`Sea Inside' carries waves of emotion


On Screen - DVD/Videos

February 17, 2005|By Terry Lawson | Terry Lawson,KNIGHT RIDDER / TRIBUNE

TORONTO -- On meeting director Alejandro Amenabar and actor Javier Bardem in a cafe in September to talk about their film The Sea Inside, it turned out they had some questions of their own.

"This Kevorkian, is it true he had died in prison?" asks Amenabar.

"This is what we have heard," says Bardem. "What do you know about it?" A quick call confirmed that Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the United States' most visible advocate for the right to die, was alive, if not well, in a Michigan correctional facility serving a 10- to 25-year sentence for second-degree murder.

Amenabar and Bardem had come to Toronto knowing the Kevorkian issue would be on a lot of writers' minds as they talked about The Sea Inside, the fact-based story of Spain's Ramon Sampedro, who is played by Bardem.

A former ship's mechanic who became a writer after a diving accident left him paralyzed from the neck down, Sampedro spent almost 30 years fighting for the right to die with dignity. Yet Sampedro, who turned to poetry to express his feelings, became such a symbol of courage and wisdom for those who knew him, they didn't want him to die: In the movie, even his lawyer has difficulty arguing his position.

"Ramon's story, from what we have read, has very little to do with what Kevorkian was doing," says Amenabar, "but for many people it is all one issue. ... We actually wanted to avoid talking about the legal business that Ramon had to go through and instead concentrate on who this man was and why he came to this decision."

"I cannot play an `issue,'" says Bardem. "I can only play a man."

Bardem is the most famous actor in Spain and is popular throughout Latin America. He has found success in the United States, earning an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of poet Reinaldo Arenas in 2000's Before Night Falls. He also had a small role in last summer's Collateral, and his drama Mondays in the Sun was Spain's foreign language Academy Award submission in 2002.

Many people thought Bardem might get an Oscar nomination for best actor this year for The Sea Inside. That didn't happen. But the movie has been nominated for a foreign language Oscar.

But for all that, Amenabar, whose Spanish hit Open Your Eyes was remade in the United States as Vanilla Sky and who had an American hit with the supernatural drama The Others in 2001, did not initially think of Bardem for the role of Sampedro.

The reason, he says, is that the film deals primarily with Sampedro's final year, when he was 55.

"I knew I needed a powerful actor to carry out this role, someone who was able to convey much emotion without using his body at all," he says. "Also, I was looking for someone who spoke Galician, Sampedro's language. So I spent weeks going to all these different theater productions, looking for an actor of Ramon's age."

Having little luck, Amenabar began considering offering the role to Bardem, and after seeing him play a man in his mid-40s in Mondays in the Sun, for which Bardem gained about 30 pounds and had his hair thinned, the director decided to approach him.

"I wasn't worried about Javier's ability to act the role. I think Javier is the best actor in Spain, and one of the best actors anywhere. I just wanted to make sure people would think that was Sampedro lying there," says Amenabar. "But in fact, the real Ramon was a very seductive man; he had many people who fell in love with him and every time he did a TV interview, he would get marriage proposals from strangers."

"It was a great part because Ramon was such an interesting man," says Bardem. "And the script that Alejandro has written with Mateo Gil was very beautiful, poetic in ways that reflected Ramon's writing. Any actor would want to try it."

Bardem was supposed to follow The Sea Inside with two high-profile roles in English language films. But Che, Steven Soderbergh's biography of Che Guevera, has been put on hold, and Bardem says he has yet to see a script for Killing Pablo, a film in which he would play drug lord Pablo Escobar, that was to have been directed by Joe Carnahan.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.