Ricardo Darín: Argentina’s Lucky Charm at the Oscars

When the country has a nominated film, it has usually starred this veteran. But the actor says other people have believed in his talent more than he has.

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By Carlos Aguilar

WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — Fortune has long favored Ricardo Darín. More than the subjective concept of talent, it is providence, manifested as other people’s unwavering confidence in his abilities, that the actor credits for his storied career as Argentina’s most celebrated film star internationally.

“I’ve had all the luck that my parents didn’t have as actors,” he said in Spanish during a recent interview at the Sunset Tower Hotel in West Hollywood. “Many times, people have valued me far more than I value myself, and I often think, ‘Do I deserve all that?’”

The latest example of his relationship with Lady Luck is his turn as the real-life prosecutor Julio Strassera in “Argentina, 1985,” a historical courtroom drama about the Trial of the Juntas, when military leaders were tried for human rights violations during the former dictatorship. Directed by Santiago Mitre, it earned Argentina an Oscar nomination for best international feature film.

Darín seems to be his country’s lucky charm when it comes to the Academy Awards. He has starred in all four movies to earn Argentina a nod this century, including “Son of the Bride,” “Wild Tales” and “The Secret in Their Eyes,” which took home the statuette in 2010. And Argentina has also submitted several other Darín-led productions to the academy over the years — meaning that even though they didn’t all make the cut, the films in which he appears are almost synonymous with the best of Argentine cinema.

From the first handshake, Darín, 66, radiates a welcoming aura. Casually dressed in bluejeans and a navy sweater, he speaks with a warmth and candor that most people reserve for their closest friends. That temperament translates onscreen.

“Ricardo has an immense power to elicit empathy from the audience, and that’s rare,” said the director Juan José Campanella, who has collaborated with Darín on four features.

Though the actor inherited a passion for performance from his parents, who were both working actors in Buenos Aires, neither was enthusiastic about his carrying on the family’s craft. “They didn’t fight me on it, but they also didn’t encourage me to do it,” he recalled.

Darín thinks of his path as preordained. He was a regular on film and TV sets and theater stages in childhood, first acting professionally at 3 years old in the 1960 series “Soledad Monsalvo.” At 10 he debuted onstage alongside his parents. By the time he attended his first theater workshop at 14, Darín felt like a seasoned veteran who had already experienced many facets of the job firsthand.

For a time in adolescence, he contemplated becoming a veterinarian, a psychologist or even a lawyer. But in the end, the world he had always been familiar with persuaded him to stay. Doors opened easily for him, with frequent invitations to participate in a variety of projects.

Interviews With the Oscar Nominees

That trust from notable people in the industry is what he calls fortune. Darín has dear memories of the television director Diana Álvarez, who got into a fight with a network in 1982 so that he could be part of the show “Nosotros y Los Miedos.” She saw in him potential that others couldn’t.

“In our profession, luck is very important,” Darín said. “There are very talented people out there with lots to tell who can’t find opportunities.”

In the 1990s, Darín found immense success as the co-star of the sitcom “Mi Cuñado” (“My Brother-in-Law”), playing an impertinent but charming screw-up. His contract restricted him from other TV ventures but allowed him to pursue films. Among them was his first outing with Campanella, “The Same Love, the Same Rain” (1999), which helped other directors see beyond his TV persona.

Darín's academy-nominated films, clockwise from top left: “Argentina, 1985,” “Son of the Bride,” “The Secret in Their Eyes” and “Wild Tales.” Credit…Amazon Prime (“Argentina, 1985)”; Sony Pictures Classics (“Son of the Bride,” “Wild Tales”); María Antolini/Sony Pictures Classics (“The Secret in Their Eyes”)

One of them, Fabián Bielinsky, cast him in the thriller “Nine Queens” (released in Argentina in 2000) as a sleazy con man. “He told me, ‘I hadn’t thought about you for this role. You are too charismatic, and I don’t want the audience to have any empathy for him,’” Darín recalled.

In Campanella’s view, “There’s only one thing Ricardo cannot be, and that is unlikable. The clearest proof is ‘Nine Queens,’ where he plays an amoral crook, but we still root for him.”

Campanella’s heartfelt “Son of the Bride” arrived the next year and mined Darín’s comic sensibilities for the role of a restaurant owner dealing with his aging parents.

“Once an Argentine critic called him ‘our Henry Fonda’ because he projects great integrity,” Campanella said. “But he has something that Fonda didn’t, which is a great sense of humor.”

Darín maintains that it was the one-two punch of “Nine Queens” and “Son of the Bride” that cemented his film career.

“It was a great calling card for an actor to have the possibility of showing two absolutely opposite facets almost at once,” Darín said. “Even though I was already well known for TV and theater, that’s when I started to feel my colleagues were seeing me in a better light.”

Since then, Darín has enjoyed his choice of roles, including Campanella’s acclaimed “The Secret in Their Eyes,” in which he starred as an investigator haunted by a gruesome, unresolved case.

Another of Darín’s personal favorites is the dramedy “Truman” (2017), centered on a terminally ill man spending his final days alongside his best friends — one human and one canine. His wry character reminded Darín of his late father, also named Ricardo Darín, whom he described as a peculiar Renaissance man with an acid sense of humor and wild ideas that others found difficult to digest.

Hollywood has reached out a handful of times, but he has declined, mostly because the most difficult thing for an actor to do is to think in another language, he said, adding that close-ups reveal when someone is reciting from memory rather than inhabiting an emotion.

“I’ve always trusted my gut, more than my heart or my head,” Darín explained, then added, motioning to his stomach, “I trust in how the material hits me right here.”

In Argentina, his turn in Damián Szifron’s “Wild Tales” (released stateside in 2015) as a frustrated citizen who fights back against oppressive bureaucracy was widely embraced by audiences. “Ricardo has a lucid outlook on the realities that affect his country,” Szifron said. “He is a popular figure while at the same time being a sophisticated actor.”

For “Argentina, 1985,” Mitre and Darín agreed not to mimic the voice or exact mannerisms of the real Strassera, but instead took a degree of artistic liberty in their re-creation.

Mitre, who had directed Darín as a fictional Argentine president in the 2017 political saga “The Summit,” said he admired how the actor produces a truthful performance through a synthesis of his own sensibilities and the character’s.

“It’s as if the camera could capture him in his entirety, show him in all his complexity,” Mitre said. “Whenever you see Ricardo act, you know there will be great honesty onscreen.”

Beyond the positive critical reception of “Argentina, 1985” — and its Golden Globe win — Darín said the film’s most significant effect was making a younger generation aware of a sorrowful chapter in the country’s history.

“We can’t forget that behind this reclaiming of the historical event that has brought us a lot of praise and happiness, there’s a deeply painful story about the kind of suffering for which there is no balm,” Darín noted with a solemn expression.

His family’s acting tradition is being carried on by his son, Chino Darín, with whom he has formed a production company. The two starred in and produced the 2019 comedy “Heroic Losers.” The elder Darín never opposed his child’s interest in the craft, only advising him to follow the path that would bring the most satisfaction.

“I’m one of those people who believe the most important thing in life is to try to be happy,” Darín said. “The closer you are to your vocation, the better chance you have at being happy.”

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