Benjamin Bratt stars as Juvenal, who becomes the third point in the story’s central love triangle. “I think there is a very universal human tendency to equate love with happiness,” says Bratt. “But what you find in the film, as in life, is that they are seldom synonymous. And yet we still pursue it because we think it’s going to give us a sense of peace. Love can be frustration. It can be joy. It can be comfort. It can be unrequited, in Florentino’s case. It can be agony and despair. But always in pursuit of it there is a sense of optimism, a hope that it will come to you, and almost every character in the film is in pursuit of it in one form or another.”
Brazilian stage star Fernanda Montenegro plays Florentino’s mother, Transito Ariza, who longs for her son’s happiness and uses every resource at her disposal to help him forget his lost love. “She is a wonderful mother, a Latin mother with a kind of love so great and wonderful, and a vision that a son is like a god,” says Montenegro. “When I read this book many years ago, I never thought one day I would be in Cartageña and a part of this great production directed by this wonderful director. Sometimes life is a miracle.”
Also helping him to forget is Lotario Thurgot, Florentino’s German employer, played by acclaimed actor Liev Schreiber. Thurgot introduces him to the city’s more hedonistic quarters. “He runs the telegraph office where Florentino works and he really enjoys women,” says Schreiber. “Lotario really shows him that there are other ways to find happiness than love.”
Over the course of his life, as he rises in society, Florentino bides his time with physical affairs while maintaining his heart’s fidelity for Fermina. He works to build up his position, first as a clerk and later taking over for his Uncle Leo’s (Hector Elizondo) powerful Caribbean River Company business, which holds sway over the entire Magdalena River. Every move he makes is dedicated to the undying hope that they will eventually be together, though his love remains unrequited for 51 years, 9 months and 4 days – but burns no less furiously than on that far-flung afternoon when they were little more than children.
Javier Bardem relished giving life to his character’s grand romantic spirit, anchored by a spiritual and emotional purity that allows him to remain pure in anticipation of reuniting with Fermina – despite over 600 purely sexual encounters. The strangeness and beauty of the character as the author envisioned is what Bardem hopes most informs his performance. “At the end of the day, it’s him – García Márquez – who knows more than anybody else what my character, Florentino, really is,” muses Bardem. “If, in some moments, I capture the essence of the character as he envisioned him, I will be grateful.”
Rounding out the international cast are Colombian-born Catalina Sandino Moreno (an Academy Award® nominee for her role in Maria Full of Grace) as Hildebranda Sanchez, Fermina Daza’s cousin, and Laura Harring (Mulholland Dr.) as Sara Noriega, who embarks on a brief but memorable affair with Florentino.
Embodying characters from the latter half of the 19th century and into the 20th, the actors would need more preparation than simply rehearsals. The filmmakers enlisted dialogue coach Julie Adams to refine the various accents at play into English in the style of Costeño, the Caribbean-inflected Spanish spoken along Colombia’s northern region. “Everybody brought a different flavor,” says John Leguizamo. “Everybody’s from different parts of the world, so we tried to find some unity in accents and behavior, things that would make you believe that the characters all belong in this time.”
They also brought in movement coaches to help the actors become accustomed to the comportment of the times. The actors participated in a three-week conservatory concurrent with rehearsals to complete their training. “For me, working with Mike, Javier, Ben, the movement and dialogue coaches, was a real journey,” comments Giovanna Mezzogiorno. “The conservatory helped tremendously in building her character.”
Director Mike Newell became a constant resource for the actors throughout the preparation period and production. Bringing the whole of his experience in film, Newell helped guide them toward a unity of vision between the book and film, and bring a sense of beauty and realism to romantic epic. “Mike is very demanding in the sense of trying to get the best quality that an actor can have and can give,” says Bardem. “It’s a pleasure in terms of knowing that you are observed by someone with important and interesting ideas. But at the same time, you have to put your ego away and surrender to the fact that if you want to play these characters, you have to go deeply into yourself, and sometimes they are not easy to play. But Mike really takes care of the actors in a way that makes you feel you can jump into the pool and it’s never going to be empty. There will always be some warm water there waiting for you – which is the deep care he takes for a good performance. It’s a beautiful place to stay as an actor because you have to grow in every take.”
“I wanted to be a part of this film because everyone involved wanted to achieve real poetry on film in terms of storytelling and acting,” adds Leguizamo. “It’s not your typical period piece where everybody speaks rather politely and everything is precious. This story is so rich, has so much vitality and life. We tried to make it sloppier and crazier – how life really is.”
“Mike shot the movie in a very raw, very realistic and intense way,” says Mezzogiorno. “It’s pure beauty and romanticism. It was so unexpected and unconventional. I think it’s very near the spirit of García Márquez.”