Raúl Arévalo: “This is an endurance race”

The star on being the most talented actor of his generation and looking like Sean Penn

Gregorio Belinchón
The actor Raúl Arévalo: “I don’t know how to do things the fast, easy way.”
The actor Raúl Arévalo: “I don’t know how to do things the fast, easy way.”LUIS SEVILLANO

Word is out in the Spanish film industry that Raúl Arévalo is the most talented actor of his generation — a group that happens to be very competitive.

But the 32-year-old from Madrid likes to put a damper on all the buzz.

“Actually, I’m no longer a young talent, there are very good people right up there with me, and in any case the girls are better than the guys,” says Arévalo, who has always had to deal with comparisons to Sean Penn, whom many say he looks like.

“I admire him so much. Let’s hope I mature the same way and that I can one day become a quarter of what he is,” the actor confesses.

For now, though, Arévalo is concerned about other things, such as a growing belly (“which I’m already toning down”) and an imminent jump into directing.

Besides that, he is also starring in the recently released Promoción fantasma (or, Ghost graduation), a comedy for all audiences with numerous references to the 1980s that conceals sharp social and educational commentary.

In the movie, Arévalo plays a teacher who sees dead people, a role that would slip out of other actors’ hands, but which he manages to fill with nuance.

“I gave a lot of thought to the tone I should adopt. I talked at length with director Javier Ruiz Caldera, and we agreed not to let the character slip into easy gags. We would make him more dramatic, and let the others be the wise guys. I was paranoid about going overboard with it. [...] We stayed away from silliness.”

To even mention the quality of Arévalo’s work to his face, to praise his attempt at doing things differently — like dabbling in theater with Falstaff and Urtain — is like mentioning the devil. He squirms in his chair and twists his entire torso, as though he suddenly feels trapped.

“I’ve been very lucky. I really haven’t made that many choices,” he assures. “I have made movies that had a lot of repercussions. It is true, though, that I don’t know how to do things the fast, easy way.”

The son of entrepreneurs who own a bar in the Madrid district of Chamberí, Arévalo is one of those actors who shows a great love for their profession — someone who defends the importance of study and says that “this is an endurance race; quick and easy success is not for me.”

The result of his own work is four nominations for Goya Awards — the Spanish Cinema Academy’s annual prizes — with one win for best supporting actor in Gordos, and a talent for learning from the greats. Antonio Banderas is his chief role model.

“I did Che to see where Steven Soderbergh placed the cameras. It’s another story whether I managed to see them,” he laughs. “Banderas [who directed him in El camino de los ingleses, marketed in English as Summer Rain] always says he bought his own freedom and can now do whatever he wants.”

After a few shorts, his moment as a director of feature-length films is in the offing. “I don’t know whether I’ll be any good, but I dream of directing, and I am more passionate about that possibility than about continuing to act.”

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