There’s always more than one good reason for a chat with Miki Esparbé (Manresa, 1983). The actor has just presented the short film he produced, “What Is Love“, at the Malaga Film Festival, “Perdiendo el Este“, the comedy he appears in is still running in theatres, he’s one of the stars of the series “Gente hablar” (Flooxer/Atresplayer) and will soon premiere the TV series “Brigada Costa del Sol” (Telecinco/Netflix). So, where to start?
At the same time as promoting “What Is Love”, you’re also involved in a thousand other projects. Could you just tell us about 999 of them…?
That’s rubbish, I’m not doing that many things!
A friend of mine told me that “Miki Esparbé is the José Sacristán of the 21st century. The man who does everything, and does it well.
You know what it is, I’m lucky to have a job in this sector of ours that’s so damn complicated and so unpredictable, and where I have so many friends and really talented friends, but who aren’t always working on a project. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to string one project to the next over the past few years, but I know this isn’t going to last. One day you’re run off your feet and then suddenly, the next day you’re sitting there watching the paint dry.
Let’s start with the most recent Project. How did “What Is Love” come about?
Producer Paco Caballero and I have a very close relationship, and we’d filmed the shorts “Doble check” and “Cheque polvo” together. On top of that, we’re also the best of friends. And, on top of THAT, we’ve just released “Perdiendo el Este” in theaters, so it’s like having a professional brother and a life brother all in one. Luckily, we’re as thick as thieves when it comes to working together. In fact, when the “What Is Love” project came about we were actually living in the same building: I was living on the mezzanine floor and he was on the first floor. So, one day I pop up to see him, and I ask him: “What are you doing?” And he replies: “I just wrote a short film”. And I ask him, “Who’s your lead?” and he says, “Well, if you want to do it …”. So, basically, the idea came about after Paco’s break up after a seven-year relationship. The storyline is inspired by something he experienced with his ex-girlfriend: role-playing as if they were strangers in an effort to rekindle the relationship. At first, it wasn’t designed to be a one-shot sequence, but we soon realized it’d be the best way to explain it. Because this is their last chance and you can watch that in real time. There was no need for cutting. As a spectator, this one-shot sequence makes you empathize more with the characters and the situation, it gives you a more intense experience. From the very beginning, we could both clearly see that Verónica Echegui was the best option as my co-star. Thankfully, Escándalo Films and Lobo Kane also came in on the production together with Doble Check. And Paco and I were able to make the short film we wanted.
You’ve reappeared with Echegui in another episode of the Flooxer/Atresplayer series “Gente hablando”. In “What Is Love”, you’re also an executive producer. What exactly does an executive producer do?
The executive producer is the one who ends up deciding what type of product is made and how it is made. And, in this case, it’s been so easy to work with Paco because we’re so familiar with each other’s’ criteria and outlook.
How many takes did you have to do of the sequence shot?
In all, six. The best take is the last one. It wasn’t easy. I’d never done such a long sequence shot. It was a hell of an adventure. I know people always say the same but, we were lucky to be surrounded by such an amazing technical crew. It was interesting to see that because we were telling such a universal story, something that touches everyone in one way or another, the crew were so involved and committed to the project.
Let’s talk about your short movies as director “El palo”, “Niña de papá” and “Cariño”.
I shit myself when people call me “director”!
Ah, so you’re not a director?
Wow, let’s see, I’m curious about the sector. I like to investigate, to know my work from another perspective, to get involved from a different standpoint. That’s also why I usually write what I direct, at least I have done up until now. In the long run, I’d love to direct a project longer than three and a half minutes, which is the most a short of mine has lasted. If the first short film I shot, “El palo“, consisted of a sequence shot with a mobile phone, it was because I wouldn’t have dared recruit an entire filming crew. With the second, “Niña de papá“, I dared. And I co-produced “Cariño” with Ricardo Gómez. If I even mention shooting a feature film, I whisper it. Right now, coordinating everything and taking the reins for a full-length is still a little out of my reach.
Do you like being called a comedian?
Yes, in part I consider myself a comedian. I’m no fan of labels and in our industry, there’s an idea that comedians can only do comedy. I associate it with the ability you have to work in a genre that, fortunately, is a complex one for those who know how to appreciate it, and that’s hugely enriching. To me, doing comedy gives me life. I hope I never stop, and I certainly never want to stop doing comedy. I consider myself an actor who tries to defend a role with the same level of commitment regardless of whether it’s comedy or drama, without judging and as sincerely as I possibly can.
We’re all huge fans of comedy. We need comedians.
Carmen Machi once told me, “If you want to find a good drama actor, take a comedy actor”. Carmen herself or Javier Cámara are perfect examples of this.
Yolanda Ramos too.
What Yolanda Ramos does in the TV3 series “Benvinguts a la família” is pure showmanship, She’s incredible. You could already see how brilliant she was in Paco León’s “Carmina y Amén“.
That conversation with Carmina Barrios on the sofa…
Exactly! Yolanda is fantastic. I’m a huge fan. Holy cow!
You comedians also fulfil a social function.
I agree. The other day I was reading a Twitter thread from a screenwriter I really admire, Tomàs Fuentes, and he begins like this: “I make comedy out of what scares me”.
Pedro Almodóvar has just released ‘Pain & Glory’. Can you see yourself in one of his movies? As an Almodóvar guy?
I wish! Someday I’d like to work with him, as with other filmmakers such as Carla Simón, Carlos Vermut, Cesc Gay or Elena Martín. The first comedy I remember seeing at home, with the whole family laughing, was “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown“.
In “Las distancias”, in theory, you’re the star. But then, there’s a twist in the plot and suddenly you’re a secondary character who hardly appears that much, while the rest of the friends were talking non-stop. A complete narrative surprise for the audience of Elena Trapé’s film.
I call him a star in the shade. My character legs it from his home in Berlin, and his friends were forced to think why the hell they had gone there. I only shot eight or nine sessions. The character is easier to understand more for what he doesn’t say than for what he does. And for what his classmates say about him. That ending, with my return, was totally improvised. “Las distancias” has given me such great joy, and it also talks of my generation. It plucks key strings that really affect us. It’s the post-crisis generation.
Another obligatory pit-stop in your career has to be that excellent composition of Ignasi’s character in “El rey tuerto“. First, as a play and then on the big screen. Where does that voice of Ignasi come from, that very particular way of speaking?
Marc Crehuet, the director and author of “El rey tuerto“, told me that he was delighted my character had a speech defect, that he dragged his “R’s”, that he had a stutter or something. Somehow, we depicted him as vulnerable since he was a child. And it’s something that has marked him in elementary, junior, and high school… I ended up proposing the lisp. When I suggested it, of course, I had no idea that I’d have do it for ninety minutes during the theatrical performance. I’m really fond of Ignasi, and people love him too. Poor little guy! You just want to bring him home and feed him soup.
You had already met Crehuet during the TV3 series “Pop ràpid“? What is “Pop ràpid’s” secret to stay fresh even today?
The secret is our desire to do a show here but taking references from some of the foreign shows that left a mark on us, stuff like “The Young Ones” and “Flight of the Conchords“. And, later, Marc’s ability to create this universe in such a small space, on such a tight budget and in that format, a 25-minute comedy show, which was really something new back then. It’s the same format as “After Life” (Netflix) by Ricky Gervais. They characters were a gift from the creative genius of a brain like Marc’s.
Are we adding professions here? You’re also a writer.
Yes, but it’s down to what I was saying earlier, my curiosity. Writing is a creative window to open. I’m a restless soul, and, when I have some free time on my hands between shoots, I like to work on an artistic level on whatever I can. Because I know that writing is not my job, nor my vocation, I allow myself to experiment and give it a whack. I’ve written loads of things that have never left desk drawer. I published a book with Paco Caballero, “Soy tu príncipe azul, pero tú eres daltónica”, edited by La Galera, and now I’m writing the embryo of a script with Marc Artigau, a playwright I really admire. He’s a guy with amazing awareness, and a veritable poet’s soul when it comes to engaging writing.
I recently finished the tour of the play “La importància de ser Frank“, and the next thing I’m doing is a movie at the end of April, which will be shooting until the last week of June. I still haven’t seen “Brigada Costa del Sol“, a Telecinco/Netflix series available shortly. We’ll be back for another run of “La importància de ser Frank” next year, and there’s another offer to do a play but I can’t say anything yet. I feel very fortunate to be able to combine theater, television and cinema. It’s a way to research your craft and to feel fulfilled on a creative level. Every show of “The Importance of Being Frank“, an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s play, which we premiered at the National Theater of Catalonia, is incredibly demanding for an actor. OK, it’s a comedy, but the level of commitment it requires is a real drama. There’s something La La Landish about it, some beautiful choreography. And my classmates sing … and I do what I can. One of the keys to editing success is that we all get along very well, and that the director, David Selvas, really thought things through well when he was putting the cast together.
We’ve spent the entire interview talking about comedy and laughter. But, what makes you cry? What moves you?
That’s a pretty broad one that. I can get teary-eyed watching the most commercial blockbuster comedy, you know? If it plucks at my heart strings, they get plucked. And when it comes to major dramas, I’ll be the first one with the tissues out. The other day I cried watching a scene from “Mira lo que has hecho” (Movistar +), the series by Berto Romero. I cry really easily, yes.
Have you thought about what you’d like on your tombstone?
Holy cow! Hey, what if they put just THAT on my gravestone? “Holy cow!” Ha, ha … Maybe I’d have something like “He could have done better, but he didn’t know how”. That’s not too bad, is it? I’ll make a note of that.
Were you expecting to be as busy professionally as you’ve been in the past few years?
You must be joking! No way! I didn’t expect it at all. The other day, someone who I can’t remember right now, told me that I’ve already done 15 movies, and it blew me away! Obviously, you don’t have the same volume of work in every project. I’ve done movies where my appearance was merely testimonial, just watch “El camino más largo para volver a casa” by Sergi Pérez.