Having made his on-screen debut at the tender age of one back home in Guadalajara, Mexico, before reaching full-blown heartthrob status during a stint starring in telenovelas as a teen, Gael Garcia Bernal has spent over three decades in the spotlight. Breaking out in the other two-thirds of North America thanks to his roles in Y Tu Mama Tambien and The Motorcycle Diaries, the 35-year-old is a rising star in Hollywood and recently served on the main competition jury at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. We caught up with the actor/director/producer during a stop in town for the Montreal Documentary Film Festival, where he took a break to take in a Habs game and discuss his love of all things bleu-blanc-rouge.
You’ve been to Toronto before for TIFF, but was this your first time in Montreal?
GAEL GARCIA BERNAL: This was my first time here. I like it a lot. A lot. I love the softness here. Even though it’s cold and might look harsh, there’s something soft about it. People know each other. It’s a friendly place.
You speak quite a few languages. Have you had a chance to show off your French a little while you’ve been here?
GGB: Un petit peu. (laughs)
Ever been on the ice?
GGB: It’s a real shame because with all the time I need to devote to acting, I think the Canadiens are missing out on a great, great forward. (laughs) If the coaches know I’m here, perhaps this could be my opportunity. I already have the jersey and that’s really all you need, right? I’m sure somebody can lend me some skates.
Was this your first time at a hockey game?
GGB: This was my first game and I hope to understand at least some of the rules. I don’t understand, for example, what a foul would be. They hit each other really badly, it seems.
A good tip is if there’s ever blood, that’s usually a good sign it’s a penalty.
GGB: (laughs) Perfect, so if there’s no blood, keep playing! You fight until someone puts his knee to the ground. I know the offside works a little like soccer, at least.
You were featured in Nike’s Write the Future ad with Cristiano Ronaldo. Are you a big soccer fan?
GGB: Huge. I absolutely love soccer. Cristiano is a beast. It’s like he has an extra vertebrae or something. He’s agile as hell and an amazing football player. I get so star-struck with athletes.
Other than the Montreal Canadiens, what’s your favorite pro sports team?
GGB: In football, my team is Pumas from Mexico City, but they were absolutely awful last year. I know this isn’t how sports works, but sometimes losing can be good because it makes you better. At least that’s what I tell myself when the team is as bad as it was. In baseball, I grew up liking the Dodgers.
Y Tu Mama Tambien is one of those rare foreign films that found critical and commercial success in North America under its original title. Were you surprised to see how well-received it was?
GGB: I was very surprised. It followed the trend where many films weren’t translated to English for their North American release. I think it’s just a sign of the times we’re living in. More and more people speak Spanish in the United States and even in Canada. There’s more space here for different cultures to flourish, and it makes for an interesting mosaic.
You also starred alongside Will Ferrell in Casa de Mi Padre last year. Were you surprised to see Will sign on to do a movie entirely in Spanish?
GGB: I thought there was something weird going on like a missed translation, like, ‘Really? Is he going to act in Spanish?’ He actually speaks Spanish really well. We laughed about how he was looking to cross over into Spanish-speaking roles and start starring in movies in Columbia and Argentina. He’s been called for many Spanish soap operas since then, and he’s been turning them all down. (laughs)
How hard did you push to make a cameo in Anchorman 2?
GGB: The bastard didn’t call me! (laughs) I have to talk to him about that. I could have been the token Spanish-speaking guy!
You’ve been on camera since you were a year old and you’ve managed to transition from child star to a critically-acclaimed actor while avoiding tabloids and the circus that often comes with it. If you could give some advice to the Miley Cyrus’ of the world, what would you say?
GGB: Ok, yes, I do have some advice. I took it as it was: a fun experience. I had one of the best times of my life, but it was about the journey. I never left school – I kept doing normal things, living a normal life. Back in those days, there wasn’t social media or TMZ or anything, so I don’t know if that’s still possible, but it’s just about taking it as it comes.
Have you been hounded by paparazzi since coming to North America?
GGB: A little bit, but I’m fortunate because they follow me to the supermarket to buy diapers. They get really bored with me really fast. That’s the real secret: what I do underground, stays underground! (laughs)
Catch Gael in Jon Stewart’s directorial debut Rosewater, set to hit theaters in 2014, and
keep up with him in real-time on Twitter, @GaelGarciaB.
This article, written by Shauna Denis, was published in CANADIENS magazine Vol. 28 No. 5.
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