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Acting Up: Gael García Bernal


Welcome to ACTING UP, the place where we celebrate standout performances in TV, streaming, and film. Other than spotlighting exceptional work from recent projects, this feature also shines a light on how certain actors got where they are today. Have a peek and then check out these notable performances to help hone your craft.

 

The Snapshot:

Gael García Bernal plays a husband and father aging faster than he could possibly imagine on a beach from hell in the trippy M. Night Shyamalan thriller, Old.

(The film premiered in theaters nationwide on July 23rd.)

 

The Performance:

(Warning: Minor plot spoilers ahead.)

Who knows how much we’ve all aged since March 2020, but one thing is for sure:

If you’re thinking about a late-summer beach vacation, skip the one in M. Night Shyamalan’s Old, where almost everyone – including Gael García Bernal’s character Guy – ages roughly two years every hour through the course of a day. Probably not the Instagram story you’re looking for.

In a twisty film that plays out as something of a Twilight Zone/Curious Case of Benjamin Button hybrid on speed, Guy, his wife Prisca (Vicky Krieps) and their two young children win a paid-for vacation to a tropical destination the greeter calls their “version of paradise.” As you can imagine from the trailer, ‘paradise’ is a bit of a stretch — given that after a small group gets shuttled off to a private beach at the urging of the greeter, seconds soon become days and hours, years.

Once oddities start piling up, Guy the insurance actuary starts to calculate the improbable nature of what’s going on — just as his kids (6 and 11) start to miraculously go through puberty. (Kids, they grow up so fast, but on this beach, you have no idea.) In the allegorical tale that is Old, Guy is everyman, experiencing unimaginable circumstances with perpetual disbelief on his face. Bernal plays the amazement rather well of suddenly not recognizing his own kids. After all, how could your kids sprout into young adults in a few short hours? That barely leaves time for even one birds-and-bees talk. As a result, in relative warp speed, they skip straight to the troubled teen stuff like first loves, pregnancy, and other stuff I won’t get into because I don’t want to spoil it.

Because, really, that’s the joy of seeing this movie — wondering what the hell’s coming next.

A seasoned actor at this point, Bernal is excellent at portraying someone who’s chronically having to adapt to new circumstances, rapid aging and coming to grips with mortality — as his own body ages, leaving him with his own physical and mental challenges amid marital turmoil.

That’s where Bernal separates himself in this film. By living the second half of his life in a day, Guy communicates the horror — and even sweetness — in several scenes that leave him and us wondering what’s really important as time takes its toll on us. But this is a M. Night trip, so not everything is as it seems — so if the 108-minute film feels like a lifetime, that’s just because it is.

 

The Career:

Having been born to two theater actors in Guadalajara, Mexico, the 42-year-old Bernal was predestined to become a thespian and as a result, got his start before the diapers came off.

Having spent some of his teen years starring in Mexican telenovelas, Bernal eventually became the first Mexican accepted to study at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama. About a year and a half in, according to Bernal, he got a call from Alejandro González Iñárritu, the director of Amores Perros (2000) to read for the role he eventually got. He returned to school and then a year later, got another offer to star in the Alfonso Cuarón film, Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001) opposite lifelong friend and current producing partner Diego Luna. The film, about two younger men vying for the affection of an older woman, was nominated for an Academy Award.

Since then, Bernal would go on to star in, amongst others, notable films such as The Motorcycle Diaries (2004), where he played Ernesto “Che” Guevara, which earned him a BAFTA award in 2005 for Best Performance by an Actor. More recently, the talented Old actor starred in Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle (2014-2018), where he played legendary maestro Rodrigo de Souza in a role which earned Bernal a Golden Globe win (and another nomination) for Best Actor in a Comedy Series in the second and third seasons of the series respectively.

As for what’s next, Bernal will star in Roger Ross Williams’ film, Cassandro, as a gay amateur wrestler from El Paso who rose to international fame after creating an “exotico” character (aka as a male wrestler in drag) and eventually became known as the “Liberace of Lucha Libre.”

Gregg Rosenzweig has been a writer, creative director and managing editor for various entertainment clients, ad agencies and digital media companies over the past 20 years. He is also a partner in the talent management/production company, The Rosenzweig Group.