The films of director Carlos Vermut (Diamond Flash, Magical Girl, Quién te cantará) are full of characters who suffer, who pursue happiness, who hurt others and who hurt themselves. Mantícore, which has just been released and stays true to this formula, is about the tortured existence of Julián, a video game designer played by Nacho Sánchez (Ávila, 1992). The actor tells us how he got under the skin of this introverted, fragile man overwhelmed by existential angst. Oh, and by the way, a manticore is a mythological creature, half animal, half human.
What was your reaction when you read the screenplay for Manticore? Was it along the lines of, “Wow, that’s really weird,” but in the best sense of the word?
Actually I didn’t find it that strange, but it did have a big impact on me. As soon as I finished reading it, I told my partner all about it, from start to finish. It’s a very brave script.
In reviews of the film there are many different theories about what happens to your character, Julián, and also about his final solution. But let’s avoid any spoilers…
Yes, because the story that Carlos has written leaves room for everyone to interpret it in their own way. It’s a film full of silences and that ensures the viewer stays engaged. It values the intelligence of the public.
I see Manticore as the tragic story of a boy who wants a simple, regular life and to be in a romantic relationship, like out of a romantic comedy… but things get a bit out of hand.
It’s a little like that, but it’s not a romantic comedy either. It straddles different genres and tones. It’s like in our real lives, we all have dark fantasies even if we aspire to lead a more orthodox, quiet life.
Is Julián a character that forced you to go beyond learning lines to working with silences, eye gazes, and your physicality?
Yes, it’s the project in which I am on the screen the longest and in which I speak the least. Actually, as an actor, I prefer to listen than to talk, and Manticore gave me the opportunity to put that into practice. Carlos told me I shouldn’t do anything in particular during Julián’s silences, so viewers can draw their own conclusions about what he might be thinking.
What’s it like to work with Carlos Vermut ? After the rehearsals and once on set, does he give you a free hand but then later give you a few small pointers?
Carlos is meticulous, very meticulous. And he really likes working with his actors, devoting a lot of time to rehearsal. When you start shooting a scene with Carlos, you do the first take as you’ve discussed with him and then he shakes things up a bit, adding some final details, depending on whether he’s happy with what you’ve done or not. And if something doesn’t quite work in a sequence, it’s like there’s a sensor in his head that alerts him to it. As Carlos comes from the world of comics, he has the whole film sketched out in his mind before he even starts shooting. And some scenes are easy to film and others less so, and they’re the ones in which we have to get our hands dirty.
Were you already familiar with Carlos’s films?
Yes, and I liked them a lot.
In a media and entertainment industry where it’s often the accessible, commercial and easily digestible that win the awards and get the backing, is Carlos Vermut an outsider? Do you wish there were more like him in the movie and TV industry?
Yes, I do, because his films are really personal. Mind you, this year there have been more examples of auteur works in Spanish cinema. Auteur cinema is doing really well, and Carlos has become an inspiration to many of the new filmmakers. He makes a film every four years, only when he feels like it, and without taking on commissions. He’s the real deal.
I really liked Zoe Stein as your partner, or almost your partner, in the film. What an inspired choice by Vermut. And what a big future awaits her.
Zoe has something that continues to amaze me no matter how many times I see Manticore. It seems like she’s not doing anything, and that my character is the one doing everything, but it’s not really the case. On the screen, you can’t help but look at Zoe, and that’s something that even happened to me during filming, in my scenes with her.
The Art of Return (Pedro Collantes, 2020), the series Doctor Portuondo (Carlo Padial, 2021) and, now, Mantícore. That’s quite a collection of complex characters you’ve got under your belt, isn’t it?
I like characters that are a bit strange, they give me a lot of scope and the chance to create something interesting.
I couldn’t miss the chance to congratulate you on that road movie about two brothers that was Diecisiete (Seventeen, 2019), by Daniel Sánchez Arévalo. It was a fantastic ride physically and mentally. Also, calmer mentally. Well, maybe.
It was a film I was really excited to do and it was my first time in a role with so much weight. And like Carlos, Daniel also really likes to work closely with the actors. It’s something he pays a lot of attention to.
So far, you’ve already been nominated for Goya, Forqué and Feroz awards for Mantícore, and no doubt other nominations will soon flow in. What do you think about all that? Do you give it much thought? Or do you just think that whatever’s meant to happen will happen?
All of that has a positive side, and it’s that the people who love you congratulate you. Nevertheless, I try to take any pressure off myself in order to breathe more easily. It’s something that generates a lot of adrenaline, anxiety and nerves for me, though it does boost your morale. I’d prefer not to dwell too much on the topic of awards and nominations.
Coming projects? Maybe something more chilled or even fun? Or are you into the tortured character thing?
Any genre is fine with me. But before thinking in terms of a genre, I think about the team behind a project and whether they’d be interesting to work with. But it’s true that the weird has been calling my name of late and I welcome it. Now I’m in a little theater thing that will premiere in a few months.
Lastly, what have you been asked about the most regarding Manticore? Were some questions hard to answer?
I’ve often been asked if I was scared to make the movie, or if I had any qualms about the story. But rather than a concern, I’ve always seen this film as a treat. I don’t think any actor would have turned down Manticore.