"I could only think, ‘This is a joke’"

Actor Mario Casas recalls the difficulties of finishing his latest movie, ‘La mula’

One man and his mule: Mario Casas and his trusty co-star in La mula.
One man and his mule: Mario Casas and his trusty co-star in La mula.

“Suddenly, Michael Radford got up onto the platform and said he was off. There was a week of filming to go, we were going to shoot the dance sequence, and Michael blurted that out. I could only think, ‘This is a joke’.”

For a while after the British director stormed off set and disassociated himself from the production back in 2009, actor Mario Casas thought La mula (or, The mule) would never make it into movie theaters. But finally the film — now with the director credited as “Anonymous” — is going on general release in Spain this Friday and Casas can only feel relief. “I’m very fond of La mula because it means a lot of things for me,” he says.

Among those things are the risk he took in imitating an Andalusian accent for his role as a Spanish Civil War corporal in the movie — which turned out so well it won him the Best Actor prize at last month’s Málaga Film Festival — and the fact it introduced him to actors such as Secun de la Rosa and María Valverde, who is now his real-life partner.

Four years ago things did not look quite so rosy. “[Michael] explained that a disagreement with the Spanish producer had not been resolved and he couldn’t carry on,” Casas remembers. Another filmmaker had to direct the remainder of the movie, which is based on the book of the same name by Juan Eslava Galán.

“I’m aware that I’ve been a bit scared of ‘La mula’ over the last four years”

“The novel is about a young guy, innocent, with a pure look. Michael saw something in me. In fact, in the middle of my test he got up, left the room and then they hired me on the spot.

“I was one of the last members of the cast to arrive and the only thing I can say is that Michael treated me really well. I felt we understood each other, that he understood my questions and I knew the look that he wanted, which is the most important thing in creating that character of the corporal.”

After that, silence. “The first year you’re still frustrated. Then everything goes through the courts and news arrives every now and then. You think the film will never move forward.”

Casas returns to the subject of the innocent look of his character, of a man stuck in the middle of a conflict of which he only wants to get out of alive, with a wife and the mule of the title that he finds and adopts in the final days of the Civil War.

“I watch the film and I notice that I have changed a lot,” the A Coruña-born heart-throb confesses.

“It might be because today it is not so easy for me to achieve that innocent look, because that naturalness is now no longer the same.”

The actor admits that a lot of things have happened in his career in the intervening four years — a career that has led him to team up once again with Valverde in hit romantic drama Tres metros sobre el cielo and its sequel Tengo ganas de ti, as well as recently requiring him to grow a beard (though he has just shaved it off) for his role in the upcoming Ismael, directed by Marcelo Piñeyro.

He is also anxiously awaiting the release of Las brujas de Zugarramurdi (The witches of Zugarramurdi), the latest film from Alex de la Iglesia, in which he stars alongside Terele Pávez, Carmen Maura, Carolina Bang and Hugo Silva.

“Now I have a bit more confidence in myself,” the actor reveals. “I’m aware that I have been a bit scared of La mula over the last four years, because I didn’t know how my work had turned out — until they showed it to me three months ago. And I saw something nice and dignified.”

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