Javier Bardem Had A Dream Come True With His No Country For Old Men Casting

For 34 years, filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen operated as an inseparable, masterpiece-generating unit. The two movies widely considered to be their misfires ("Intolerable Cruelty" and "The Ladykillers") would count as triumphs for most filmmakers. Aspiring directors wanted to be them. Up-and-coming actors wanted nothing more than to work with them. 

Four years after their last collaboration, "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs," it appears possible that their creative partnership has come to a close. If so, everyone fortunate enough to have worked with them over that 18-film span has some serious bragging rights. Especially Javier Bardem. He's the only actor not currently married to a Coen to have won an Oscar for a performance in one of their films. And if you ask him how he feels about that, he'll tell you that he feels blessed. Very blessed indeed.

Blessed to belong to the Coens

In an interview with The Irish Independent, Bardem expressed genuine shock at having been cast as Anton Chigurh in 2007's "No Country for Old Men." "Ever since I saw Blood Simple, I always dreamed of working with them, but it seemed unlikely," he said. "I mean, they always make these very deeply American movies where there's no obvious role for a foreigner, so when it happened I just couldn't believe it. I'm so proud to belong to a Coen brothers movie."

It's not often you hear an actor effusing that they got to "belong" to a movie. Most performers will stress, with a publicist-crafted mixture of modesty and confidence, that they more than earned the right to be in the movie, but the Coens are different. They're up in the filmmaking stratosphere with the likes of Steven Spielberg, Spike Lee, Jane Campion, Martin Scorsese, and Quentin Tarantino. Actors look upon these directors with awe. It's like a minor-league baseball player getting called up to the show, even though Bardem, who'd already received an Oscar nomination for his brilliantly brash portrayal of poet Reinaldo Arenas in Julian Schnabel's "Before Night Falls," was an equally propitious catch for the Coens.

Bardem was the Coens' lucky quarter

In any event, the experience was total bliss for Bardem. "They sort of become one," he said, adding "you almost forget that there are two people there — it's like a monster with two heads! They always complement each other, they never argue, and everything is done in this seamless way where it's not like 'cut,' and there are two guys talking to you. It's 'cut', and then one comes to you and says why don't you do this, and then the other one comes and says yes, and then on top of that, do that. And it's like the same thing: they ask for the same thing."

I had the pleasure of interviewing the brothers once (for "A Serious Man"), and I found that they were less than singular in their recollection of how the film was made. They couldn't even get on the same page as to why they opted for a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Perhaps they're more scatterbrained once the film is finished. But when you're watching a Coen brothers movie, you are in the hands of masters who know how every shot should play, and how every piece of dialogue should be delivered. 

Clearly, when they cast Bardem, they knew he would do their work justice every step of the way. 15 years later, they all have Oscars to prove it.