A Golden Globe Winner Strikes a Different Chord

Gael Garcia Bernal attends the 2016 Time 100 Gala, on April 26, 2016 in New York City.
Andrew Toth—Getty Images Gael Garcia Bernal attends the 2016 Time 100 Gala, on April 26, 2016 in New York City.

A Golden Globe winner for his turn as an eccentric conductor on Amazon's Mozart in the Jungle, Mexico-born Gael García Bernal strikes a different chord in the migrant drama Desierto


Though his parents were actors in their native Mexico, García Bernal, 37, says he tried his best to avoid the family business. “You have to be a contrarian growing up,” he jokes. So despite having starred in telenovelas as a teenager, García Bernal didn’t begin to take acting seriously until he arrived in Europe. “I was in London, working in restaurants and bars,” he recalls. “I didn’t know what to do, but I ended up going to look at drama schools.” The result? At 18, García Bernal became the first Mexican student to enroll at the city’s prestigious Royal Central School of Speech & Drama. Says García Bernal: “I surrendered to destiny.”


Working both in front of and behind the camera with his production company, Canana Films, García Bernal has built a bilingual career with credits that include his breakout coming-of-age tale Y Tu Mamá También, Oscar-winning drama Babel, and border comedy Casa de Mi Padre. And, citing the burgeoning influence of Mexican filmmakers in Hollywood, García Bernal bets Anglo actors will pursue multilingual careers too. “There’s something brewing,” he says. “I think in the future they’ll be willing to experiment.”


García Bernal’s latest project, bilingual thriller Desierto, unfolds across the U.S.-Mexico border, as his character, Moises, guides a group of migrants on the journey north to California, where they unexpectedly find themselves the target of a merciless sniper (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). “It conveys the many complexities around immigration,” says García Bernal of the film, directed by Gravity co-writer (and fellow Mexican) Jonás Cuarón. “It’s a way of sharing something about all the people who’ve risked their lives by taking on this journey.” The movie’s message is particularly poignant given the upcoming presidential election. “People need to understand how important immigration is, even economically.”


While García Bernal has never shied away from playing challenging characters, his next role as the swashbuckler Zorro is an outsize opportunity to reinvent an iconic Hispanic hero. “I hope it’s a fun and interesting movie, with a certain transcendence,” he says of the project, which is currently being scripted. With it comes the chance to fulfill a lifelong goal. “I’d love to learn how to ride horses,” says García Bernal. “I can’t wait.”

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