In the space of a few weeks, Alex Brendemühl (Barcelona, 1972) has released two films: “The Offering”, by Ventura Durall, and “Akelarre”, by Pablo Agüero. We talked to Alex about the latter, where he has once again surprised us with one of his specialties: playing the evil character … always bringing something fresh to the table, new details and nuances. With the premiere of Denise Duncan’s play “El combat del segle” at the Beckett theater in Barcelona, the actor reviews his career, celebrates filmmakers who have allowed him to grow professionally and comments on the current social situation.
A few years ago, I asked Austrian actor Christoph Waltz what he thought about being offered so many evil characters. And he got angry! He almost insulted me. Are you going to get annoyed if I ask you the same question?
(Alex laughs) That’s a funny story! I can’t get angry because I have great fun playing the baddie, although I don’t know what they saw in me to give me this kind of role. Every time they offer me a villain, I try to bring something fresh to the table, and to find innovative nuances and colors. In the case of “Akelarre”, he’s a fairy tale villain, in general outlines. He’s a manipulator close to delirium who abuses his power. Judge Rostegui actually existed, and the screenplay is based on his own writings, treatises on how to detect witchcraft. This is a story that took place four centuries ago, but it still has very current connotations.
Reviewing your filmography, do you accept the label of ‘cult actor’?
I wish the sum of the projects they offer me would make me a cult actor, as you say. It would be brilliant! I try to approach each character I’m offered with honesty and curiosity.
In real life, are you more fun and comedy-loving than your fictional characters?
Yes, and I adore comedy. It’s a genre in which I feel extremely comfortable. In fact, drama and comedy are remarkably similar, they almost overlap. The Rostegui of “Akelarre” has many comical moments: despite being a man of unquestionable cruelty and the type of person whose actions cannot be defended, Rostegui is such an extreme exaggeration that he brings a smile to audiences faces.
Producer and director Lluís Miñarro has just won the Pepón Coromina Prize awarded by the Catalan Film Academy. You worked under him on “Falling Star” (2014). Does our entertainment and media industry need more figures like Miñarro?
Of course! Miñarro is a sharp shooter who has done so much for our industry and to discover new, courageous, and provocative authors. Some filmmakers who, otherwise, would not have found a platform to make their works visible. Unfortunately, because the situation is what it is, now he can only dedicate himself to directing, and has put production aside.
In “Falling Star”, you played King Amadeo of Savoy. In “The Consul of Sodom” (2009), you played Juan Marsé. In “The German Doctor” (2013), Josef Mengele. Is it easier to get under the skin of a fictional character than it is a real one?
When I play a character from real life, I start with the information I have about them and dive into their biography, but from there on, my subjectivity comes into play. I don’t like the biopics that simply ask you for a simple physical imitation of the character. I prefer to get inside the soul of these historical figures, and work from there.
Viggo Mortensen has just released his first film as director, “Falling”. Can you see yourself filming together at some point in the future?
I really admire him as an actor, he’s had an impeccable career that he has approached in an interesting way. I identify a lot with Viggo Mortensen, and I would love if, in a movie, we could be brothers, for example. Can you imagine?
You have filmed three short films as a director. What about the shorts that don’t make it on the circuit subsequently, what happens with them?
My first short, “Rumbo a peor” (2009), appeared at the Cannes Film Festival, and with it we traveled to several festivals and even premiered in some cinemas. After that, I haven’t had as much luck. The short-film circuit in Spain is limited, completely different from what happens in Australia or France. Over about ten years, I’ve made three shorts, which have helped me learn to direct and to consider everything that happens on a set. The most positive thing about those three shoots is that we had total freedom, because we worked with friends and I financed the projects myself. I’ve been trying to arrange to direct a feature for a long time.
On one of your latest releases “The Offering”, where you work with director Ventura Durall again, after having already filmed “Las 2 vida de Andrés Rabadán” (2008). And another filmmaker you have worked with twice is Jaime Rosales. First, in “The Hours of the Day” (2003), and a couple of years ago, in “Petra”. What kind of creator is Rosales?
Jaime and I have known each other for a long time, and he’s left his mark on me… He’s demanding, precise and meticulous, and he approaches his work with a surgical precision. His cinema is personal and unique, and he extrapolates this to the ultimate creative bottom line. He’s interested in directing actors and tends to bring out our natural creativity. He often works without a script, but rather sets up the scene for you to unfold it. Jaime doesn’t allow you to get stuck in a rut or fall back on your tics as an actor. And this gives you the opportunity to surprise yourself. Sometimes I meet directors who say: “I’d like you to do what you did in ‘The Hours of the Day’ or ‘In the city'”. And that bores me. The actor’s job involves getting you out of your center of gravity and taking risks.
Has any other filmmaker invited you to reinvent yourself?
Roger Gual (“Remake”, “7 years”), who always offers me the character in his film that I don’t want. I prefer directors who put me in a place where I’m uncomfortable.
In recent years you have shot several series in France and Germany, but not in Spain. Weren’t you offered anything you found attractive?
I’ve been doing TV for about ten years between France and Germany, which has given me the opportunity to disappear from here for a time and give audiences a break. Working abroad allows me to get in touch with new directors and casting directors, who demand different things from me. On television in those two countries I’ve been able to play other roles from what I usually do. I’m open to Spanish television projects. I don’t think there is any difference between cinema and television: in both media it’s about seeking the truth when explaining a story. The only difference is the way you see the result: in a movie theater or on a screen at home.
From the profound and contemplative perspective of those eyes that are so powerful on-screen, what’s your take on the future of our society?
We are going through some tough times, but I’m optimistic. It breaks my heart every time I see my kids with masks on the street or going to school. It’ll be difficult to recover certain rights, freedoms, and privileges that we had before the pandemic, but we will prevail. And that will happen much earlier than we think, especially if we listen more to nature and the earth that speaks to us.