Smiling and effervescent as ever, this year’s Best Supporting Actor Javier Bardem had a good laugh Wednesday night at the premiere of Woody Allen’s great new comedy, “Vicky Christina Barcelona.” The reason? I told him over dinner about rumors in the tabloid press last spring that he’d had a nervous breakdown.
“Do I look like a man who had a nervous breakdown?” Bardem chuckled.
Actually, we should all look so good. But the reason for the rampant gossip had been first, his absence from the Cannes Film Festival, and then dropping out of the movie musical, “Nine,” in which he would have been surrounded by a dozen or so gorgeous, famous actresses.
“I couldn’t come to Cannes because of my nephew’s — how do you say? — Communion. It was a very big deal.”
Listening to this exchange, by the way, were the people sitting at our table in the Hotel Plaza Athenee dining room after “VCB”’s screening. They included rockers Eddie Vedder and Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam, as well as MTV co-founder John Sykes.
“Really? You did that?” said Vedder, impressed.
“Oh yes, I had to,” replied Javier as he and the diners at the table toasted him for playing the artist cad in what will be thought of as the Woody Allen “comeback” film.
Around us, there were plenty of other interesting guests, including Bardem’s “VCB” co-star and, let’s face it, significant other, the breathtaking Penelope Cruz, whose moment of arrival in the film is like a Spanish hurricane. From the moment she appears on screen, Penelope steals the movie and the hearts of everyone in the audience. She’s pretty much a cinch to get an Oscar nomination and win for this hilarious performance.
Oh yes, the other guests: the great Patricia Clarkson, whose small role in “VCB” so impressed Woody that he made her the lead in his next film, plus Red Hot Chili Peppers front man Anthony Kiedis, actress Carla Gugino, Jon Turturro and wife Kathryn Borowitz, “Moonstruck” writer John Patrick Shanley, director Julie Taymor, Nora Ephron and Nick Pileggi, designer Tara Subkoff, rock royalty Ann Dexter Jones (mother of DJ Samantha Ronson) in a dazzling firehouse red Prada dress and of course Harvey Weinstein, who’s releasing “VCB” next Friday, and beautiful wife, Marquesa designer Georgina Chapman, who looked like billion bucks in one of her own frocks.
Missing from the proceedings were Allen himself, and co-star Scarlett Johansson — both in Los Angeles working on projects. They covered the Hollywood premiere of “VCB.”
The “Nine” movie is also a Weinstein project, so when Javier dropped out, the rumors started. And what made it so surprising is that Bardem seemed like the perfect choice to play Guido, the tormented romantic hero of “Nine.” Perfect to us, that is.
“I was exhausted when I got home after the Oscars,” Javier conceded. “I didn’t have a breakdown, but I had been promoting 'No Country for Old Men' for nine months. I would have had to go into right into rehearsals then so we could start shooting this month. And you forget, English is not my first language, and there is all the singing, too.” He shook his head. “It just wasn’t the right time.”
“Nine” goes into production next week with Daniel Day-Lewis as Guido.
“I think he’ll be all right,” Javier said with a laugh of his friend. “After all, he’s the best actor in the world!”
Ironically, Penelope is going to be “Nine,” along with a bevy of actresses including Nicole Kidman, Fergie, Kate Hudson and Judi Dench. She’s going to sing for the first time on screen, and in English, which is also not her first language. I did make the mistake of asking La Cruz if she could do it.
“I’ve been rehearsing for weeks,” she said, narrowing her beautiful black onyx eyes at me. “Yes, I think so. We’ll see, no?”
One thing you can’t ask Penelope about, by the way, is her romance with Bardem. Even though the couple is clearly a … couple, they don’t want their picture taken together. They first met in 1992 when Penelope, making her first movie at age 18, appeared with Javier in a Spanish film called “Jamon, Jamon.”
Unlike the litany of stars who parade their relationships through the tabloids, Penelope is adamant about not sharing more than a fiery pout with the public.
“You know me long enough not to ask,” she said. “It is my life!”
Well, you know what? It adds to the mystery of “Vicky Christina Barcelona.” And isn’t a little mystery what’s lacking in today’s movie stars? Dios mio!
Seeing the Pearl Jam guys and Anthony Kiedis at the Woody Allen dinner was quite a surprise, since I had just come down from the Apollo Theater where Elvis Costello taped two of his Sundance channel talk shows back to back. One was with Sting and the Police, the other with Smokey Robinson! Yikes!
The audience learned a lot at the Police taping, starting with Sting’s revelation that he only felt comfortable naming a song “Roxanne” after Costello had had a hit with “Alison” two years earlier in 1977.
“I mean, a girl’s name. I didn’t want to take it to the band,” Sting said during his interview.
Costello, who really seems comfortable as the host of this unique music and chat series, was in rare form Wednesday. He started the Police show by playing “Every Breath You Take” and “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” solo on guitar for the very psyched crowd that included actor Matthew Modine and wife Cari, two big Police fans.
During the hour with the Police, Costello interviews all three band members individually. We learned a lot about guitarist Andy Summers, who’s a generation older than Sting and Stewart Copeland and has an interesting history with Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix.
Real rock music fans from the “new wave” or power pop era of 1976-85 should get a kick too out of hearing Sting and Costello discuss their respective stalking/angry break-up songs, “Every Breath You Take” and “I Want You.” Sting says he can’t believe the former is used at weddings. Costello marveled that people have told him “I Want You” is romantic. Oh well.
Both stars also cited the late great Dusty Springfield as a huge vocal influence. And Sting named his two favorite Police songs — unlikely choices “Mother” and “Miss Gradenko.”
Did they talk about the infamous, notorious infighting among the three Police members? Oh yes. It’s all out there on table. Sting called Stewart “a handful.” But they’re probably all going to miss each other on some level after Thursday night's final show at Madison Square Garden.
Later, I stayed for sound check to hear Smokey Robinson’s sublime and perfect falsetto on several of his well known hits. Costello performed three of Smokey’s cult hits on his own, too —“The Hunter Is Captured by the Game,” Martha & The Vandellas’ “No More Tearstained Make Up” and the Smokey hit that Costello recorded back in 1982, “From Head to Toe,” something I’ve waited 25 years to hear.
When these shows, and 11 others, air on the Sundance Channel this winter, they’re going to be much applauded. Good, good work!