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Interview with actor Luis Tosar

After a career of over twenty years, he is now considered one of the most important actors of Spain. Roles that have given him greater glory have been mostly villains: psychopaths, offenders or prison leaders, among others. However, he says that they are much easier to play than characters that resemble him. The Prisma’ Memoirs. October 2012. 

 “Getting into the skin of other people is like a perpetual game”

Luis Tosar.

Miriam Valero

Born in 1971 in Spain, he seems an honest and very funny person. He became an actor because life led him to it, “one thing led to another” as he was never entirely sure of what he wanted to do. The truth is that Luis Tosar has become one of the most important actors of the Iberian Peninsula. He has already won three Goya awards and has filmed with the most notable Spanish directors and some of the most important directors overseas.

Tosar has worked hard to get to where he is today and appreciates his position. As a perfectionist and sincere person, he is considered a ‘baddie’ in the film industry as he plays characters that aren’t precisely heroes. Of these, perhaps Malamadre, the surprising prison leader who gave life to “Cell 211” (Daniel Monzón, 2009), was what finally established him as an actor.

Tosar visited London for a retrospective of his work at the eighth edition of the Spanish Film Festival, and took a few minutes to chat with The Prisma. He talked about his successful career and didn´t bite his tongue when criticising the management of the current government in Spain.

How does it make you feel to come to London for a review of your career?

Old (laughs). Very good. Very honoured.

Would you have expected this 20 years ago?

No. 20 years ago I was starting to make short films with a person that I am still making films with. However, our plans weren´t very ambitious in that sense. All we wanted to do was experiment, do things, and we had a vague idea that this was what we wanted to dedicate ourselves to. I liked performing but I actually had other things I was aiming towards. But there comes a time when you say, I think I’m actually quite good at this.

In your career you have played many villains with complex personalities. Why do you think you end up with these characters?

I don’t know…I have no idea. The only answer I can think of is that these characters are so interesting precisely because they have corners, edges, places to explore. Overall the heroes, the main characters of the films are quite bland. They are usually written in a very schematic way to serve as an excuse for the plot to move forward. The interesting characters are usually the ones on the side line.

You have a reputation for being a good person, how do you prepare when getting into a character like this?

I think it’s a matter of modesty. The farther away the character is from you, you’re going to have less modesty when entering such places. When you have to face things that have to do with yourself, modesty attacks and you feel wary of it. To explore places that have to do with your idiosyncrasies, those places that are comfortable for you, you don’t want to explore or that you do but want to reserve for yourself or your loved ones. Everything that is as far as possible from what you are, for me as an actor, is always more exciting and somehow easier to do.

Which character do you consider has been your most difficult to play?

I’ve played a few complex characters. In all honesty any character is complex for me. I find it very difficult to do anything (laughs). There is a film in that I participated in (“18 meals”), which is based wholly around the improvisation of the actors and there was a character which was quite close to my real self. Walking around I found it very complicated because it seemed all too ordinary, too normal.

What did the role of Malamadre mean to you?

It was a really fun toy that lasted for a season. Overall however it wasn’t just the character. It was the chance to work with Daniel Monzón, who is a director and person that I admire and with other people who I love. There was a very special atmosphere created in that movie. Also for all that entailed, working with real prisoners who tell you their life story…you don’t always get the chance to access that kind of information.

It isn’t easy to find people who can tell you their life stories that they have experienced in their own skin, and you instead have to rely on your imagination.

In the case of the character Cesar, the psychotic stalker concierge in “Sleep Tight”, what was it like getting in to that role?

That was more of an exercise that demanded that I place myself in the part. Luckily I don’t know anyone like that, or even similar to Cesar. Well I know doormen, but I hope they’re not like that (laughs). I had to put myself in the place of a character that has a complete lack of empathy for the pain of others and try to work on the task that he develops throughout the film: having one face for others and another underlying face which is quite radical.

In “Mondays in the Sun” you played an everyday character. Seeing the performance in the movie and the current situation in the country, what is your opinion on it?

It makes me feel very sad to think that a film made 11 years ago can have even more meaning now than when it was shot. At the time it also had relevance, but the situation was not as difficult. It was difficult for the shipping industry (which is reflected in the film), but let’s just say the rest of society was prospering thanks to the property bubble.

Now it’s a film that’s gained a lot more pertinence and it’s nice to think that a film has that effect, but it’s very sad to think that this is the reason. I would prefer it if the film were more effective as a reminder of what happened and what should not happen again. A reminder of what we had learned and that we had a caring administration that created jobs. But unfortunately the reality is that we have a government that does almost the opposite, destroying jobs without hesitation.

Cuts in Spain are also affecting the world of culture. How has this affected the film industry?

In regards to the film industry, I think that the situation is very difficult right now. It’s probably the worst time in terms of distribution issues and exhibition. VAT (value added tax) has just increased and it will be very difficult for films to be shown. Furthermore, we have had to fight for years against different factors such as piracy, changing formats and the recession. With regards to actors, when I started it wasn’t very fashionable to be an actor. Years later, it started getting overly trendy and there was a lot of supply. People who never thought of being actors became one overnight without preparation. You didn’t begin by doing Hamlet; you started off as a clown at a birthday party, for example.

You’ve also been an activist. Now that the social movement is coming to life in Spain, is being an actor compatible with these actions for social demands?

As a citizen one has the right to protest whenever they want. Many times we have given a voice to forums that never had one before. People turn to us for that. They say: “They don’t see us, we are totally invisible and we need you to lend a hand”. It makes sense.

What has your career taught you so far?

It has given me a lot of joy (laughs) and I live a very special life. Getting in to the skin of other people is like a perpetual game. It’s like a kind of extension of my childhood and it’s a privilege.

(Translated by: Sophie Maling – Email: – Photos supplied by the interviewed

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