is something they have shepherded for several years, pouring every ounce of themself into the project to make it the best it can be. They've written or lived with the script for a long time, gone through a rigorous shoot, and meticulously combed through every second of footage in the editing over and over and over again before settling on a finished film. After all that, you need to distance yourself from the film for your own sanity and focus on other things. This is why it was so surprising to me when Mike Leigh, in a Q&A with Film at Lincoln Center, said he actually enjoyed watching his films if there's a reason to do so and considers himself lucky in that respect.

For actors, their reasons for not being able to watch their work on screen are a little different. Of course, part of it is about the experience of doing the work and needing to move on from it. This is something they shot many months earlier and have probably already done other roles since then, not to mention any other parts they might be preparing for or shooting at the moment. They also may have had a poor experience making the movie, and watching it brings back bad memories. In general, though, the reason a lot of actors cannot watch their own work is much more superficial, and one of our best actors, Javier Bardem, falls victim to it as well.

Vanity comes for us all

Have you ever recorded your own voice and actually heard what you sound like? It's horrifying. I edited a podcast that I hosted for years, which meant every week I spent time listening to my own voice. It was torture. How we sound in our heads is wildly different than what comes out of our mouths. Imagine experiencing that phenomenon while your face is blown up on a screen 40 feet wide. That is what film actors have to deal with. Javier Bardem absolutely cannot stand going through that process. Speaking with GQ, he spoke of his loathing of watching his own work:

"The fact that I like to make characters doesn't mean that I like to watch my characters being made, my performance ... I can't even watch that f***ing nose, that f***ing voice, those ridiculous eyes. I can't handle that. But when I'm doing it, I don't see my nose or hear my voice; it's like there's something stronger, bigger than that. And I need to express it."

Bardem also can take big swings in the appearance of his characters, donning wigs and makeup that can make him look a bit crazy. "No Country for Old Men," "Skyfall," "The Counselor," and even "Being the Ricardos" all feature some rather extreme looks, and I could see how that might make Bardem squirm — especially if he is uncomfortable watching himself onscreen in the first place. 

Quite frankly, he doesn't need to watch his performances. He's doing them for the audience. We're the ones who should enjoy them. I know I do.