When the Golden Globe nominations were announced last month, one of the biggest surprises was all the love for a little-seen Amazon series called Mozart in the Jungle. Not only did the show score a Best Comedy Series nod, but its star, Gael García Bernal, also landed himself in the Best Actor in a Television Comedy Series category alongside Aziz Ansari, Rob Lowe, and Jeffrey Tambor.
Unlike those three men, the Mexican-born star of films Y Tu Mamá También, The Motorcycle Diaries and, more recently, the Jon Stewart-directed drama Rosewater, is not exactly known for his comedy chops.
But for fans of Mozart, which just started streaming its second season on Amazon December 30, the accolades were less shocking. As Rodrigo, the eccentric maestro of the incestuous New York Symphony, he has developed a completely unique performance, generating laughs with nothing more than the way he mispronounces the name of co-star Lola Kirke’s character. (It’s Hailey, but coming from Rodrigo it sounds more like the sport jai alai.)
On March 4, Bernal returns to the big screen with yet another dark turn in the immigration thriller Desierto, the directorial debut of Jonás Cuarón, who previously co-wrote the script for Gravity with his father, Alfonso Cuarón.
Desierto turns the contentious immigration debate into a tense action film set along the U.S.-Mexico border. While Bernal plays one of a group of migrants trying to enter the United States, Jeffrey Dean Morgan portrays a racist vigilante who decides to take matters into his own hands to prevent them from doing so.
Bernal spoke to The Daily Beast about both projects, and shared his message for Latinos who don’t want to see President Donald Trump build a wall along the southern border. Below is an edited and condensed version of our conversation.
Congrats on the Golden Globe nominations for Mozart in the Jungle. The show seems to have flown under the radar for a while, but people are finally starting to really take notice, just in time for Season Two.
Thank you so much. Yeah, that’s great man. I’m really happy, really delighted. I’m just spinning.
Can you talk a little bit about what drew you to the part of Rodrigo?
It was a combination of many things, but the fact that it was a show about classical music really pulled my attention. Because that itself is very original, to do a TV series about that. So that pulled me immediately. But the way it was put together, the people that were involved—Roman [Coppola], Jason [Schwartzman] and Paul [Weitz]—it was something that was very interesting to be part of. And now I’m just delighted because I look forward each year to working on it, to learn more, because I learn so much doing each episode. And to spend time in New York, working with this wonderful group of people, it’s incredible. And to play Rodrigo, he’s one of the most fun characters to play, you know? He’s so free.
Have you enjoyed the opportunity to play comedy after doing a lot of darker work throughout your career?
I think yeah, that was something I was looking for as well. Because it was nice to do something relaxed and a little bit more approachable. And at the same time, it takes another type of effort that leaves you really tired. You have to be really connected and really playing the part all of the time. Comedy requires a lot of energy.
Shifting gears, the trailer for Desierto just premiered. It tells the story of a group of migrants trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border but it appears to be a thriller or even a horror film. What can you tell us about your character in the film?
Yeah, it’s this migrant story, with everyone crossing the border for different reasons, most of them forced reasons. And they encounter this character, who, unfortunately takes matters into his own hands and kind of validates a hate discourse—just suddenly snaps and starts killing these people. The character I play is one of these migrants and it’s pure action, the film. So, a lot of people will find a lot of complexity in its very strong action sequences. And hopefully a lot of people will enjoy the film.
Why do you think this story is an important one to tell?
Because it’s an important issue all over the world. And it’s an issue that needs to be talked about, because there is a huge void in leaving a large group of people to be considered criminals, and even “illegal,” while the world economy needs this migration to exist. Migration is as natural as breathing, as eating, as sleeping. It is part of life, part of nature. So we have to find a way of establishing a proper kind of scenario for modern migration to exist. And when I say “we,” I mean the world. We need to find ways of making that migration not forced. Because unfortunately in a lot of situations, right now with Syria for example, a lot of the migration that exists is a forced migration.
Between Rosewater and now Desierto, much of your work seems aimed at making a political point. What do you make of the recent debate over immigration, whether it is ideas to deport millions of undocumented immigrants or calls to keep Syrian refugees out of the country?
[Sighs.] I think that’s the wrong way to tackle this subject. Because first of all, it’s an issue that involves everybody. And there are many legs to it. And with immigration, again, we are denying a natural phenomenon. We can’t deny that natural phenomenon. We need to establish roots of how to make that phenomenon happen in a way that is, yes, legal, but we also need to prevent this forced migration from existing. What happened in Syria is terrible. We all have to be responsible for that. Millions of people are left without a home and without a future. We can’t let those kids not have a future. And in the case of the United States and Mexico or Latin America, there is an interdependent culture and economy. We’ve seen through history that building walls is completely obsolete and completely ridiculous. The best investment you can make is to prevent forced migration. And to take down walls so we share this interdependence in harmony and not in this kind of contention.
Of course the man who’s leading the Republican presidential primary race right now is Donald Trump, who wants to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. How do you think Latino voters will respond if he becomes the Republican nominee for president?
Well, I would suspect that anyone with a human heart will vote against people who talk that way. There are a few people [in the presidential race] who think like that and the problem is that if we do a little bit of insight into history, how many times have there been people doing hate discourse, blaming everything on a certain group of people? So that really is the genesis of genocide, where it kind of sparks. So this hatred should be stopped and the best way to stop it is coming out to vote.