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When Daniel Giménez Cacho Met the Three Amigos

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At 24, two years right into a degree in physics, Daniel Giménez Cacho received an off-the-cuff invitation to attend a singing class. To the initial dismay of his engineer father, that unexpected offer derailed a planned profession in science and ignited a lifelong zeal for performance.

“It was a physical discovery, a rebirth for my body,” Giménez Cacho said in Spanish during a recent interview at a Mexican restaurant on historic Olvera Street in Los Angeles.

Born in Madrid but raised in the center of Mexico City, the acclaimed actor, now 61, has amassed an eclectic list of credits displaying each his gravitas and comedic chops over nearly 4 many years.

Starting Friday on Netflix, he will be seen because the director Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s alter ego, Silverio Gama, in “Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths,” a dreamlike fantasia of private and political ruminations.

After starting in theater, Giménez Cacho found broader exposure via television in 1989 with the favored soap opera “Teresa,” opposite a young Salma Hayek within the title role.

On the time, only a handful of movies were being produced in Mexico annually. But slowly, a young cohort of filmmakers began making waves with audacious narratives on screens big and small. The actor found himself running in the identical artistic circles and growing his profession parallel to those behind the camera.

Testament to his crucial role in laying the muse for the emergence of the brand new Mexican cinema, Giménez Cacho is the rare actor to have collaborated with each of the Mexican Oscar-winning directors collectively often known as the Three Amigos: first Alfonso Cuarón, then Guillermo del Toro and now Iñárritu. Iñárritu said with a boisterous laugh, “We should always erect a statue of him because he’s the one survivor of the Three Amigos.”

Outside Mexico, he has been summoned by titans of cinema like Pedro Almodóvar (“Bad Education”), Lucrecia Martel (“Zama”) and Apichatpong Weerasethakul (“Memoria”).

I asked Cuarón, del Toro and Iñárritu to recall their first meetings with the actor and experiences working with him.

The actor and the director first met on the set of Luis Estrada’s “Camino Largo a Tijuana” (1988), where Cuarón was a producer and camera assistant.

In Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s intensely personal recent film, a journalist grapples with work, family, metaphysics and the paradoxes of Mexican history.

  • Review: “Iñárritu isn’t all the time the clearest or most cogent thinker, but the ability of his images often renders such objections moot,” writes our critic.
  • Oscar Possibilities: Could the movie net Iñárritu — and Netflix — one other Academy Award?
  • Daniel Giménez Cacho: Iñárritu, Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro have each enlisted the actor in key movies, including in “Bardo.” They explain why.
  • Anatomy of a Scene: Iñárritu narrates a sequence from the film through which multiple people begin collapsing to the bottom in Mexico City.

Cuarón said he regretted that despite the fact that he was impressed with the actor’s precise, dancerlike body language, he didn’t immediately consider him to star in his first feature, the 1991 screwball comedy “Sólo Con Tu Pareja.”

“I used to be afraid that I hadn’t seen all the choices, when in point of fact that was really dumb because one of the best option was in front of me,” Cuarón said by phone.

Giménez Cacho wound up starring within the film, and Cuarón considers himself lucky. Recalling a dinner guest once likening the actor to Marcello Mastroianni in that he could inject levity into relatively emotional dramas, the director explained that his debut feature “hinged on the performer; he needed to carry the movie with humor and lightness.” Cuarón added, “Daniel became not only a collaborator, but a co-creator of what the movie ended up being.”

Giménez Cacho remembers being hesitant. It was his first lead role in a movie.

“I all the time had plenty of doubts” concerning the role of a philanderer whose antics meet up with him, Giménez Cacho said. “I still have them, but now I’m 61. I had plenty of insecurity, so it was very nice to find my comedic vein.”

After “Sólo Con Tu Pareja,” Cuarón encouraged Giménez Cacho to try Hollywood and helped arrange meetings with agents.

“I got here but I assumed, ‘This isn’t for me.’ They asked, ‘Do you ought to be wealthy and famous?’ and I said, ‘I have the desire to make great movies of which I will be proud,’” the actor recalled. “The people at William Morris Endeavor” — because it was known on the time — “form of understood they usually told me, ‘OK, return to Mexico and we’ll send you things.’ That never happened, and I didn’t pursue it after.”

For his poignant road trip movie “Y Tu Mamá También” a decade later, Cuarón wanted a male narrator to evoke those in Jean-Luc Godard’s “Masculin Féminin” and “Band of Outsiders.”

As he looked for an objective voice so as to add ironic context, he considered someone with a Spanish accent and asked the director Fernando Trueba to try.

Eventually, Cuarón enlisted Giménez Cacho — despite the fact that he thought the actor’s tone is perhaps too warm for the duty — and was surprised by the organic match between voice and pictures. The actor recorded the text before ever seeing any footage.

“Daniel hadn’t come to mind because I used to be looking for voices, I wasn’t considering of actors, and, again, that was a silly mistake,” Cuarón admitted. “He knew perfectly that he needed to have a certain Brechtian distance but at the identical time not make it dry.”

The actor said with a smirk: “I’ve never been his first alternative. But once he doesn’t like anyone else, he has no alternative but to say, ‘OK, let this cabrón do it.’”

A computer graphics makeup artist long before becoming a director, Del Toro first met Giménez Cacho in 1990 while applying fake dirt and a man-made beard in the course of the shooting of Nicolás Echevarría’s desert period piece, “Cabeza de Vaca.”

With incisive curiosity, Giménez Cacho asked del Toro detailed questions on the transformation process. The longer term auteur realized the actor had an obsessive commitment to each aspect of his work, something he could relate to. The 2 became easy friends.

Del Toro nicknamed him el Niño Sapo (the Toad Kid), recognizing a kindred otherness in Giménez Cacho. “We might say we were a pair of freaks,” the filmmaker recalled via video call. Not long after, del Toro would craft a duplicate of the actor’s arm for a scene in Cuarón’s “Sólo Con Tu Pareja.”

Early on within the actor’s profession, del Toro said, he and filmmaking peers like Estrada, Cuarón and Carlos Marcovich “all agreed that he was one of the best actor of our generation — and I still think that.”

Based on their relationship, and the actor’s work with the vanguard theater group El Milagro, del Toro offered him the now emblematic role of Tito, a foul-mouthed yet dedicated mortician in his debut feature, “Cronos” (1994).

“I’m so grateful he invited me to do that small role in ‘Cronos,’ because even when it’s a bit part, it was a very shiny, memorable one,” Giménez Cacho said.

Today, after greater than 30 years of friendship, del Toro marvels at how the intensity of Giménez Cacho’s youth has evolved into an admirable humbleness considering his talent.

“There’s a present that some actors have, which can’t be cultivated, which is that the camera follows them, the audience is attentive,” the director said. “That’s a virtue that Daniel has.”

It was at a celebration following the Los Angeles premiere of Cuarón’s “Great Expectations” in 1998 that Giménez Cacho and Iñárritu first intersected. Nevertheless it would take a protracted time before a movie partnership would emerge.

Iñárritu described their first meeting about “Bardo” as a “cosmic connection.” A shared affinity for meditation and a mutual understanding of their similar inner journeys became the unconventional foundation of their work together.

While Iñárritu hadn’t written the role of Silverio Gama with a specific actor in mind, he knew Giménez Cacho would nail it even before he had read a single page of the screenplay.

“I spotted he was in the identical place as me on a private level, philosophically, spiritually and intellectually,” Iñárritu said during a video call. “Beyond his artistic gifts, that are plenty, I knew he’d make my job easy because he shared the sensibility of what I used to be in search of.”

Although Iñárritu poured intimate details from his own recollections into Silverio, a documentary filmmaker navigating each his mortality and his Mexican identity in fanciful vignettes, he saw the character as a fictional entity, not a precise reflection of himself.

The director asked his star to not react to the situations, but only to watch: The goal was a dissonance between Silverio and the bizarre world around him since the story is told from the character’s consciousness inside a dream.

That seek for identity resonated with Giménez Cacho, who within the early 2000s tried to ascertain a profession in Spain only to find he couldn’t see himself as anything apart from Mexican. Inhabiting Silverio, he didn’t impersonate Iñárritu but channeled his own concerns and questions.

“What I do with every character is bring to it what I’m, my experiences and my memories, but much more so here,” Giménez Cacho said. “Because the character wasn’t designed, I needed to try to search out him inside me.”

The actor communicates through his penetrating gaze and the hyper-sensual body movement on display in a scene set to David Bowie’s isolated vocals in “Let’s Dance.”

Iñárritu likens Giménez Cacho to the British actor Peter Sellers for the flexibleness of his range, and describes him as a haiku incarnate because with minimal modulation he can achieve maximum emotion.

“In ‘Bardo’ he does what few actors are able to doing, which is to erase the artifice of acting to succeed in the essence and the presence of something honest and truthful,” Iñárritu said. “You wish plenty of inner confidence for that. That’s the very best peak in acting.”

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