Known to audiences for his powerful on screen presence, Javier Bardem has never shied away from playing multifaceted characters.
From the psychopathic assassin Anton Chigurh in the critically acclaimed film No Country for Old Men, for which he won an Oscar in 2008, to Raoul Silva, the vengeful cyberterrorist in James Bond film Skyfall. Or more recently as Stilgar, the proud and intimidating leader of the Fremen tribe in the science fiction epic film Dune, Bardem's characters often embody ambiguous intentions, leaving lasting impressions on audiences.
So when it was first announced that the Spanish actor was cast to play King Triton in the coming Disney live-action version of The Little Mermaid, the news was somewhat surprising.
While the role of a merman king may seem tame compared to the complex characters he's known for, Bardem feels the themes in The Little Mermaid are bound to leave a mark on audiences in profound ways.
“There have been three world premieres and in all three, adults, fathers and mothers especially were coming to me very moved by the story,” he tells The National.
“They tell me how important they feel it is for their children to experience this movie, because of the things that we're talking about. That's a lot for any movie but especially for a movie that is going to reach so many different ages.”
King Triton is the ruler of Atlantica, an undersea kingdom inhabited by merpeople, who wields a magical trident that grants him power over the seven seas.
He is also the father of Ariel, the spirited and outspoken mermaid who is determined to break free from her father’s watchful eye.
“He hasn't seen his daughter in the way she deserves to be seen, because she's the last one, she's the little one,” Bardem says.
“In the movie, it’s his journey where he realises that his youngest daughter is a woman, a woman with desires, with wishes, with goals. And he learns how to respect that as a man and as a father.”
Bardem, who has two children with wife, actress Penelope Cruz, says the film also illustrates why it’s important for parents to learn from their children.
“We have to readjust ourselves into the society that we're living in and a huge part of our society is created by the young generations,” he says.
“They see the world in a different way and we have to adjust to that. And one of the things that the movie shows is how the mother of Prince Eric and the father of Ariel learn about loving better, through their children.”
Through the film’s storyline and themes, Bardem believes that there are important lessons audiences can take away with them, particularly concerning women’s empowerment and the role of men in that dynamic.
“We men should be able to understand the struggles of women in society way better now and support it way more. Otherwise we are again doing the same thing we've been doing all the time, which is capitalising power and giving ourselves way too much room while taking the room from them,” he says.
“And if you ask me, I was raised by a woman. The world would be a better place if it was ruled by women, but that's my opinion.”
Another theme interwoven in the story that Bardem finds imperative for younger generations to connect to is pollution and the collective responsibility of society to take care of nature.
“That's a great little thing that we added there for that generation of people to understand our responsibility as humans in order to conserve the oceans,” he says.
“It seems little but it's huge in a movie like this. We're talking about millions of people watching this in a beautiful way.”
The responsibility of taking on a well-known classic character from a beloved Disney film wasn’t one that Bardem took lightly.
“You are becoming one character that belongs to a lot of people's emotional memory for so many years. That creates a lot of expectation of what they expect you to play,” he says.
“But at the end of the day, you just close your eyes and do your thing, which is bring this flavour, this new side of it. So I didn't really think about it too much.”
The Little Mermaid will be released in UAE cinemas on May 25