The most remarkable thing about seeing Javier Bardem in Skyfall — and there are several things to choose from, including his performance, his shock of blond hair, or the fact that he doesn't even appear for the first time until an hour into the movie — is that he's in Skyfall at all. A world-famous Oscar winner, Bardem rarely appears in studio movies, though he'll certainly flirt with them: The list is long of the big movies he was attached to and then parted ways with, including Minority Report, Nine, and Ron Howard's long-gestating Dark Tower project. Still, does his high-profile villainy in a James Bond picture signal that Javier Bardem is finally ready to play ball with Hollywood? To find out how the town regards him, we polled industry insiders to ask one simple question: If Javier Bardem were a stock, would you buy, sell, or hold?
Stock History: Bardem first hit it big in Spain with an early role in Jamon, jamon (where he starred opposite his eventual wife Penelope Cruz), and other notable Spanish-language films followed, including Pedro Almodovar's Live Flesh, Mouth to Mouth, and Second Skin. In 2000, though, Bardem's profile got a huge boost with his Oscar-nominated lead role as a gay poet in Before Night Falls, which he learned English for. Bardem won a Goya for The Sea Inside and appeared in Collateral, but his English-language films like Goya's Ghosts and Love In The Time of Cholera weren't quite working ... at least, not until he won the Oscar for his fearsome work as Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men. Since then, he's been on a roll: Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Biutiful (another Oscar nomination), Eat Pray Love, and now Skyfall.
Peers: He’s never really carried an entire studio picture the way that Sean Penn (52) or Josh Brolin (44) have, but Bardem is considered to be punching at the top of his character actor weight class, which includes those gents plus equals like Benicio del Toro (45) and Jeremy Renner (41).
What Hollywood Thinks: "He falls in the infuriating category of 'one-of-the-greatest-actors-working-love-him-in-every-role-God-do-you-think-we-can-get-him-doesn’t-sell-any-tickets,'" explains one former studio production chief turned producer.
It's a sentiment echoed by many in the industry, like another top talent manager of A-list stars who agrees that Bardem "has prestige more than box office," dubbing him an actor's actor who, in addition to being a director favorite, "also seems to say 'no' a lot, which makes him more mysterious and somehow valuable."
Valuable somehow ... but how? To hear another top producer explain it, Bardem "is a true star to other actors, so he attracts them and then his movies become higher profile as a result."
That’s not to say Bardem isn’t a leading man. "He is a leading man," says one talent agent, adding, "in Spain. It’s just that Hollywood is not necessarily his focus. If you compare him to other domestic actors, it’s not really relevant. He’s cut more from the Penn or Daniel Day-Lewis cloth. They’re not box office bonuses, but [are] such talent that they make any project that much more prestigious, and therefore, make it 'go.'"
And as a second agent observes, this lack of traditional 'leading man-hood' doesn’t necessarily dim Bardem’s appeal — in fact, in some ways, it actually increases it, especially in the long run.
"Of course you sign him," says this rep. "You also never know what’s going to come along that will be the next Silence of the Lambs, because there are those movies out there where it’s more important to have the villain be interesting: Javier did that in No Country, but even in super-commercial movies, often it’s that [villain] role that, like Heath or Tom Hardy [in the Dark Knight franchise] that run away with the movie. Some of the more down-the-middle guys, it’s riskier that they’re going to be bland."
But there’s also a downside in being typecast as the villain, as one top writer-producer cautions.
"It doesn’t sort of end well," says this top screenwriter. "Look at Anthony Hopkins or Alan Rickman ... It doesn’t lead to leading man status. In this climate, the studios aren’t even sure what to do with [conventional leading men like] Bradley Cooper or Ryan Reynolds."
And yet, as our second agent rebuts, it does often lead to career longevity. "He’s never going to be James Bond, but he’s very valuable," explains this second agent. "I don’t know that you try to make him a matinee idol, that’s not in the cards, but Hopkins hasn’t had a bad career — it’s arguable he’s had more of a fulfilling career than lots of leading men. There are lot of women more beautiful than Meryl Streep, but there aren’t many — or, really, any — who’ve had her career. Twenty years ago, you could choose between signing Kim Basinger and Meryl Streep, and a lot of people might have signed Kim Basinger. Well, who’s still working today? You always want to sign someone who’s at the top of their category."
Of course, Bardem’s performance in the forthcoming Skyfall may do quite a lot to change that. Early buzz indicated he might just get an Oscar nomination, despite the Bond franchise’s pulpy past and cheddar-crusted baddies.
"What’s his value?" asks a third top talent agent, "After this weekend, much bigger. [Skyfall] is tracking huge here. Beyond being an exquisite actor, it gives him major worldwide recognition. So does he green-light a movie right now? No. But he’s a significant part of an indie movie, and I think he’s a piece of any co-production that has a foreign-based element."
Our talent manager agrees, seconding the opinion that Bardem is a crucial piece in securing foreign financing, given his appeal in Spanish-speaking countries around the globe, but doubts if power even informs Bardem's choices: "I think he could be some version of a star if he wants to be a star," says this rep, "but it seems like he's avoided classic types of ‘star’ roles."
The Analysis: Is there room in Hollywood for a leading man like Bardem? We'd like to think so: Instead of always taking the showy supporting role, he could lend real actorly heft to a lead (and attract some more bankable names to help shore up his appeal). However, Bardem has more second and third leads coming up: He'll next be seen in Terrence Malick's To the Wonder and Ridley Scott's The Counselor, and while we can understand the appeal of working with those auteurs, can't the guy get a movie all his own?
Then again, maybe he doesn't want one right now, at least in Hollywood. Bardem was attached for a long while to The Dark Tower, which would have been a major three-film franchise for him, provided that Ron Howard could get it off the ground. (So far, he hasn't been able to.) If that seemed like a tall order for an actor who never leads studio films and in fact leaves most of them at the altar ... well, there's a reason why Russell Crowe is the latest name linked to the franchise, and not Bardem.
Still, that very reluctance to embrace Hollywood and climb its greasy rungs is exactly what one elite publicist says makes Bardem appealing as a subject to the public. "He doesn’t seem to yearn to be a celebrity," said this publicist. "He’s not ubiquitious. There’s a lot of mystery to him, even though he’s married to a huge celebrity like Penelope Cruz. He’s not a traditional celebrity: He doesn’t go to gifting suites, doesn’t pop up on red carpets that don’t lead to his films. I’m sure he says 'no' more than he says 'yes' to things. So he doesn’t show up on The View, but he does do Charlie Rose or The Daily Show. He’s not one of these clients so obsessed with fame they’re in Vanity Fair with the night-table reading [profile]: 'Look, I read fancy books!' Or, 'I have great taste in art!' If his goal is to remain somewhat mysterious, and work with great filmmakers and actors, he’s doing a perfect job. From the outside looking in, I like him, because I think he’s cool."
The Bottom Line: Bardem will always be a major talent, and he's got a fairly discerning sensibility: Maybe he only picks lead roles abroad because those leads are better than what Hollywood is offering him (which would explain all the supporting parts he's taken in America, since those are usually the fun ones). All the same, we'll be disappointed if Bardem keeps dodging A-list American directors and his potential destiny as a substantial Hollywood leading man; we could really use him. Try it out at least once to see if you like it, okay Javier?
Buy/Sell/Hold: "He is definitely a star," says a third, Oscar-winning producer. "He’s just the someone you cast when you want someone — he doesn’t add enough value [at the box office], but he’s a sensational actor. So as an actor, buy. As a star, he’s a hold."