GAEL FORCE
Total Film|August 2021
GAEL GARCÍA BERNAL returns to Hollywood for M. Night Shyamalan’s high-concept thriller Old, in which his character starts to age rapidly. It’s got him thinking about his two decades as a globally celebrated actor, and how he’s always done it his way…
LEILA LATIF

Talking to García Bernal over Zoom is a surreal experience, and not only because there are three cameras offering different angles of his face against a black backdrop, making our conversation feel like an experimental art film. He has an otherworldly presence, with bright green eyes peering out of a striking face that’s barely changed since he was a teenager. In fact, so captivating are his features, it takes several minutes to register that his hair is dyed blond.

García Bernal is settling down with Total Film to talk Old, the new M. Night Shyamalan film about a family stuck on a beach that makes them rapidly age. “They put us in these incredible prosthetics that transformed us completely,” he says, explaining how M. Night’s latest taps into a societal fear of ageing. “We’re all faced with the concept of ageing,” he continues. “Whenever we go out, we see ads for antiageing creams. But for actors it’s more amped up.” Seeing himself up on screen as an old man must have been enough to trigger an existential crisis, then… “In the mythology of this film… everything goes so quickly. It’s like, ‘What’s happening?!’ The characters don’t understand what’s going on. I don’t want to say more because I’ll spoil it.” He laughs. “But in life, you can appreciate ageing. I love getting old; getting older is the best thing that can happen to anyone!”

Easy to say, perhaps, given that the 42-year-old actor appears to bathe daily in the fountain of youth. Looking at his unlined face today, it’s difficult to compute that it’s been 20 years since his breakout role in Alfonso Cuarón’s Y Tu Mamá También, a coming-of-age drama in which García Bernal and Diego Luna got pulses racing as lusty teenagers on a road trip with an older woman.

“I don’t know how 20 years passed since we made that movie,” he says, shaking his head in disbelief. “Very pivotal things happened in that movie that actually changed my life. The first film I did was [Alejandro González Iñárritu’s jagged crime thriller] Amores Perros, but then immediately I did Y Tu Mamá También, and that one was like the second leg of a football match. I could finally understand the score.”

García Bernal’s character in Y Tu Mamá También is forever changed by his journey, and the film had a similar effect on him. “Alfonso was incredibly generous and invited us into the making of the film,” he explains. “I understood the back and front of a film set and that was transcendental because now I dedicate my life to making films. Y Tu Mamá También is perhaps the film university I never had.”

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