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Luis Bermejo: “I am a grieving clown” | Culture

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This conversation is a robbery. Let me explain. Someone cancels at the last minute the interview I had planned for this section this week. I ask, as an urgent alternative, to meet with the actor Luis Bermejo, who is premiering a film on July 26th while simultaneously putting together two plays on the Madrid billboard. Not only does he say yes immediately, but he agrees to meet us, here I catch you, here I record you, at the hottest time of a torrid day in the noisy lobby of a hotel on Gran Via. When I arrive, he is already waiting. He is not a typical promotional actor. He does not seem to have any more interest in selling himself or his film than in chatting about the divine and the human without any hurry other than mine. That is a pleasure.

Why have I seen him so many times in the cinema and I didn’t know his name?

What do you say? Well, I have to confess that my full name is José Luis Bermejo Prieto. In fact, my family calls me Jose. Maybe what you say has to do with my lack of ambition to stand out. My work has been calling me work. It’s true that I walk down the street and from time to time someone looks at me as if to say, this is the president of my community, or something. But, yes, I do have pending debts, like doing this interview, and I love paying them off. At this point, at 55 years old, it’s not the first time for almost anything, and this is my first time with you.

Have you never been into PR or red carpets?

I may not have needed it or felt capable of it. Now I feel very relaxed, but, in another time, I would have been absolutely tense here, in this situation, thinking that I have to be witty and brilliant. When, in 2009, I was nominated for the Goya award for best new actor for A word from youI went with the director, Ángeles González-Sinde, and the actresses Esperanza Pedreño and Malena Alterio, my partner at the time and for many years. At one point, a stewardess took the three of them to the red carpet and I, the nominee, was left there, stranded, lost. That’s me. And this is me now, after many years of therapy, work and fighting with myself.

Have you ever been through any work-related deserts?

Not many, because when they didn’t call me, I made up my own jobs. With Animalario, the performing arts group that friends set up in 1997, I act and produce. Until July 7th I’m at the theater with Costumewith Javier Gutiérrez. And when we finish, we will re-release Those who speak, which I perform with Malena. It is a fantastic work collective.

Bermejo poses next to the poster for the play ‘El traje’, which he starred in alongside Javier Gutiérrez at the Teatro de la Abadía in Madrid, where he will return in mid-July with ‘Los que habla’, alongside Malena Alterio.Bernardo Perez

At what point did you know you were good at what you did?

Not so long ago. I would say that between the ages of 45 and 55 I started to feel like I was an actor, that I could inhabit a role that someone had written for me, or that I had borrowed from someone. I finally think I can play someone else. I no longer feel like an impostor. This is me, with my doubts, my complexes, my difficulties, me. That is why, now, I have been able to play Norberta, this character who changes gender in middle age. I have been able to make this fantastic journey because now I feel that I have a ticket, that I am no longer a stowaway in this.

What happened to you between the ages of 45 and 55?

The great fight that one has with oneself. Look, my father was a wonderful civil guard, from Extremadura, an emigrant from the Extremadura countryside, those humble people who have formed me and of whom I am so proud that I have dedicated to them all the theatre performances that we have done. The Holy InnocentsWell, one day, I’m remembering now, I did a monologue that was called The clown’s minute, My father came to see me and came out fascinated. He said to me: ‘But Jose, how are you able to do that? I saw the clown and not my son.’ Maybe that was when I started to believe I was an actor. Maybe, unconsciously, I needed that fatherly blessing.

Talk about the journey from Norberto to Norberta. How did you prepare to do so?

I abstract myself from everything and start to play properly at being someone else. The most enormous weapon of the actor is intuition. Only if it fails does technique and craft come into play. Norberto-Norberta, in the end, is a person who is not happy, feels anxious, exhausted, unhappy. I can know that feeling.

Has it been documented on transsexuality?

I already knew Paul B. Preciado’s work before. Then, I saw videos of his lectures where he talked about how he made the gender transition. Just watching him, your mind opens up. He challenges your supposed certainties. So, from my distance and also my innocence, I have been approaching that world and I suppose it has also inspired me.

Personally, I believe Norberta because of her look. How is that modulated?

I’m thrilled that you say that. I have my grandfather’s blue eyes. Apparently, there was a repopulation of Dutch people in Extremadura, because I don’t have very Extremaduran features. My friend Alberto San Juan, who has directed me many times, says that I have a gifted eye for cinema, and that feeds my little ego hole. The truth is that, when I saw the film, I also said: ‘Wow, what a bright, honest and sincere look.’

Where does this melancholy come from?

I was a child with many difficulties, very sick, a lot of hospitals, I had rheumatic fever that has accompanied me for many years. I would remain paralyzed in bed for long periods. I imagine that child growing up in a barracks in Extremadura, with a very patriarchal culture, where men don’t cry. I have been very worried. My life has been saved by my therapist and the theater. Then I separated, and that was also a schism in my life, separating from a woman I love and my relationship being a success.

He talks about Malena Alterio, his partner of many years. Is it difficult to separate when you are in love?

What is difficult, and it happened to both of us, is letting go of someone knowing that, together, you can end up hurting each other, because you are like brothers. That is brave. Then I have had other relationships. I am happy with my partner, but why am I telling you all this?

Because of the melancholy of his eyes. But in One LoveIsabel Coixet’s film based on Sara Mesa’s book, those same eyes are scary. How does he play such a good bastard?

Damn, thank you so much. Well, I guess those melancholic and sweet eyes are also painful. Deep down I am a painful clown, like in the poem by José Emilio Pacheco. To play the landlord of One Love I thought: ‘Where is that violence in Miguel’s eyes?’ Well, in those places of childhood where one has experienced pain. In that bastard that is there and that we can all carry inside. In this profession you can play with that with impunity, and it is wonderful.

Where do you keep your little bit of ego?

The best antidote to ego is innocence. I like to continue feeling innocent. I feel small, doubtful. I have never had a very strong ego.

He has spoken about his friendship with Alberto San JuanAre there codes of male friendship?

With Alberto, or with Javi Gutiérrez, I feel relaxed. I think that men also have a kind of burden: you have to have a kind of armor, and go out into the street armored (he puts on a thunderous voice) and say: I am masculine, I am a guy, and, from there I can take an axe and cut down a tree…

…And fix an electrical outlet. Because men are supposed to know how to fix them.

And put a light bulb wherever you want. And hunt deer, and never cry. What it means to be a guy, by force. Well, I’m not that guy. I’ve never put my balls on the table. In the end, this illness has given me the gift of allowing myself to feel fragile and vulnerable.

So, it’s the new old man in person.

If he old man (be part).

Are you in transition, like Norberta?

Well, for a long time, I felt very dysphoric, like Norberta. I didn’t like my body, my hands, I didn’t like anything. I’ve had surgery on many sides, I have a lot of stitches. So, with all this, with therapy, with theatre, with friends with whom you can talk and see that, deep down, the same thing happens to them, I’ve arrived here. Those people, those places, those moments with the people from Animalario will stay with me for the rest of my life and I always want to go back.


José Luis Bermejo Prieto (Madrid, 69 years old) is only called Jose by his family. A family originally from the Extremaduran town of Zarza de Montánchez that, he says, formed him and shaped his character until he met his chosen family, many of them members of Animalario, the theatre company that he founded with other friends and fellow actors and playwrights at the end of the nineties and to which he remains linked personally and professionally. Bermejo, a regular presence as a supporting actor in some of the films, theatre productions and television series of recent years –One Love, The Holy Innocents, Greyhounds-, now plays a leading role, alongside Adriana Ozores, in Norbert, film where she portrays the “fantastic journey” of a mature person who decides to begin a transition towards her gender at an age when others resign themselves to living half-heartedly. It’s all in her eyes.

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