Before acting, you played rugby...
Yeah, playing rugby in Spain is like being a bull fighter in Japan. I love rugby but you have to quit if you want to work as an actor, obviously. I did "Jamón, Jamón" and it was a great success and then I kept on playing and they were saying, "He is the guy from "Jamón, Jamón", let's go for him." I was like, "Don't give me the ball, don't give me the ball!"
Julian Schnabel had to work quite hard to persuade you to take the lead in "Before Night Falls"...
Julian knew me from Spain. He called me and told me he wanted me to play the role. I had never done anything in English, so I said, "Let me see..." And I saw it and said, "No". And then he kept on talking to me and I kept saying, "I can't, I can't, I don't speak English." And then one day I woke up and said, "What the **** am I doing? This is a great role. What am I doing? Learn English." So I did it.
So was it as hard for John Malkovich to persuade you to star in "The Dancer Upstairs"?
John came to me before Julian. John came to me five years ago with this project, and I was shocked, because at that time nobody knew me out of my country and it was, "What is this guy doing, talking to me in Spain? I can barely say anything in English and he is giving me this role that I cannot even read!" He was like, "No, I want you. Don't worry, you will learn English, you will do it." He was so confident. So he spent three years working as an actor, directing plays, trying to finance the movie. And in the meantime I did "Before Night Falls".
One of the most powerful elements of the film is that there's no right and wrong...
That's what I like. In this modern world there is a sheriff called George Bush who wants to kill the bad guys, like in a bad western movie, but not everybody is bad. Now it's the war between evil and good. What the **** is that? Life is a little bit more complicated than that. That's what I like about the movie. There is this man who has spent 15 years trying to capture this man without shooting a gun, while the government was killing everybody. He is a guy who says, "No, I truly believe I can fix this in an honest way." And that can bring some light to what is going on in the world.
Did the Oscar nomination change things for you?
Well, it was a crazy time for me. It's great, it's an honour, I feel flattered being nominated. But once you are nominated, you go there to make the campaign... I felt like a whore. I felt like a political campaigner, asking for votes, like saying "Hey, excuse me! Vote for me, I am the best." That was something that really freaked me out, because first of all, we are supposedly talking about art and art cannot be competitive. It's so subjective, we are not people running 100 metres. At least if we all played gladiators, the five of us, somebody can say, "Ok, the best gladiator is you." But what has a gay Cuban poet got to do with a gladiator? Nothing, man!