In between Taraji P. Henson and Kendrick Lamar, beloved Mexican film actor Gael García Bernal found his spot on this year’s Time 100—an annual list that highlights the 100 most influential people in the world. Bernal wasn’t exalted purely because of his daring work in front of the camera (see: the films of Pedro Almodóvar or Amazon Studio’s web TV series, Mozart in the Jungle).
For years, Bernal has been politically and socially outspoken—especially on issues of immigration. His commitment to this subject shows in Jonás Cuarón’s latest film, Desierto, a pulse-pounding thriller in which Bernal plays a Mexican man attempting to cross the US border. The reason he’s risking his life to come to America? A young son eagerly awaiting his father. Here, Bernal discusses the timeliness of his latest project, Trump’s outlandish border wall and why he continues to come back to acting, year after year.
THE RED BULLETIN: Your mother and father are both actors. At an early age, did it feel like you could do something other than acting?
Gael García Bernal: Yeah, because movies was actually something I didn’t even see as a possibility. Mexico had a big, huge film industry in the 1930s, ’40s, ’50s—many films were made—but then there was a slump for many years. In the ’80s, there were very few films being done and nobody saw them anyway. That’s why I never thought about doing films. It was never a possibility. Plus, I wanted to do many different things all the time. Really, being an actor was a different world altogether.
What else did you want to do?
I started to study Philosophy at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, but I think I accepted the fact of becoming a professional actor when I was filming Y Tu Mamá También. At that point I said, “Okay, this is going to be my job.”
Were you nervous going into that project with Pedro Almodóvar?
Nervous? No. I wasn’t particularly nervous. There are more things to be nervous about. I think this is the game of being an actor. It’s like playing soccer out in the streets. You get excited. You get nervous-excited, but not afraid, you know?
What are you afraid about?
What about the people who say climate change is a hoax?
I haven’t met anybody who has said that.
You’ve never heard of this?
No! I haven’t met anyone like that.
Ah. Well, Desierto is being billed as a “border patrol” thriller—which, naturally, brings to mind the talk of Trump’s Great Wall that he’d like to build.
It’s a hurtful moment nowadays—to listen to that rhetoric being so accepted. That there is a whole political—well, it cannot even be called political—movement that is based upon the demonization and the criminalization of other people. You just have to look at history to see all the disaster that that has caused. This dehumanization is something that can’t keep on going. I hope there will be a much more positive, comprehensive, benign conversation about international immigration. Also, accepting the fact that it [immigration] is something that naturally needs to happen in order for the world to keep on turning. Here—and all over the world—we are responsible for not keeping silent. To actually talk about it from a grand-scale.
In thinking about grand-scale, you have a pretty sizable audience. People invested in you and your work. Do you feel a responsibility or obligation to advocate for your political beliefs?
I feel a normal angst of a person, you know? Wanting to do something to change things or to talk about them. To add to the conversation. There is something to the responsibility, because I’m doing what I like. I have the good fortune of doing what I like.
At the core of it, what it is about acting that you keep coming back to?
It’s something like the analogy of playing soccer in the streets. Half of me is consciously interested and enjoys this. I can talk about why I enjoy this. But there’s another half that is just a natural thing, you know? It’s the game. It’s a place where I can satisfy some kind of curiosity and actually add even more questions to the mix. On another level as well, I enjoy the possibility of having many different lives in one life.