As he’s about to take some respite from an insatiable career to devote himself more intensively to parenthood, Isak Férriz (Andorra, 1979) premiere “Occidente” back-to-back with “Libertad”, while wrapping up filming of the Movistar+ series “Feria”. In “Occidente”, Jorge Acebo Canedo’s debut feature, the actor relocates to a fascinating dystopian world, the setting for one of the most independent, personal and radical films currently out there. We discuss the movie, what inspires him as an actor and some of his favorite characters. That,… and treats.

On March 18 you premiered “Occidente”, by Jorge Acebo Canedo. A very special film, and a departure from the conventional. Was it the radicalism and the character that drew you in?

Yes, I met Jorge many years ago, when he was still a student at the now defunct Centre d’Estudis Cinematogràfics de Catalunya (CECC). Even back then, he was already showing signs of being a radical. Together, Jorge and I devoured the entire filmography of John Cassavetes, for example. He’s a free, immemorial spirit who, in “Occidente“, commits to a different type of narrative about truly fascinating issues like losing your memories and awareness of where we come from. How art influences our lives.

Your character is, so curt, so business-like and tough on the protagonist, always following orders from his superiors, speaking in a somewhat artificial way and spits out some really bizarre lines. Was he tough to play?

That was one of the areas I had to work on with Jorge, because it’s difficult for an actor to interpret dialogue so far removed from what we’d call natural. But we got there. Within this dystopian world where the characters of Francesc Garrido and Paula Bertolín move, I’m a pawn of the System, a man who lives by the ‘ours is not the reason why’ standard, and just does what he’s ordered to. Mainly due to his environment and the aesthetics, and how he portrays society, you might compare “Occidente” with “Fahrenheit 451” (1966), by François Truffaut, or “Alphaville” (1965), by Jean- Luc Godard.

In other words, “Occidente” audiences shouldn’t expect to see a normal, conventional movie. And they’ll also have to shoulder their part, get involved in what they see and hear.

And that’s a positive. Personally, I’ve been bored with blockbusters for a while now. Superhero cinema is damaging to audiences. What Jorge is proposing is not at all friendly. It’s coarse and rough; it’s uncomfortable and chewed up. Forgive the cliché, but Jorge takes audiences out of their comfort zone. I think it’s interesting to give viewers food for thought.

Isak Férriz and Luis Callejo en ‘Libertad’, by Enrique Urbizu.

Shortly after the premiere of “Occidente”, you’ll also be releasing “Libertad“, by Enrique Urbizu on March 26 in a dual format: on film, in theaters, and serialized on Movistar +. This is your second time filming with Urbizu, after the series “Giants” (Movistar +), you guys are a fully-fledged professional love affair.

And here’s to a long-lasting affair! Long may it live! I couldn’t be more grateful to Enrique because he’s changed my career. On top of that, he has a great personality, something rare in these times. He’s not a follower of any particular style trend and he works at an entirely different pace compared with other filmmakers. He can shoot 20 minutes without dialogue in one single episode. We connected straight off the bat, and watching him work is like attending a master class, and he’s kind and generous… He doesn’t like rehearsing dialogues, and he explains a lot about what inspires the characters, and this makes you really focus and try to nail your dialogue first time, so you don’t have to repeat takes. It’s a very Zen relationship. Daniel, my character in “Giants”, was a treat. After each day of shooting, I had a hard time letting go of Daniel. He was a guy who didn’t respect authority and who was capable of anything. A total nutjob.

In your (first crack at) youth, you appeared in “Al salir de clase” (Telecinco), “Compañeros” (Antena 3) and “Physics or Chemistry” (Antena 3). Wow, in all the mythical teen series of that time. I couldn’t put it better, but was that a good school?

Well yes, it was a great learning experience. Soaps are also a great school. Imagine what it is like to have 40 pages of dialogue in “Bandolera” (Antena 3) every day. That gives you some amazing tools as an actor.

You just mentioned “Bandolera”, but, careful, because you’ve also done the rounds with “Serrallonga” (TV3) and “Red Eagle” (TVE), and now you’re premiering “Libertad”, a series set in the 19th century, jam-packed with bandits where you play Aceituno. Are you the new Curro Jiménez (famous Spanish highway bandit)?

(Laughs), I like period stories because they allow you to travel back in time and read and investigate what happened then. Also, I like to shoot outdoors and with horses. It’s a dream come true for any actor. I love wrapping up a shoot all filthy and sweaty and jumping in the shower. I have a real hands-on, physical understanding of acting.

In 2011, you took a break to reflect on your career and rethink. What happened?

I had just turned 30 and there was a type of series I no longer felt like doing. From then on, I said no to several television projects that just didn’t say anything to me, I left Madrid and returned to Barcelona, where I had started out. I went back to work in the theater, a medium I find much more fulfilling. The death of a close friend also played a part in this turnaround. And luckily, juicy characters began to land on my desk. For example, one episode of an US series shot in South Africa. I started saying no to things that didn’t make me happy. I discovered that personal happiness overrides financial and professional happiness. And I’m not judging other with this. Each to their own…

Isak Férriz and Maria Ribera in ‘The Distances’ by Elena Trapé.

Recently, we have seen you on Netflix’s “Below Zero”. The director, Lluís Quílez, told me that you did the action scenes yourself. But then, that’s to be expected, you’re into taking risk.

They weren’t that difficult either! On the other hand, to compensate for all that action, in “Below Zero” I had a few scenes where I was supposed to be playing dead. I like doing action scenes when I can, working and rehearsing them with the stuntmen. Yes, there was this one scene where I was driving flat out, but don’t forget that I’m from Andorra, and the Andorrans love to hit the gas… swerving all over the place.

In 2018, a rarity, a gem falls into your lap: “The Distances”, the second film by director Elena Trapé, which you shot in Berlin. A journey in every sense of the word.

That was a gift. We had a great time in Berlin. Elena liked the idea of suggesting I play the character of one of Miki Esparbé’s friends. A role that was at the exact opposite extreme of what I’d been offered up to then. Guille is a guy who, before you even meet him, you don’t like him. Here’s an anecdote from the shoot, while filming I came down with a horrific stomach bug and once recovered and back to Barcelona, I lassoed “The Distances” with “Occidente” and “Giants”.

You also describe, Martin, the character you played in the series “Cites” (TV3, 2015-2016) as a ‘treat’. This guy covered in tattoos, trying to play the tough guy, but, later, he’s all love, towards his potential new partner, played by Bea Segura, and towards his daughter, who was played by Noa Fontanals.

Yes, Martín was a real treat, truly well-constructed at the script level. It was very cool to interpret it, because, in addition, it allowed me to reunite with Bea Segura, who I’d worked with in “Serrallonga”, and to be under the orders of Pau Freixas, a director who likes to play around with the actors. With both him and Bea, it was like playing table tennis, until we found the right pace. I also remember Martín’s tattoos, and spending close to five hours in makeup each day, with Natalia, who was the creator of the tattoos herself. She tattooed some original designs on me. Thanks to “Quotes”, I found out that tattoos are copyrighted, and you cannot appear on the screen with a registered tattoo. Unless you pay, of course.

Lluís Quílez says that the goal of a director is to tell stories. According to you, what actors do is to explain things. You’re both saying pretty much the same, right?

Actors have to be the channel for a story the director wants to tell. And this has been my driving force since I started, and suddenly I’m reminded of when I was a high school student in Andorra who one day received a visit from a theater company in class. What a discovery for me! I wanted to do what they did: go from town to town, telling stories.

Isak Férriz in ‘Below Zero’, by Lluís Quílez.

Telling stories and, if you can find the right accomplices, ac the mick. ‘Acting the mick’ is another of your fetish expressions.

I love doing the rogue during breaks from filming. There are so many hours waiting and, if you’re lucky enough to encounter other rogues like Miki Esparbé, you’ll have a blast. Miki’s plays it like a boss, acting the mick I mean. He has a million tricks up his sleeve. I love being with the film crew and seeing how everything works. How they set up and then strike a set.

By the way, when was the last time you featured in a movie or series clean-shaven? You’ve either got a cookie duster, a full-blown beard or sideburns. Or all at once.

You’re right. I couldn’t tell the last time I shaved for a role. Having so much hair on your face gives a lot of play.

The review in ‘Fotogramas’ of “La mujer ilegal” (2020), by Ramon Térmens, praised your interpretation. Do you read the reviews? Do you listen to them?

When someone sends them to me, I do read them, but I don’t look for them. I’m not a big fan of either praise or negative reviews. I don’t go nuts over good or bad reviews, although I recognize that, if they are constructive, I’m interested.

We haven’t yet talked about Andorra, where you’ve worked with one the country’s budding young talents, director Àlvaro Rodríguez Areny. Specifically, in his short films, “Wolves” (2016) and “Le Blizzard” (2019).

And he’s just finished shooting another great one. Àlvaro’s a really humble guy and film buff. He likes genre cinema and he’s in no rush to make it big. Of course, I haven’t seen him take one false step, or a step backwards. Àlvaro is part of a new generation of filmmakers who are trying to create a media and entertainment industry in Andorra, a place full of wonderful unspoiled locations for filming, and it’s right next-door to us.

Bea Segura and Isak Férriz in ‘Cites’.

Well, maybe they should appoint you Andorran ambassador for media and entertainment. You’re not afraid to associate your name with a quality brand. In fact, you recently starred in a beer commercial.

Yes, for Damm Lemon, and here’s to more offers like that one. We shot the spot in early July last year, in the midst of a pandemic, and it was right up my street, as I’m the father of a 2-year-old bambino.

You’re currently shooting a Netflix series, “Feria”. But this time, you’re on the right side of the law.

I play a paramilitary cop who has to handle a case in which 23 people have died. And he’s in over his head, the poor man, drab but with a good heart, on his own with all that responsibility! I’ll finish “Feria” at the end of the month and, for now, I’m taking a break. My partner, who’s also a thespian, just got a job, so we’re take turns caring for our wain.

So, if Scorsese calls you now, which is what you want, will Maestro have to wait?

Unfortunately, Scorsese must have lost my number… When they ask me which filmmaker I’d love to work with, I always say that, rather than a name, I’m looking for a script, an exciting project. And, in the case of Enrique Urbizu, anything. I say yes without even reading the script. Well, if Denis Villeneuve or David Fincher call, probably wouldn’t think twice on that one either.

Pere Vall
Pere Vall. Journalist covering the world of cultural and entertainment in general, specialized in cinema. Pere is a regular contributor to Time Out, Ara, RNE and Catalunya Ràdio, and was editor-in-chief of the magazine Fotogramas in Barcelona for more than 20 years. A fan of Fellini, of good, regular and bad horror movies, and of humor and comedy in general. As a child, he wanted to look like Alain Delon, and has ended with a certain resemblance to Chicho Ibáñez Serrador. Not that he’s complaining though.