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Interview with Joaquim de Almeida


Exclusive : Joaquim de Almeida is one of Hollywood’s most prolific actors starring in over 90 films that span 3 decades. He has played a wide range of roles in both the US and Europe, opposite stars such as Gene Hackman, Robert Downey Jr, Salma Hayek, Kim Basinger, Antonio Banderas, Paul Walker and Harrison Ford.

You’ve seen him come to life in Robert Rodriguez’s ‘Desperado’ as Bucho. He was the vicious Hernan Reyes in ‘Fast Five’. He went head-to-head with Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) in ‘Clear and Present Danger’, and he had a secret affair playing Nick Martinez opposite Kim Basinger in ‘The Burning Plain’.

His latest film ‘Three Holes, Two Brads, and a Smoking Gun’ is currently being promoted at the Cannes market, while up and coming project ‘Near Myth: The Oskar Knight Story’ sees the actor joining an all-star cast to highlight the career of a Hollywood legend.

Discover exclusively on Film Industry Network the story behind Joaquim’s sensational career, his biggest roles, what he thinks about European cinema, and his advice for actors who want to make a name for themselves in the film industry.

Interview with Joaquim de Almeida

Iain: How do you research a character?

Joaquim: It depends on each character but mostly you want to know where he comes from, what kind of education he had, his studies and his training and what was his life before so that you can make yourself a background for him. Then depending on what the situation is in the film you start working on it.

Bonnie Hunt, Joaquim de Almeida, Robert Downey Jr in ‘Only You ‘ 1994

Iain: How do you approach getting the right mannerisms, and qualities of a character you adapt?

Joaquim: It all depends on what kind of profession he has because that normally brings you a background, if he’s an educated or un-educated man. Sometimes the films themselves tell some of the background of the character so you fill in the blanks.

Iain: Is there a certain way that you work with directors to perform your roles?

Joaquim: I’ve worked with many different directors including the Taviani Brothers (two directors on the same film) but normally they are all working in a different way. With the Tavianis, when you spoke to them they would think and say, “No, you have to speak to my brother because he’s the one directing that section.” And they started at different times each day. At the end of the week we would talk about the film. Every time the camera moved, the director moved, so it was a very particular way.

There are some directors that don’t give you much direction. I remember Soderbergh is not a director that gives that much direction, you have to ask him. I think he casts the actors that can play the part and I think Clint Eastwood does the same.

Especially with young directors I feel that sometimes because of their insecurity they take a lot of takes and they cover themselves from each angle and are sometimes overzealous of what they’re doing, and it can be a little annoying but they want to be sure that the film can be cut in the best way.

Then you have the ones that don’t know what they’re doing or they get lost when we’re doing it and sometimes it’s you that helps them.

Iain: Have you had to take over directing on any shoot?

Joaquim: It has happened to me where directors are getting lost in the middle of the film and telling you “I’m sorry, I got lost. I don’t know exactly how to shoot this.” And you help them out.

Sometimes you work with directors and it’s their second film, and if you’ve done 90 films, you have an idea of how it’s supposed to be done.

I love directors that give direction, that help you out especially when you work in films with a lot of people in the same scenes. It’s important to have a director who can give each actor a specific direction. Sometimes you feel good with directors you trust and you go along with it, others think it’s better to let you do what you do, but you have to adapt.

Last year I had a film in France, ‘La Cage Dorée’, that did very well all over Europe and it was his first film and we shot a lot and the results were great. We had scenes where there were so many of us. Sometimes I was a little impatient and we shot the scene from so many different angles, but he came out with a great film and that’s what’s important.

Paul Walker, Joaquim de Almeida in ‘The Death and Life of Bobby Z’ 2007

Iain: What are the differences between working on a Hollywood blockbuster and an independent film?

Joaquim: The big difference in filmmaking is the budget and that’s changed quite a bit because independent films made in the Sates are shot in the same way . A small budget independent film here could be big for a European film but the reality is, on a blockbuster film, unless you are the lead actor, you are very much a piece of their business (of a studio). Directors many times don’t have the final cut therefore they have to shoot certain things to make sure that they get the shots.

I’ve shot movies that go on for 5 months because you have an enormous budget and resources. Yes, you are much more comfortable, your trains are so much better, your hotels are much better but you don’t feel like part of the movie like you do in an independent film. In independent films your say is heard and you have much more of an impact than in a big studio movie.

Even now in France they do more action movies in an ‘American way’. There are certain movies that can only be done in the States like the Spider-Mans and the Supermans; the big budget action movies. I think movies are all done the same way but for us actors it’s just a question of how much we participate in the global picture.

Joaquim de Almeida in ‘Fast Five’ 2011

Iain: When working on a blockbuster do you have less time to work one-on-one with a director as opposed to an indie film?

Joaquim: Much less time. What also happens is that if the movie has an incredibly large budget, the bigger it is, the directors are more concerned with the enormous action scenes that they have to do. Sometimes when we talk about a scene coming up in the next 3 days, it changes and you get the changes to a scene the day before or even in the morning. Sometimes it has happened to me that the scene is a totally different scene.

In independent films things aren’t changed that much. Today as we shoot in video and not film, time is money but you don’t have to concern yourself about film being ‘money’, because of course, it’s the same.

Joaquim de Almeida in ‘Clear and Present Danger’ 1994

Iain: You get very little time to prepare?

Joaquim: I remember in ‘Clear and Present Danger’ for example Harrison Ford was so strong about the way he wanted the ending. My character was a much smaller character in the beginning and he decided that I was the main guy he wanted to fight and my character became a much better character and all of a sudden I had all these fighting scenes with him, which I wasn’t very much prepared for but I ended up getting prepared. But you know, sometimes it’s a great surprise because your character grows, your part in the film becomes more interesting and other times if you have long dialogues they change it completely and sometimes it changes the intentions of the characters and it can be problematic.

I do a lot of independent films and I do studio films here and there. It’s fun, I like to do the studio movies but I also like to work in different languages.

Kim Basinger and Joaquim de Almeida in ‘The Burning Plain’ 2008

Right now I’m going to Toronto to do a romantic comedy and for the first time I play in an American film in Portuguese and then on to France. It’s always a pleasure for me to go from one country to another and I have a lot of fun working in Europe. I’m happy to change languages!

Iain: How did you get involved in your latest project, Scott Fivelson’s ‘Near Myth: The Oskar Knight Story’?

Joaquim: I met Scott (Writer/Director) in Santa Monica and he had given me some other things he had written and I liked the writing and I liked the idea and at the time, I was in between films, and I told him to come by the house. So he set up the situation, and it was more like an improv, though we did some scripted material, too. Given the person you were speaking about, Oskar Knight, everyone spoke very differently and passionately about him. Each of us created a way to speak about our relationship with him and that was fun.

Iain: Would you consider directing films in the future?

Joaquim: I’ve been asked to direct films, especially in Spain but at my age now, I do less films than I used to. I used to do 4 films a year from one country to another but now I seem to have more time so we will see. I am tempted to do it. I’ve co-written scripts which I haven’t worked seriously on yet. At times I don’t need to do many films as an actor and maybe I’ll concentrate on doing that. I still have young kids and go back and forth between LA and Portugal to see them but in the future who knows?

Iain: It was in 1987 that ‘Good Morning Babylon’ played at Cannes. How do you feel European cinema has evolved over the years?

Joaquim: Italian cinema used to be incredible, especially in the ’50s. Italian cinema is almost non-existent compared to those times. We have incredible filmmakers, and actors and I don’t know that many Italian filmmakers these days. France has a very strong film industry. Spain is not even producing half of what it was producing 2 years ago. In Portugal there was no money in the last year for films so the movie industry has changed quite a bit.

The distribution of films has always been a big problem because American films always came first and then European films, even in European countries.

I remember as a kid I used to see French films, Mexican films, Italian films and films from all over the world. Today in Europe if you want to see films from other European countries you have a hard time. All the European distributors want to distribute the big American budget movies that bring them the money, other than France, that has a big protection law towards cinema.

Other European cinema is not protected enough. On the other side here in the States they have incredible protection. It’s an unfair trade and I think Europe should be more protectionist or create laws that make the Americans have to open their distribution more, the same way we open to them.

Iain: Is there anyone you want to work with in particular?

Joaquim: There are tons of people I’d like to work with. There are the big ones you’d love to work with like Scorsese, Coppola, but then these days there are so many young, up-and-coming directors that are good. I’ve been surprised many times even with first-time directors. I love directors that direct their own material they wrote.

I was just watching the other day Wes Anderson’s new film ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’. This guy always surprises me and he’s all very stylized and as an actor it must be a lot of fun to work with him.

I like a surprise. Today there are great filmmakers coming from Mexico, from South America, even Argentina I know that I’d be very happy to work with.

The last 2 weeks I’ve seen 6-7 films, and none of them are studio films, with great stars and I thought they were the best films.

All the studio films coming out are PG rated for families. I mean, I will go see maybe some of those films. I certainly will not see ‘Neighbors’ which doesn’t interest me, that kind of comedy, but I might see ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ because of the grandness of it and I enjoy that too.

I enjoy working on them, and they’re fun to work on. But the real good stories I’ve watched are all independent movies like ‘The Railwayman’, or John Turturro’s ‘Fading Gigolo’.

Iain: How did you get involved in ‘Desperado’ playing Bucho?

Joaquim: I met Robert Rodriguez in LA and then I forgot all about it because I heard Raúl Juliá was doing the part. I got a call in Portugal from my manager, “Joaquim they’re calling, and want to know if you could be in the next 5 days in Del Rio, Texas.” And I said “Wow!” I remember reading the script and when I read it, it was a very different type of film, because the only film you could compare it to at the time was Tarantino’s film (Reservoir Dogs), but the script itself, the way it was written was in a very different way. It was very bloody and hard to understand and they said, “Raúl Juliá went into a coma and the director says you were always his choice, if you could come in and do it.”

I said, “Fine, listen, i’ll take the plane tomorrow to New York, and if somebody could be there at the airport (because you have to go through the border and then go out), and give me the script, I could read it on the plane.” They gave me the script and when I got there I had 4 days to start shooting to learn the character. I went to see them on set the first day, and talked to Robert. They were shooting a scene where Antonio and Salma throw themselves out of the building backward and he said, “Thank you for coming. I can’t tell you much about the character but today if you come after we’ve finished shooting, I’ll show you the bar scene that I have put together.” So I went and he showed me the bar scene and I get a feeling that my character is not ‘bad’. He’s really bad! He wanted him to be bigger than life. Everything! From the scene with the phone:

“Where is the fu****g number to the phone in my car?!” The whole thing! Everything had to be bigger than life and that’s the film it was, and it was a big success and I think it’s kind of a cult movie. It’s one of the films where people come up to me all the time and tell me the line of the film. He was like a cartoon and then every time I did the lines Robert went “More!” I said, “Robert this is becoming really big,” and he said, “No, no that’s what it is. The guy is like that!”

The other day I was in New York about 3 weeks ago and we went into a bar and this guy starts talking to me, and he knew every line from that movie I said. It was kind of funny!

But that’s the way it was, and I shot the last two weeks and that was it. (The whole movie was shot during 7 weeks and it was a great experience.)

Iain: What was it like playing Admiral Piquet opposite Gene Hackman in ‘Behind Enemy Lines’?

Joaquim: It was tough because I went first to Bratislava and we shot on a boat; this aircraft carrier with 5000 people doing exercises with planes in the afternoon and at night. The only time we could shoot without noise was during the morning. I thought a lot of those scenes with Gene Hackman, not the ones we shot in the studio where we had the big discussion, and I remember when I got to Bratislava and they said, “Let’s introduce you to Gene Hackman because you’re shooting with him tomorrow”. So I go there and Gene was sitting down, and when he stood up to say hello to me he was enormous. He’s very very tall. The same thing happened when I shot with Michael Caine on’ The Honorary Consul’. I didn’t expect it! They were both very tall.

And then we did our scene at the end of the day, the first bit only because Gene was tired, and I was maybe a little nervous and the director said, “Let’s do this tomorrow.”

So the next day we did the big discussion scene and it went very well and I remember Gene coming to me and saying, “Great scene, man. I love that scene,” and you know, Gene Hackman coming to you and saying that could really put you in a good mood!

When we were on the boat we had a really hard time shooting because in several of the scenes I have with Gene we couldn’t hear each other, and we had to stop talking because every 20 seconds a plane would take off and a plane would land so it was the worst way to work and two of those big scenes we had to shoot like that.

Now today with the technology (it was expensive) they were able to take all the planes out and it worked. I couldn’t believe it and all I had to do was ADR.

Iain: What would be your advice to up-and-coming actors who want to make a name for themselves?

Joaquim: If you were not born in ‘Hollywood royalty’, and you have a place assured working in films because you’re the son of the son of the grandson of someone, then you have to fight. You have to fight because there are tons of people. If you are a young actor, and you’re going out there for an audition you’re going to find that there are going to be many people looking exactly like you. So, what I think you have to try to do is make yourself different.

For me it worked at the time because I had an accent, I spoke in different languages and I could be whatever. I didn’t have a specific Portuguese accent and because I spoke in different languages I ended up playing all these different types of characters and it worked.

First you have to work well your characters. You have to work those auditions well to start with and I still don’t know if you get jobs because auditions are the worst thing! I mean TV in the States still wants everybody to audition which is kind of weird when you have a body of work, and they still want to see you!

I remember doing auditions, being there to read with young actors and I know how difficult it is and how prepared to be but I think what makes a difference is they have to take classes, to study, to be in great physical condition and then they have to try to really do it their way and not try to imitate anybody because that is what will get them a job.

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