Gael García Bernal details his Lucha Libre training for 'Casandro'
"Every centimeter of my body hurts, and it's indescribably painful."
Now that the 2023 Sundance Film Festival is over, I can say it with one pretty safe word — Cassandro is my favorite festival film.
Gael García Bernal brings the Saúl Armendáriz story to life on Prime Video with a flawless performance. Saúl was fed up playing El Topo in the Lucha Libre wrestling scene. He doesn't want to be a shorty who keeps losing games. Saul wants to be a star. It wasn't until he started training with Sabrina (Robert Colindreth) that he figured out what he would do. Saúl intends to upend the stereotypes of exotic characters by making his new character, Cassandro, a winner.
While celebrating Cassandro's debut in Park City, Bernal took the time to visit the Collider Studio provided by Saratoga Springs to discuss everything needed to perform "Lucha Libre's Liberace". Bernal details his training for the role, the importance of bringing Cassandro's joyful spirit to the screen, what it was like working with El Hijo del Santo, and more.
You can hear all this directly from Bernal himself in the video at the top of this article Or you can read the transcript of the interview below.
I was reading Roger [Ross Williams]'s directorial statement and he mentioned that you were the only person he wanted to lead the film. Do you have the same confidence in yourself? If not, at what point in the process did you discover it?
GAEL GARCÍA BERNAL: Since he told me about the film, about Cassandro's thoughts, I saw a picture of Cassandro, wow, yes. I was like, 'That would be awesome to go to a wrestling match dressed like that. ’ And Lucha Libre wasn’t on my bucket list. It's not something I want to do. And then when the opportunity comes, it's like, "Oh, yes, of course!" I have to do it. I'm a Mexican actor and one day I have to do a Lucha Libre movie, you know? Why don't I do this? So I started dreaming about this idea and getting excited about it, and little by little it started to take shape and become something. As with all good things, you never remember the original point, you know? It's always hard to say, what was the original idea? It's kind of complicated, and when we got ready to do the movie, I felt like I was ready. I want to do this, experience this.
Is there anything special about his real history or quality that you know you want to hold onto him, but at the same time, is there something about him that you just discovered as you explored the character more during production?
BERNAL: This could be complicated or difficult on the outside I've realized it's basically wrestling. Lucha Libre is a very tough sport. But once you start doing it, you don't realize how hard it is. Almost extremely difficult. This is one of the most - I can't even use an adjective to describe it because it's Lucha Libre. It's like fabulous wrestling. It struggles with superheroes and imagery because it's also a performance sport, so you have to embody the characters, you have to play with the audience. So it's very tiring, and the movie doesn't respect the biological time of cells. [laughs] so tired During the entire filming period, there were 12 hours of wrestling every day. It's really tough. Even for a wrestler, it's very difficult. They're like, 'Oh man, making movies is a bit boring, isn't it? ’ ‘Yes, sometimes it can be tiring and boring. ’ But it’s great when you watch the movie. So that's something that I really found in my body while making this film. And combined with that, it's like a very stylized way of explaining or acting. You have to fight incredible tiredness.
I think one of those things is special, but at the same time, I don't want to name it, I just want to attract or permeate the basic archetype of Cassandro's character, which is so joyous, his joy. That's why he's become very, very famous and aloof in the Lucha Libre world, because he's such a fun character to enjoy and interact with, almost like being in a drag show with the audience, just making everything easier and more happy. At the same time, break taboos. realize taboo is not It's important once you break them, you know? They make a nice noise when you break them, but then it's like, well, it's no big deal. No one cares, you know? Society is also constantly evolving. So yeah, that kind of joy is something I want to fit into.
Great success in that department! The film's convivial spirit is infectious, and it leaves you walking out the door feeling energized and inspired.
Bernal: Exactly. And then there's the fact that, as a viewer, I'm very fond of, or in some way fascinated by, the movie's theme, which is that in order to be yourself, you have to play someone else. You have to play a role because who we are is who we want to be. For example, I always say that when I talk about the series Mozart in the Jungle. I used to play this character called Rodrigo and I miss him so much because he is who I want to be. [laughs] He would be my therapist for that year. Two months of thinking out loud, without filtering, speak my mind. I want to be like that. Of course I can't, but I'd love to [to]. So that's the fun of acting and interpreting, playing other people, playing other people or who you want yourself to be.
I really like the idea.
You bring up the athleticism of it all. I'm assuming you have a lot of training. Is there a particular technique, specific grip, or any movement you find the hardest to pull off?
BERNAL: At the beginning of the whole physical training, I was really happy. Everything hurts but I feel stronger and I eat everything because it doesn't have to be long to have a Lucha Libre body. No, it can be a little energizing, you know? So it was very good to begin with. Then when we started doing Lucha training properly, I started to realize, well, every centimeter of my body was hurting, and it was painful. I can't even describe the pain. It's like very internal.
As I said last night, in A lot of the things we used to do that included Lucha training was learning how to fall. So half of training is just learning how to fall. So you have to fall many, many times, and fall properly so that you don't hurt yourself. Of course, the first time you do it, you keep hurting. Then over time, you'll feel less pain. But you also have to make a loud drop. It's like going back to my childhood. It's a great sport and it's exactly what we used to do as kids, wrestling and falling.
I've been thinking about the sound! They also make sounds when they slap. It reverberates through my body so much that I feel like I can feel it.
BERNAL: Yes, you really hurt yourself. So I think the hardest thing is -- well, I'm an amateur wrestler in a sense because I've never experienced professionalism. But El Hijo del Santo, when we were wrestling together, he told me, 'I'm going to show you the old man's technology. ’ So normally with choking you do it, anyway, you do it, but with a pinky knuckle, he’s putting some sort of pressure here, and it hurts. At one point he grabbed my leg - it's those points that completely hurt you and break you down, which is what real wrestlers do. They know the little dots. So sometimes you see them just holding each other up, but they're actually hurting themselves. He's very strong and works very hard. He is great. He also helped us a lot.
I must let you go as soon as possible. I could talk about Cassandro all day, but I have to squeeze in a future question. You probably know how this is because I told you I'm a big fan of horror movies. I love Night of the Werewolf, and I love the idea of Marvel embracing horror even more. I'm curious about your thoughts on maintaining that tone, style, and grasp of that genre. If he were to move to another corner of that series, do you think there would be a way to continue the character? Still stuck on what makes Werewolf by Night so unique?
BERNAL: For a moment I thought you were going to mention how Cassandro would fit into Marvel's horror universe, and I was like, 'Why is that! '
I mean, I can take that too! bring it on!
Bernal: [laughs] Exactly! Well, of course. I'll be happy because it's also just a little bit of teasing that we're getting, you know? And what I went through playing this character in Werewolf by Night, I loved it. Working with the people there, working with Laura Donnelly, because she's a very die-hard horror movie fan, and it was amazing to play that character. Yes, I wish we could do that in a different way, shape and form. Who knows where it will go? I don't know, but I wanted to be a part of it, and I really like how it turned out. I am very happy. I also like horror movies. I'm not a huge fan because I'm really scared, but I love them. it is the genre that contains the best aspects Film Production. It's like opera in a way. I like it.
Special thanks to our 2023 partners at Sundance, including display partner Saratoga Spring Water and supporting partners Marbl Toronto, EMFACE, Sommsation, Hendrick’s Gin, Stella Artois, mou and the all-electric vehicle Fisker Ocean.