The actor tells Mike Goodridge about the challenges of playing a man with a black heart in No Country For Old Men
As Anton Chigurh, a lethal assassin with no conscience or humour who kills his way through the south-east US in the Coen brothers' No Country For Old Men, Javier Bardem cuts one of the most menacing figures on screen this year. But Bardem is generous in attributing much of the performance's success - he has won numerous accolades in the awards season so far - to his collaborators.
First, there was the hair, a shocking blow-dried mop which lends humour to the character even while he massacres. "When I arrived in Santa Fe, I more or less knew the road to go with the character but there were a lot of unanswered questions because there is not much physical or behavioural description of him in the book," Bardem says. "Since it was wide open to any kind of interpretation, I let my hair grow long and Paul the hairdresser, who is a genius, took me aside and in two minutes had done this horrible thing to my hair."
"I was in the make-up trailer," he continues, "and I saw the Coens laughing and Ethan almost fell on the floor. When I saw myself in the mirror, I was shocked and said, 'Now I have 50% of the character.' That's how good a professional can be. He does half your work for you."
As for the deadpan humour of the character, he attributes much of that to the Coens when they were putting the film together in post-production. "They surrounded my character with other characters, dialogues and landscapes and that's what makes the character very uncomfortable to watch because you feel something weird is going on," he explains. "There are certain moments in the film which are funny, and they surprised me when I saw it because it was not my intention to bring the humour out. So I played it very dry. One of the only things I knew about him was that he had no sense of humour, so I said, 'OK, I can't smile.'"
"He doesn't have any love in his life," muses Bardem. "He doesn't even love what he does. He's always on duty and does what he has to do. My challenge was how to play someone who is without love, which is hard because we all love something. That was something I had to really bring to him in the look. He is black, not close to emotion. Things like pain or pleasure don't have anything to do with him."
How do you play a historical character about whom there is no information' Casey Affleck tells Mike Goodridge how he gave life to the enigmatic Robert Ford
Casey Affleck did not have much to go on when he was preparing to play Robert Ford, the notorious outlaw who killed Jesse James in Andrew Dominik's The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford which was adapted from a novel by Ron Hansen.
"There really wasn't a lot of information about Robert Ford," he explains. "There was a famous photograph taken just after he has killed Jesse James. He's holding the gun. He's in a very rigid posture and looks like he should be proud but his face is looking confused and disoriented. I found that helpful, but there wasn't a whole lot else."
Affleck tried to reach out to Ford's relatives but some turned out not to be relatives at all and others "couldn't agree where he was born, where he was from, where he lived".
So he turned to Dominik's screenplay, which Affleck describes as "one of the best adaptations I have ever read, and I go back and read scripts from before I was alive. The focus was character and so for character research I relied on him.
"I spent a lot of time sort of staring at the wall and hoping something would come to me and that it made sense," he laughs. "I spent hours doing that, looking at the picture (of Ford) and at the ceiling and just thinking what he would have been feeling. Stymied by the lack of material that was available to me, I decided to know everything that he would have known at the time. I tried to figure out what he would have known and felt about the Civil War. I soon realised that all he was thinking about was Jesse James, so I found all these nickel comic books about Jesse James."
Affleck also committed to memory all the dates and locations of the train and bank robberies in which Ford was involved and as many details as he could about Ford's family.
As regards Ford's physical appearance, Affleck was determined to present an authentic facial appearance - and that included unkempt teeth.
"I hate those movies where you see these guys who ride horses for a living and sleep in the dirt and they have beautiful clean hair and clean white teeth," he says. "So I figured that if I didn't brush my teeth, they're probably going to get very nasty and they did. To make it perfectly realistic, I would have had to mistreat them for about 19 years, but at least it took down the white and made them fuzzy and furry which, if for nothing else, made my mouth feel different and reminded me."