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Film: The Motorcycle Diaries

Starred in Y Tu Mama Tambien

Gael Garcia Bernal
Thursday, September 9, 2004; 11:00 AM

Gael Garcia Bernal's career got a huge boost when he starred in Alfonso Cuaron's critically acclaimed "Y Tu Mama Tambien." Now Bernal plays Che Guevara in the upcoming film, "The Motorcycle Diaries," which is based on Guevara's travels across South America in the 1950s.

Watch the trailer.

Bernal was online Thursday, Sept. 9, at 11 a.m. ET to answer your questions about his latest movie, his film career and what it was like to play the revolutionary Guevara.

In addition to his work in "Y Tu Mama Tambien," Bernal has appeared in such films as "Amores Perros" and "El Crimen del Padre Amaro." He also will star in Pedro Almodovar's upcoming "Bad Education," which is scheduled for release this winter.

"The Motorcycle Diaries" opens in New York and Los Angeles on Sept. 24 and in Washington on Oct. 1.

A transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


washingtonpost.com: Gael will be with us momentarily.


Harrisburg, Pa.: Che Guevera was a very complex person. While many revere or hate him, like everyone, he has good in him and he had problems. As an actor, how did you perceive your character, and what different dimensions of Che Guevera did you attempt to portray in the film?

Gael Garcia Bernal: First of all I don't judge the characters. I try to make a historical and political and psychological exercise. So as to empathize with the character. This allows me to understand more of why things happened the way they happened and it gives me knowledge for my life, to be able to have strong arguments in that discussion of this issue and these sort of things. We tried to bring closer the icon. By bringing closer we can comprehend and understand more why also his struggle is so actual. This film is before the Cuban revolution, so it's just the awakening of his conscience and later, the moral points of view became political.


Manassas, Va.: Good morning:

Did Guevara at any time travel in his motorcycle to Bolivia, where he was killed years later? Did you ever visit the place where he was killed?

Thank you.

Gael Garcia Bernal: No he never traveled on the motorcycle to Bolivia. The motorcycle only survived the southern tip of Chile. He was killed after the Cuban Revolution, of course, so in this film we didn't go and visit that place. And I have never been in La Higuera.


New York, NY: Good morning, Mr. Bernal

Congratulations on your thoroughly deserved acting success to date.

Was the role of Che a particularly intimidating role for you since he is idolized by so many? Have you played any non-fictional roles before?

Gael Garcia Bernal: No this is the first time, and indeed it's very different. You have a lot of resources and information especially with someone with a figure so modern, you have a lot of resources and information. Sometimes that can be very daunting, but in the long run it resonates very strongly with yourself. I'd love to do it again.


Washington, D.C.: 1. Which of your films are you most proud of?

2. Are you recognized when you travel in the States?

3. Would you ever play a superhero?

Gael Garcia Bernal: 1. I'd say "Amores Perros," being the first and being everything. "Y Tu Mama Tambien" because that's when I decided I wanted to become an actor. Yeah, and "The Motorcycle Diaries" and "La mala education."
2. Yes and no. I get recognized sometimes and sometimes not. It depends where.
3. I'd like to play a bad superhero. Bad superheroes are better than the good superheroes.


Washington, D.C.: Gael--
You remind me of a young(er) Javier Bardem. Not because you are a Spanish speaker, but because you are making some very good choices in the parts that you play and seem anxious to expand your horizons with each new role.

Where do you see your career going? In whose footsteps would you like to follow?

P.S. Please don't go "all Hollywood" on us -- we love you just the way you are!

Gael Garcia Bernal: Thanks for mentioning Javier Bardem. He definitely is the best actor and I'd love to follow in his footsteps. Of course, in my own way. He's from another country and I'm from another country. But I'd love to be as independent and as talented and as amazing as he is.


Washington, D.C.: Translated from Spanish: Hi Gael,
How did you prepare for this role? Dd you read "Mi primer gran viaje" or other books written by Che? Also, what do you think Che would think about a movie that treats his life as something to be sold to the world? Like the shirts and other things that display his image, the movie can present Che and his life to people who did not previously know him, and maintain his place as a symbol of hope and dignity for many in the world. But obviously this style of selling his image for gain does not correspond with his project to create "El Hombre Nuevo" who rejects activities that lead to individual financial gain.

Many Thanks,
Andrew Gael Garcia Bernal: We prepared a lot and we of course read everything that Che wrote. We read everything he wrote and many biographies, by Paco Ignacio Taivo, Jorge Cataneda and John Lee Anderson. We visited Cuba and met Ernesto's family, Albert Torranado of course, we traveled to Argentina, Rosario, Cordoba, and met members of his family. We did a lot of exhaustive preparation, but the experience was necessary for us to understand and be able to portray this awakening of conscience of something so evident as the social struggle in Latin America. The film was not designed so as to make business. If it was this, we would have done it in English. What we tried is to humanize the figure that is close to us and to expose why his ideals are so resonant and so valid these days. His face already became an icon but what the icon does is it separates us from the human being. Brittany Spears wears a T-shirt with Che Guevara and I think he wouldn't care. But definitely that the icon doesn't have the dimension that the person has, and hopefully this film will help people realize next time they see the icon to know what man is behind that figure and what struggle and what it really means.


Washington, D.C.: Hello, Gael. You have had the opportunity to work with some incredible directors like Alejandro González-Iñárritu and Alfonso Cuarón and the acclaimed Pedro Almodovar. Can you compare the different directors and their styles?

Gael Garcia Bernal: What makes them similar, which is that they have very specific points of view, is what makes them different as well. All of them have their own special way of working and indeed I'm very grateful of having found amazing people to work with, and I feel grateful for them having invited me to work with them.


Washington, D.C.: I loved you in "Y Tu Mama Tambien!" Do you have any desire to do anything other than acting?

Gael Garcia Bernal: Yes. Many things, from going back to university to playing in the football league every Sunday to go and get lost for a year somewhere. And to write theater. I know that all of those sound very vague, but at least if I get to the specifics I will hang up the phone and start rushing to do them.


Washington, D.C.: (Translated from Spanish): Hi, Gael!

I am anxious to see your new movie, and also the movie "Bad Education." When can we see "Bad Education?" And speaking of "Bad Education," I have been reading that your experience working with Pedro Almodovar was at times difficult. Can you tell us about this experience? Thanks!

Gael Garcia Bernal: The film is opening the end of November. And the experience of working with Pedro was at times difficult because of the nature of his work. In the creative process, we defend our ideas like dogs. Then we reach a consensus and everything's forgotten. I wish politics was like that.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Gael! You are so great and so cute! Did you and Rodrigo de la Serna become friends during the making of "The Motorcycle Diaries?" I know you are good friends with Diego Luna. Did you become friends on the set of "Y Tu Mama Tambien"?

Gael Garcia Bernal: Diego I've known since he was a baby. I was a baby, too, but I'm older than him. I'm a few months older than him. I saw him cry many times under my fist. Rodrigo de la Serna and I became really good friends. During the film we also had fight about stupid things like the motorbike, but friendship is like that.


Austin, Tex.: I was talking to some friends the other day, and we agreed that one of the best things about "Amores perros" and "Y tu mamá también" was the dialogue. I think I read a comment from you or one of your colleagues about wanting to make movies "en chilango."

Now you're playing an Argentine and a Spaniard. Two very different and identifiable accents in Spanish, and both very different from Mexican Spanish. (I don't think either Argentines or Spaniards go around calling people "güey.")

Was it hard to do the different accents? Did you have help? Do you think you did a convincing job?

Gael Garcia Bernal: Yeah, I had help in both films. Definitely the Argentinian accent is way closer to the way I speak, which in a sense is a good thing but also it's dangerous because you can fall back into the way you speak very easily. With a Spanish accent it's much more characterizable accent, you characterize it more. In that sense, it's freer, but it's way more specific. I can't say if I did a good job, see the movies to see if I did.


Valencia, Spain: What do you think of the TV in your country?

Gael Garcia Bernal: It's horrendous. They treat people like idiots, but what saves it is that I know there are people trying to change it, drastically. Mexican TV and Mexican politics talk to people like idiots, and we are not.


Minneapolis, Minn.: I would just like to thank you for always making quality movies that allow people like me to learn more about the rest of the Americas without stereotypes. It seems you have had the ability to play many different levels of people from this area. I was wondering what you would like to see happen in this part of the world politically in the future?

Gael Garcia Bernal: I would love to see a real representation that deals with the urgent issues that in Latin America we need to solve. But I'm confident that people will be the vehicle for this to happen, but not the government or at least not this government. Something is happening, though, and we will start to see this awakening of conscience paying off its dividends.


San salvador, El Salvador: Gael: Was it hard to play angel in La Mala Educacion? What things did you do to get into that character?

Gael Garcia Bernal: It was hard. We prepared for another four months and, apart from the Spanish accent and all the luma, which is feather, which is how Pedro calls the mannerisms you have to develop. It's a very intense script and indeed it was difficult, but I had fun with it.


Washington, D.C.: Saw the film while I was in Brazil, and thought it was truly wonderful. I'm a development professional who works on Latin America and it really refocused me on the people we are supposed to be helping, not the organizational infighting.

A quick question, though: Did you shoot on location in all the various countries or did one country stand in for all the others?

Gael Garcia Bernal: No, we shot in Argentina, Chile and Peru. And I'm glad that it resonated like that for you because if I can describe overall how this film changed me, it reaffirmed my priorities as well.


London, U.K.: I have very rarely had images from a movie revolve in my mind weeks after having seen the movie. Your movie does this and is definitely one of the best this year.

However, do you think this movie represents a balanced view of Che?

Most of my friends don't really know what he stood for and why he did what he did. They were apprehensive in watching the movie because they see him only as an admirer of Stalin and as a ruthless military leader. He was also a great believer in summary justice and the firing squad.

Doesn't the movie refrain from showing the negative aspects of his personality?

Gael Garcia Bernal: If your friends don't know who he was and what he stood for, that definitely leads to demonization of the character that the West or at least the rich have done over the years. I would have hoped that the film inspires them or sparks a curiosity for them to investigate who this person was and then afterwards, even with more stronger arguments, be able to dislike him if that's what they want. But I doubt they will because he wasn't an admirer of Stalin. Of the country, he was. He fought against the imperialists. Not a specific kind of imperialism but any imperialism. Yes, he was a supporter of the firing squad and also he was a supporter of the armed insurgency and that is something I definitely don't agree with, but it was in a very specific time in Latin America where somehow he understood that that was the only way out.


Washington, D.C.: Gael,

Thank you for bringing such interesting characters to life. My question is: Do you have a favorite American film?


Gael Garcia Bernal: I have many. And thank you so much for saying that. "Taxi Driver," "The Godfather," "Midnight Cowboy," just to mention a few.
Thanks a lot for doing this cybernetic exercise. I'm really bad at it and wish we could have a much more colloquial conversation but IBM and Mac cannot permit us. Through this cold keyboard I send you a huge kiss, lots of love, lots of strength and I hope that these films inspire you the same way they inspired all the people that did the films.
Love, love, love, love,


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