Robert Kojder chats with Carlos Sanz about his role in Stronger…
Carlos Sanz gives an incredibly moving and emotional performance as “the hero in the cowboy hat” that saves Jake Gyllenhaal in the Jeff Bauman biopic Stronger. On the TV side, he’ll also be appearing in the brand new series Ten Days in the Valley which premiered a couple weeks ago on ABC. From both the big and small screen, Carlos has been seen in films such as Runner Runner, Crank and The Take; and on TV starring in 24, NCIS, Bones, Scorpion, The Fosters, The Closer and The Shield. He’s also the older brother of SNL alum, Horacio Sanz. An award-nominated theater artist, he has worked around the world including the Royal Shakespeare Company, and worked alongside such talents as the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman.
First of all, congratulations on being a part of the film. It really is one of the most emotional journeys I’ve been on all year. With that said, what was the most important thing to get right about the bombing/rescue scene?
Aside from all the details expertly recreated by the film production team, for me, it was to bring what “Carlos” had said happened. Which was to, in a way, confront his own issues, make a choice, run into the fray and help someone. My main focus was to keep that reality in my being as the scene played out. Director David Gordon Green said to keep that heightened sense of adrenaline and at the same time be aware of all the blood and pain around you. Each time I ran into that group of actors, played beautifully by Jake Gyllenhaal and all the other actors, a real sense of desperation and panic would set in.
Following up on that, towards the end of the film you share a crucial dialogue scene with Jake Gyllenhaal. What was that like, and did you get to give any input on how that scene should accomplish its goal?
It was an extraordinary scene to play, the words, written by John Pollano, were so beautiful and the journey within the scene was subtle but very intense. I had a very definite take on the character and in my discussions with David he was very good about guiding and not imposing his ideas, so by the end we had a good vision of what we wanted. Having said that, Jake and I never interacted until we did that scene, so that when, we, as characters and as real individuals, meet for the first time, it’s a real meeting in that Boston bar. We never rehearsed, David came to me right before we were to start and said “how bout we shoot this fucking thing” and I said let’s do it.
Did you get the opportunity to meet the real-life Carlos Arredondo and how, if at all, did that influence your portrayal?
“David had asked me if I wanted to meet Carlos, I declined. This guy’s (character’s) journey resonated with me and I didn’t want to do an impersonation. I did meet Carlos and his wife Melida on my final day of shooting, we were doing the baseball stuff. He is an absolutely beautiful person, so kind and so generous that I’m glad we didn’t meet before because it would have definitely colored my performance.”
How did you go about fleshing out the character with director David Gordon Green? It’s a small role, but vital to the story leaving a memorable impression.
“That John (Pollano) brings this character on an hour into the movie is both brilliant and risky. The brilliance of course is that his story resonates with Jeff when he needs it the most. The risk is that the audience is like “who’s this guy”. I feel that the direction I received kept me on a path that no matter where I went with my emotions we never lost sight that “Carlos” was there to help and ultimately reveal that he himself was healed by the experience. More tricky for the director than the actor I think.”
Would you be interested in playing Carlos Arredondo in a feature film solely about him? He’s a strong anti-war activist that has experienced many family tragedies so his story could make a good companion piece to Stronger.
Wow, that would be a hell of a journey. Carlos has had a very interesting, difficult and ultimately joyous life. The approach for me would be very different from Stronger but I think it could be the kind of project that would be important for many reasons. First like Stronger it would be hopeful but also it would show that an immigrant to this country has integrity, honor, courage and is willing to sacrifice for his fellow Americans.
How does the role of Carlos differ from your previous work, and was it your biggest acting challenge yet?
Well, my personal process for this role didn’t change much from other characters I’ve done. I believe that every character is a different part of me, that is to say that is me in extraordinary circumstances. But given the intensity of this project and the tremendous talent working on this movie, from writer, actors, director, DP Mr. Sean Bobbitt and of course Jake Gyllenhaal who is arguably one of the finest if not the best actor of this generation, well (I’m smiling here), I felt compelled to bring my “A-Game”.
Jeff Bauman has touched our hearts in different ways. For myself, I relate to the struggles of the disabled lifestyle, which Jake conveys with high authenticity. His inner strength and resiliency also inspire me. So what does Jeff Bauman mean to you?
It demonstrates the best thing about us is that human fortitude can shine in the darkest of times. It puts into perspective that every time we are in dark places we can overcome them. The only thing worth a damn is this world is an act of human kindness. This movie has so much of that, so much love on many different levels, that when you dry your eyes at the end, I feel like you leave a better person.
What upcoming project are you most excited about?
I’m working on a getting a movie off of the ground. Imagine if John Cassavetes had made a movie which was a mixture of Get Shorty and The Sixth Sense. I’ll keep you posted.
Lastly, since I’m a huge Crank fan, can you share any set stories or talk about what it was like making such an absurd action flick?
Hahaha! I had a lot of fun shooting that movie. It had two directors, Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, I had been told that one was a genius and the other crazy, I had to ask which was which because as far as I could tell they were both crazy. For that final shootout scene, I spent a week covered in blood (syrup with food coloring), sticky from head to toe. For that final moment the directors convinced me to lay under a helicopter as it was taking off. When the ground started to shake and I began to get pelted by pebbles and debris, I remember thinking, this is the dumbest thing I’ve ever agreed to do. The scene did turn out great though, Ha.
SEE ALSO: Read our review of Stronger here
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com