NEW YORK — In one long take, Javier Bardem grandly strides into the latest James Bond film.
Walking slowly across a cavernous lair and toward a foreground where Daniel Craig’s 007 sits tied to a chair, Bardem — as the film’s villain, Raoul Silva — tells an ominously symbolic story about rats.
Resembling something like a sinister Dick Cavett, Bardem, with wavy blond hair and a white jacket, crouches near Bond and suggestively, intimidatingly rubs his thigh.
It comes as little surprise that Bardem as a Bond villain is a lot of fun. In “Skyfall,” he provides one of the finest arch-enemies in the 50-year history of Bond films, and plays him as a distinctly more human character than the franchise has often provided — even if with a dose of flamboyance.
“The key point for me was what (director Sam Mendes) told me from the very beginning: the word ‘uncomfortableness,’” Bardem said. “I don’t want him to be someone that threatens somebody, that’s threatening to someone. It’s about creating a very uncomfortable situation every time he talks to somebody else.”
The 43-year-old Spanish actor is already widely admired by his peers and film critics, having won an Oscar in 2007 for another interestingly coiffured villain, Anton Chigurh in “No Country for Old Men,” and been nominated two other times: for his breakthrough performance in Julian Schnabel’s “Before Night Falls” (2000) and for his soulful, melancholy turn in Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu’s “Biutiful” (2010).
But “Skyfall” is Bardem’s largest film yet, the kind of blockbuster behemoth that usually gives little room for even the finest actors to flex their muscles. Yet, rather than be constrained by the Bond movie archetype, Bardem manages to put forth a performance just as nuanced as those in smaller, more deliberately arty films.
“I’ve never done a movie as big as James Bond, so I didn’t how a big monster like this would affect my work on set,” Bardem said. “It was a great gift of finding myself in a very, very creative process.”
It was Craig who first reached out to Bardem while casually chatting at an event in Los Angeles. Bardem, intrigued, replied that the prospect sounded “pretty cool.” He was later convinced after reading the script and finding: “Wow. There’s a person here.”
“I’m in awe of the guy,” Craig said. “He’s a passionate kind of creature where everything he does on screen is mesmerizing and electrifying. He put in levels of interest, made it real, but didn’t forget he was playing a Bond villain — which is a clever actor knowing full well he’s got to play it straight, kind of, and then remember what he’s doing.”
Just how “straight” Bardem’s Silva is has been a question eagerly debated by 007 fans, with some calling him the first gay Bond villain. That’s probably overstating it (and what do we really know about Oddjob’s private life, besides) but Silva’s effeteness, along with his sensitivity and sense of humor, make him an unusually layered bad guy.