Javier Bardem, the jig is up. For years, the Spaniard relied on a fallback line when American directors came calling: He simply didn't speak English. That's what he told Ethan and Joel Coen when they approached him about playing a stony, roaming, coin-tossing assassin in "No Country for Old Men."
But since nailing the role that has earned him a Golden Globe, a SAG Award and an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor, Bardem has conquered that linguistic beast, a stray grammatical error here or there notwithstanding.
"Lucky enough, I can speak English, more or less," he concedes. "Today, I'm tired."
The fatigue stems from a lengthy night out with his "No Country" co-stars to celebrate their Screen Actors Guild win for best ensemble cast. Bardem and his buddy Josh Brolin stayed out well past dawn. And now, Bardem is feeling the pain.
"I used to be a good party boy. I'm old. I'm an old man," says Bardem, 38, sighing with mock exhaustion. "You pay the consequences. I'm just fine with a couple of drinks, no more than that.
"I enjoy my time at home, reading a good book. Especially if you're an actor, it's important for you to read books. Because otherwise you are reading scripts, which are most of the time the worst literature ever."
Bardem is a barrel-chested slab of a man, casual in a gray Dockers T-shirt paired with dark pants and white Prada sneakers. Now, in the early afternoon, he leans back on the couch in his suite at the Chateau Marmont, smoking cigarettes and pondering how he came to be the front-runner to win the supporting-actor Oscar on Feb. 24.
Bardem's Anton Chigurh murders with a methodical, efficient ferocity that is chilling and inescapable. And Bardem's executioner in the film, still playing in select theaters and due on DVD March 11, is killing critics and audiences alike.
"Who knew Chigurh would have this impact on people?" Bardem marvels. "One good thing is to be surprised by what comes to me. You do what you can. You try to be surrounded by talented people and talented projects, but at the end, things have to be touched by some kind of grace."
He pauses and smiles slightly. "Of course, it's very helpful to be surrounded by people like the Coens."
He is deadly serious on-screen and nearly as intense in person, but he has a sly sense of humor.
Brolin, who plays his "No Country nemesis," calls Bardem "a compelling guy. You spend time with him, and he's opposite of how he looks. He comes across as De Niro in that he has a severe face. But he's the sweetest human being I've ever met, bar none. I met his mother, and she's the same way."
Bardem, asked about being selected as one of People magazine's sexiest men alive, replies: "When they told me that, I thought, 'That's funny. Every time I wake up, I see myself like somebody beat me up.'"
Those who know him say he hasn't gone Hollywood -- and is wary of becoming a celebrity. His core group of friends includes guys he has known since he was 11. He lives in Madrid, walks everywhere and stays out of the tabloids, even though he's reportedly dating fellow Spaniard Penelope Cruz. But don't bother to ask him to comment on it.
"The personal thing is something I have never talked about. And I never will. That is prohibited. My job is public. But that's it. When you're not working, you don't have an obligation to be public."
That attitude has helped him deal with fame in Spain, where he's already a big star.