Set in 1960s Spain, “Living is Easy With Eyes Closed (Vivir es facil con los ojos cerrados)” is about a schoolteacher/hardcore Beatles fan (Javier Cámara) who travels with two runaways (Natalia de Molina and Francesc Colomer) to Almería where he hopes to meet John Lennon, who was shooting “How I Won the War.” Director-writer David Trueba’s latest movie was the recipient of six Goya Awards (the Spanish equivalent of the Academy Awards) including Best Film, Best Actor and Best Director. I had the chance to speak with Trueba and Cámara last week when they were town where we talked about the origins of the movie, character interpretation and bonding with the young actors during the making of the film.
David, where did the idea to write “Living is Easy with Eyes Closed” come from?
David Trueba: I am always attracted to this type of character-driven stories. I was on a holiday in Almería in the southern part of Spain and they were celebrating 40 years since John Lennon stayed there to shoot a movie. I didn’t at that time about that story, but I also didn’t know about that there were stories, like little anecdotes, about him featured in the local paper. There was this one story about this teacher who telling the paper that he took a bus and went to Almería to meet Lennon because he was using the song of The Beatles to teach English in his class. I saw this picture of this very old man at the time, saying that John Lennon was very surprised because he was a very poor student when he was young. He was surprised that somebody used his lyrics to teach English. The teacher also said that he brought the students’ notebook to show Lennon. This is a simple story that attracts me. It’s very, very naïve, but at the same time, it tells a lot of things about what I like about people and history. These are things that I think is important, while some people might not think that it is important. The attraction to doing this movie started there. After that, it was probably my interest in talking about this generation that came before me. At the same time, it also talks about a dark time for Spain because there was an economical crisis that happened.
Javier, how did you get involved with this project?
Javier Cámara: David called me once to work together a long time ago, but I couldn’t do it at the time. When he called me about this script, I read the script and I fell in love this character and this story. Everything was so easy. We were talking on the phone about making the movie and we both knew that we had a lot of work ahead of us. We talked about the characters, the clothes and all the details. For me, this is not a trip for the character, but it is also a trip for the actor. I wasn’t really hesitant to start to do the character. The first day is about trying to capture the essence of the character. David told me, “Don’t worry. This is a road movie. This is a trip for everybody, even for you.” It was great because I was so relaxed and happy. It was an amazing trip.
When you are tackling a character like this, does David allow you room to interpret the way you envision the character?
Cámara: Yes. He offers enough room for me, but films belong to the director. I am a part of the clock in the mechanism and the clock must work. I am just a little part of this. I want to help them to prepare this film and doing the easy work. This work was funny because he offers me a lot of time. He was so relaxed. Ask him if you want. He was so confident that it was a little scary sometimes because if the director is a little worried about your work. He gives me enough time and says, “Don’t worry Javier. You are going to be good.” It was an easy shooting.
Is it fair to say that you like to have your actors interpreting your characters anyway that they want?
Trueba: Yes. I think the most interesting part of my job as a director is trying to get the actors to get comfortable with their characters. For them, it is going to be very easy for them because the characters have to act like you in a way, but at the same time, this type of energy and spirit. There is a moment where…what I like most is that people think that the characters in the film are just like the actors. People sometimes misunderstand Javier with the character. In the moment that you make the choice, you have make that choice for the whole audience.
Cámara: Sometimes, rehearsals are not worth it if you do not have an accurate cast and that is one of the most difficult parts about a film. A film is a chain of very difficult decisions and I think one of them is to choose an accurate cast. There is a lot of accurate casting, but the accurate cast for this film and this film does have a very accurate cast.
Trueba: If you ask the actors about their personal lives, sometimes you find out that they closer to the characters much more than they realized. It is like asking them to bring their experience to their characters. Not only your personal experience, but your experience as a person whenever you had to deal with a parent, a teacher, a woman that helps you or types of characters in 1960s Spain that you know of. If you try to bring it all together, we will choose pick some interesting traits and put aside some of the things that will cause a problem for the audience for what they do in the movie.
Cámara: It is an important thing that sometimes that you have the sensation to choose the character, but sometimes you have odd connections with the character. Some of them are very hidden because there is some line in the script.
Did you guys have enough time to rehearse or bond with the young actors you were working with?
Cámara: We were 500-600km away from home. We were living in a hotel. It was May and we were in the middle in the desert in a little town. It became so easy to become a family. Actors are always looking for the eyes of the other actors because you need help and you need connection. It was fantastic because I think the day that we solidify the role with the crew was the moment where we entered the car and we started talking.
Trueba: It’s interesting that one day of shooting is equal to three months of rehearsing. Rehearsals are always about pretending to do something, while shooting the movie is the real time for the first time. You have to choose very carefully what are the first moments of filming because those moments are going to help build connections between the actors. You give them time to play a little bit with the characters and it is very practical. I always want to the camera to be rolling when something special happens. I always feel very uncomfortable when something is happening and the camera is not present. Sometimes it works and sometime it is a little hard to capture moments like that.
Cámara: Actors know that there are parts you don’t need to know like editing. Sometimes a director tells you, “With this take, I want you to be a little more funny” or “Be a little open-minded.” I would say, “Why? I don’t understand why you need this take a certain way.” There is always another room called the editing room where the director and the editor put the pieces together. There is some information that an actor doesn’t need and that’s okay. I can’t control everything. I don’t want to control everything. Sometimes, you want to control everything and you want to know the size of the lens and stuff like that. I am so relaxed as an actor because I don’t want to control everything. I just want to control my part.
Trueba: As the writer of the movie, I think there is a lot of confidence between you and the actors because they know that you are not just the director. You are somebody who has access to the core of the story. They look at you and think, “He knows what he is doing so I am going to enjoy how he works.” I love that because it’s true that the director has to be the one in control and the actor has to enjoy and offer things to the director to see what work or doesn’t work. As a director, I appreciate when actors are not afraid to help you bring things to the characters.
Cámara: This is a melting pot. Let’s put everything together and see what comes out.
“Living is Easy with Eyes Closed” is playing exclusively at the Coral Gables Art Cinema. Click here for showtimes.