Interview Date: 08/30/2011
Run Date: 09/13/2011
Actor Steven Bauer is the sort of down-to-earth guy who’s willing to come right out and tell an interviewer that, overall, his career in Hollywood has been “kind of… a little iffy,” so it really does the heart good to see him currently experiencing a bit of an upswing in his success. If you’re a fan of “Breaking Bad” – and, really, why wouldn’t you be? – then you saw him make the first of his two appearances on the show this season, and the timing couldn’t be more perfect: between those episodes lies the Blu-ray release of “Scarface,” where Bauer ably held his own against Al Pacino with his performance as Tony Montana’s brother from another mother, Manny Ribero. Although we only had a short time to talk, Bullz-Eye still managed to get Bauer’s recollections of working on both of these projects.
Bullz-Eye: With “Scarface,” my understanding is that it was a combination of your very authentic Cuban background and your audition that helped you get the part. How did you prepare for the audition?
Steven Bauer: Wow, it was… I’ll tell you what: it was pretty daunting at the time. What I did was… y’know, I read the script, I knew the script and I understood it, knowing that I had very little in common with this character of Manny. Fortunately, I’d met guys like that, so I had something to draw upon. Because I’m the antithesis of Manny. Well, I was then. I probably became more and more like Manny as I got older. (Laughs) But at 24 years old, I was more like Justin Bieber than Manny Ribera! But I had seen those guys, y’know, growing up in Miami. I’d seen guys who were that way, and that’s really what I drew upon. Also, it was the sensibilities of the Cuban who has lost his homeland and is really sort of adrift in the world and looking for any harbor. Landing in the United States is the opportunity to do anything you want to do and be anything you want to be.
"I read the script, I knew the script and I understood it, knowing that I had very little in common with this character of Manny. Fortunately, I’d met guys like that, so I had something to draw upon. Because I’m the antithesis of Manny. Well, I was then. I probably became more and more like Manny as I got older. But at 24 years old, I was more like Justin Bieber than Manny Ribera!"That’s the reality of these characters: the Cubans who got out through Mariel were really getting a second chance at life. To do something. Anything. The problem is that both those guys – Tony Montana and Manny Ribera – are really hardened criminals, because they’ve grown up in a society that’s so oppressive, so repressed that they’ve resorted to criminal behavior, and they’ve been locked up for a long time. So I prepared by just being the most devil-may-care version of myself that I could, and using really, really Cuban-like instincts and swagger and mannerisms and sense of humor. I also knew at the time… by then, I had already met Al, and I knew that Al and I had, like, this amazing instant chemistry. I also had another thing going for me: both Brian DePalma and Marty Bregman had already told me to my face before I auditioned that I was going to end up with that role. Because they saw it. They just saw it in me. Before I ever auditioned, when I showed up, they were like, “You’re gonna play Manny. You just have to get through the audition process, so that nobody has any qualms about you getting this role.”
BE: Talking about your inherent Cuban-ness, did it ever give you pause at all that so many non-Cuban actors were selected to play Cubans in the film?
SB: Not at all. Will, honestly, it was an amazing coming together of actors, and I for one… well, first of all, who am I to judge? (Laughs) But secondly, there was no room for judgment, because the actors that they chose, beginning with Bob Loggia as Frank Lopez. He did his own work, he did his own research, and he came up with a totally original Cuban character that… I recognized him immediately. He’s that guy who laughs at his own jokes. He’s a big blowhard, y’know? It was a fantastic character that he created. And then Murray Abraham created that weasel of a man, Omar. And the other guys who weren’t Cuban, the guy who played the Bolivian – God rest his soul, Paul Shenar, who passed away years ago – he was fantastic. And he had no knowledge of any Bolivian. But he did tremendous research. And when you look at the whole canvas of the actors that were chosen, they’re all stars. They’re all beautiful, amazing artists. Michelle Pfeiffer, in her second film role ever, she created this beautiful, beautiful character, this haunted girl who’s just completely lost and attached to this power, to this man, and then attaches himself to the other man as soon as he gets the power. And again, the actors who were playing Cubans, they were all… the ones who were playing the important roles in the film, they all did amazing, amazing work. I always, always defend it.
For years, and I’ll still get this every once in awhile, I’ll get someone who’ll be kind of snide or kind of snobbish, and they’ll say, “You know, Steven, you’re great, the movie’s kind of great, but let’s face it: Al’s accent is not really…” And I’ll say, “Stop. Stop right there, ‘cause I don’t want to hear that. I really don’t need to hear that, ‘cause… you do it. You go out and do that.” The reality is that Al’s accent… first of all, I was very instrumental in giving him and providing him with that sound, ‘cause it was my dad’s accent. (Laughs) Another thing is, when you see the movie, if you’re paying attention, he says, “My dad was a Yankee, and I learn from the movies. They teach me to talk. I learn from Humphrey Bogart.” All of that. So his Cuban accent is not a normal Cuban accent. It’s a guy who grew up with some American influence. So I have no stomach for that kind of criticism.
BE: Have you ever tried to count the number of F-bombs that are dropped in the film?
SB: Well, I’ll tell you what: in 1983, when the movie was released, I can’t even remember if it was a positive or a negative review, but what I do know is that there were about 94 – 95% negative reviews. (Laughs) But I believe it was Richard Corliss, in either Time Magazine or Newsweek, who counted them, and… I believe it was either 212 or 218. Something like that. I didn’t have to count, man. I’ve watched the movie two or three hundred times in my life. I’ve watched it with friends, I’ve watched it at “Scarface” parties and get-togethers, reunions and stuff. It’s an amazing film. It’s a real audience pleaser.
BE: Given that it received such a poor critical reception, are you surprised that it’s become such a huge cult success?
SB: Yeah, I’d like to say that I’m not surprised, but I am surprised. Even now, I’m still actually really humbled by the response, by the rebirth of “Scarface,” by where it’s landed, its place in cinema history. Will, the sad reality was that, for years, it was a movie that was shunned, and it was really dismissed as garbage. And I’m not kidding. I’m not exaggerating. If you go back in time, if you go and you research the articles about “Scarface,” it was that bad, it was that bad, it was that brutal, and it was that vicious by the film journalists and critics around the country. It was really, really, really bad, and it was very… they meant to cause harm and injury. And, you know, the people who are really involved in the film, who really collaborated to make this film, we really believed that we had a really interesting and quirky… (Laughs) but important piece of art.
On being in "Breaking Bad": "I got really fortunate, man. Listen, I missed ‘The Sopranos’ completely. How did I not get on ‘The Sopranos’? I never got on ‘Miami Vice’! My career’s been kind of, y’know, it’s a little iffy. And all I can say is bless Vince Gilligan’s heart."And the day that the reviews came out around the country, where we were basically told that we were full of shit and that the movie was a piece of garbage and should just be forgotten and put aside and everybody should go back to the drawing board. So for years, that’s what we lived with. That was our epitaph. So to be here, to be at these heights now, it’s very humbling. It’s a very humble place to be, and I don’t want to be arrogant or spiteful in any way. I’m really just humbled and grateful that this happened. And we owe a lot of what we have to the generation that followed, the hip-hop and the rappers, bless their soul. (Laughs) Bless their hearts, because they incorporated the language and themes of “Scarface” into their lyrics and their records until it became mainstream.
Publicist: We have time for one more question.
SB: One more question? Oh, my gosh!
BE: Well, if I’ve only got one more question, then I’m going to shift topics and talk about “Breaking Bad.”
SB: Oh, my gosh. And next week is me.
BE: It is. And, man, between you and Mark Margolis, I don’t know who has the best moments in that scene, but it’s pretty ridiculous. How did you find your way onto the show, and what was it like?
SB: Man, I got really fortunate, man. Listen, I missed “The Sopranos” completely. How did I not get on “The Sopranos”? I never got on “Miami Vice”! (Laughs) My career’s been kind of, y’know, it’s a little iffy. And all I can say is bless Vince Gilligan’s heart. He cast me in “Breaking Bad,” and I did two episodes. I’m in two episodes in this great season, this new season I’m watching as a fan, and now I’m already picturing where I fit in. You haven’t seen my episode yet, have you?
BE: I’ve seen the first one. I haven’t seen the second one.
SB: You saw my first episode?
BE: Yeah, I’m a TV critic, so I got an advance screener.
SB: You’re kidding! So you saw me in the yellow track suit? (Laughs)
BE: Yeah. You’re sporting some pretty great jewelry, too.
SB: (Laughs) That’s pretty wild, isn’t it? That’s an amazing scene. That last quarter of the episode, it’s an amazing scene. It’s nuts. And the second episode? Fuggedaboudit. Fuggedaboudit. The second one, I watched it in New York – ‘cause I did the ADR work on it in New York City – and I was on the phone with one of the producers in L.A., and she kept saying, “Steven, just be prepared. Be prepared. You won’t believe how this scene plays out.” And just the way it’s cut… the way it’s acted and the way it’s cut… man, I’m so excited. I’m so thrilled and so fortunate to be in that.
BE: I have to tell you, as a fan of the show, your first episode is probably my favorite episode of the season to date, and it’s in no small part because of your scene.
SB: Oh, thank you, man. Thank you so much! The producers said that to me, and I thought they were just humoring me. They were, like, “This is our favorite episode of the season,” and I was, like, “Wow!” When I read the script for the episode… beyond my part, when I read that script for that episode, my jaw dropped. I was, like, trembling watching it. That whole thing, when Hank asks Walt to take a ride with him over to Los Pollos Hermanos? Man. And he asks him to put the bug in the wheel well? Jesus. And there’s Mike sitting there watching him…? Jesus! I just couldn’t stand it when I was reading it. (Laughs) It was so good. Anyway, I’m going back to L.A. on Saturday and we’re having a viewing party, and I’m inviting Vince, ‘cause he’s, like, my new friend. (Laughs) I invited him to the “Scarface” reunion last weekend, and he was thrilled. He was so excited.
BE: Well, I know we’re over our time, but it’s been great talking to you, Steven. Thanks so much, and I can’t wait to see your second episode.
SB: Thanks, man! God bless. Take care of yourself. And thank you so much! (To publicist) I can’t believe he’d seen the episode! That’s awesome!