Gurney's Inn
December 05, 2007

Benjamin Bratt On Love and Life

Thanks to Oprah Winfrey's seal of approval, a big budget marketing campaign might seem redundant.

The queen of talk show TV pegged Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera as her October book club pick. Overnight the 1985 masterpiece pivoted to the number two slot on Publishers Weekly's bestseller list with an additional one million copies quickly run off the presses.

The literary push should prove a windfall for British director Mike Newell's screen adaptation, starring Javier Bardem as Florentino Ariza, the man who waits more than half a century for his one true love. The lady who captured the poet's heart is Fermina Daza, played by Giovanna Mezzogiorno.

Idleness and loneliness throughout the ensuing decades doesn't seem to be a handicap. Ariza remains busy bedding more than 200 women and transforming himself into a wealthy ship owner, while Fermina weds sophisticated aristocrat Dr. Juvenal Urbino who is played by Benjamin Bratt.

Bratt doesn't envy Bardem's on-screen bedroom high jinks. He feels more comfortable playing the role of devoted husband, both on screen and off. While starring as the controversial New York artist Miguel Pinero, whose urban poetry set the stage for rap and hip-hop's advent, in 2001's Pinero, Bratt met and married actress Talisa Soto. The couple is parents to Sophia Rosalinda, four and a half, and Mateo Bravery, 2.

Quietly but directly, Bratt stated, "I have no problem speaking openly about my love for my wife or my children. That is, in fact, how I define myself above all else, as a father, as a husband, and then an artist. As far as I'm concerned with that in place it's easy to bounce everything else off.

"If my career folds and I never make another dime as an actor I'm going to be fine because I'm a creative person. I have the love and support of a really good family, so I know how to find happiness within the love that's provided to me."

Such sentiments proved invaluable in creating the role of Urbino. "As Mike [Newell] and I discussed, this character is someone not only with all the qualities that he's been blessed with – his station in life, his aristocracy, the wealth he inherited, but he's also a benevolent person, civic-minded, a patron of the arts. He's damn near a perfect guy, a Renaissance man. That's a tough person to be or to play because none of us are near that. Yet he's not without his flaws, just like all of us which makes him human."

This was the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire director's first Latin American foray and he was determined to make the film in English to help moviegoers understand both Colombian and Latin American cultures. Aside from using the authentic backdrop of Cartagena, Colombia, Newell insisted on using Latin actors rather than the more obvious candidates encouraged by movie executives.

Bratt explained. "The filmmakers were dealing with what amounts to a sacred text. Marquez is so well known and beloved the world over. It's no secret that Isabel Allende's The House of the Spirits was made into a film and they used Jeremy Irons as the great Latin patriarch Esteban Trueba. Jeremy Irons is a great actor, and so are Glenn Close and Winona Ryder, but the movie turned out to be a public catastrophe.

"It did not ring true to the Latin people and the people around the word that were fans of the book. In this case, Scott Steindorff [producer] insisted on hiring the best people for the job."

A cross sampling includes Bardem, a Spaniard, Mezzogiorno, an Italian, Laura Harring, who hailed from Mexico, Catalina Sandino Moreno of Bogota, Colombia, John Leguizamo, and Bratt, whose own mother, Eldy, is a Quechua Indian from Lima, Peru.

Reared in San Francisco, Bratt noted that the large ensemble shared "this same cultural DNA." The 43-year-old actor recalled, "It was an arduous shot, there's no denying that, oppressively hot. But Cartagena is a very sensual place and whenever there is a struggle it creates a bond among the people that go through it together. We're all mad for each other and we stay in touch."

Amassing credits like Traffic, The Woodsman, Miss Congeniality, The River Wild, and a four-year stint on WNBC's acclaimed drama "Law & Order," Bratt has been tapped to play a real-life extreme interventionist on an A&E pilot titled The Cleaner.

Rather than sit back and wait for his agent to call, however, Bratt plans to expand his career options as a producer. "My brothers and I formed a production company called Plastic Films and we plan to begin shooting in early 2008. Called Mission Love, it's about a single father raising an 18-year-old son in the Mission District of San Francisco where I was born.

"We want it to have social relevance. We don't want films that are just fluff. We want to be able to say something. That's hard to do, to raise money for. It's been a learning process for me," said Bratt, who will next be seen in A&E television's "The Andromeda Strain," a six-hour miniseries based on Michael Crichton's novel.

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