Goya’s Ghosts: Bardem and Natlaie Portman

Javier Bardem

With KanZaman on board, and location scouts being arranged and organized, Forman and Zaentz addressed the crucial task of casting. From the start Forman and Zaentz were eager to have Javier Bardem appear in the film, convinced he would be perfect for the role of Goya. Bardem, who was nominated for an Oscar in 2002 for his role as the Cuban poet, novelist and dissident Reinaldo Arenas in Julian Schnabels “Before Night Falls,” is one of Spains most popular, charismatic and accomplished young actors.

Javier is definitely without question one of the major screen actors working today, Zaentz says. In the beginning, we pictured him as Goya, and we made plans to meet in the Ritz Hotel across from the Prado. We were thrilled to see him in the lobby, even happier when he walked up and said, I want to make a movie with you guys! I put my hand out quickly and said, We want to make a picture with you. Bardem recalls the incident with pleasure.

When my agent called and said Milos Forman and Saul Zaentz wanted to meet me I thought it was a joke at first. But when I met them I understood it was real, and I was thrilled. And of course, because Im Spanish, I assumed Id be playing the role of Goya. It seemed the natural thing. Unknown to Bardem, the conception of the character of Goya was changing in the script. The fictional character Lorenzo, not Goya, had emerged now as the films protagonist.

We all understood after many discussions that our story wouldnt work with Goya as the main character, Zaentz says. He was all important and crucial to the story. But he wasnt the main protagonist. Father Lorenzo was the role he and Forman wanted Javier Bardem to play.

When several days later Javier asked us how the film was going, we told him something had come up that was going to affect his part but not do anything at all to the impact he would make in the film, Zaentz says. He was intrigued. But instead of overexplaining what we wanted, we said we would send him the completed script so he could see for himself the changes and understand the logic of why we thought he should play Father Lorenzo.

Within hours of reading the script, Bardem phoned Forman and Zaentz with his reaction. Lorenzo has my heart, he said, and he agreed to play the role. The role of Lorenzo fascinated the actor. I understand its a challenge not to be playing the character people expect. Its an even greater challenge playing Lorenzo. Hes a man of hard and strong beliefs. I would call him a fanatic. But hes not a villain, not a mad guy, just a man of passion, sometimes uncontrollable.

Casting the role of Goya came next and presented the filmmakers with a particular challenge: Forman believed that the actor who was going to play Goya needed one attribute above all. I didnt want the actor playing Goya to be someone recognizable, the director says. For the fictitious characters, Lorenzo, Ines, it didnt matter to me if a famous face fills the role. But Goya, Goya will come out of nowhere. Unexpected. We shouldnt recognize him from anywhere else.

Stellan Skarsgaard

I remember that Milos and I were returning from Europe to America by plane, Zaentz says. Milos was watching a movie, not a good one, one of the Exorcist installments, when he turned to me and said, Theres our Goya. And I said, Where Milos pointed to the screen and to Stellan Skarsgard who was a lead in the film. I know him, I told Milos. He had a role in THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING which I produced. I thought it was a great idea. A Swede, Stellan Skarsgard is best known to US audiences for his roles in GOOD WILL HUNTING and BREAKING THE WAVES, but he is definitely not a household name.

Skarsgard is the kind of actor you remember not as Stellan Skarsgard but as the character he plays in each particular film, Zaentz says. Hes a marvelous actor. Skarsgard was delighted to be approached for the part. Im physically different from Goya, Skarsgard says. But of course its not Goya as he was in real life that were depicting. This is fiction film.

Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman, Golden Globe winner and Oscar nominee for Mike Nichols CLOSER, was cast in the role of Ines Bilbatua, Goyas youthful muse. Strange to say, Forman wanted the young star for the role without knowing exactly who she was.

I didnt know Natalie Portman at all, Forman says. I had bought a copy of Vogue or a similar fashion magazine and was reading it to relax when I was struck by the photo of the young woman on the cover who turned out to be Natalie. And as Im looking at it, I open a book about Goyas last painting in Bordeaux called A Milkmaid in Bordeaux, and I see they are the same face.

So I started to make inquiries about the qualities of this actress and I saw how
much people like her. And then I saw the film CLOSER and saw how good she is and knew that I wanted her. Her range is amazing, big, surprising, and that was very important here. Basically she plays three different characters in the film.

When I went to Paris to meet with Milos and Jean-Claude, I was surprised to discover that they wanted me in the film at first not because theyd seen my work but because the saw a photo of me and decided I looked like a young woman in some of the paintings, Portman says.

I was interested and intrigued to meet them, and a little intimated, too, because I love Miloss films. I was ready to read or test for the role, whatever they wanted. When they offered the part I was very excited. Ines figures in a part of history I never knew about. It was something terribly different from what Id done before.

Rest of Cast

Randy Quaid, who recently appeared in Ang Lees Academy Award winning “Brokeback Mountain,” co-stars as King Carlos IV of Spain.

The distinguished French/English actor Michael Lonsdale was signed to play the role of the Grand Inquisitor. Lonsdales notable career includes films by Fred Zinnemann (“Day of the Jackal”), Francois Truffaut (“Stolen Kisses”), Louis Malle (“Murmer of the Heart”), and most recently Steven Spielberg (“Munich”.

Other key roles were filled by some of Spains most gifted actors, including Jose Luis Gomez (THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY), Mabel Rivera (“Sea Inside”), Raymond Guerra, Blanca Portilla (“Volver”), Unax Ugalde, and many others.