Having spent a great deal of his adolescence starring in various Mexican telenovelas, actor Gael Garcia Bernal became an international film star with a breakout performance in Alejandro González Iñárritu's gritty thriller, "Amores Perros" (2000). Hot on the heels of that film's critical and box office success, Bernal cemented his status as an international star with "Y Tu Mama Tambien" (2001), opposite life-long friend Diego Luna, and "The Crime of Father Amaro" (2002), which allowed him one of his first romantic leading roles. Though he could have gone Hollywood and become a big celebrity, Bernal chose instead to star in films he was passionate about. Always with his finger on the pulse of social and political issues, he delivered an exquisite performance as a young Che Guevara, who undergoes a transformation while on a road trip, in "The Motorcycle Diaries" (2004). He continued making interesting choices, taking such off-the-wall roles as a drag queen in "Bad Education" (2004) and a shy daydreamer in "The Science of Sleep" (2006). After reuniting with Iñárritu for the critically-acclaimed "Babel" (2006), Bernal remained one of the more interesting and talented performers operating just below Hollywood's radar.
Born on Oct. 30, 1978 in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, Bernal was raised by his father, Jose, an actor and director, and his mother, Patricia, an actress and former model. Having grown up in a show business household, it was only natural for Bernal to pursue an acting career. In fact, he started appearing onscreen when he was just a year old, playing the baby Jesus in a nativity play, and spent the majority of his teen years appearing on various telenovelas, including "El Abuelo y Yo," which also featured future "Y Tu Mama Tambien" co-star Diego Luna. When was 16, Bernal was cast as a quiet and timid teen whose friends go on a sexual adventure without him in "De tripas, corzon" (1996), which was nominated that year for Best Achievement in Live Action Short Films. Following more appearances in short films and on the stage, he left home at 17 to attend the Central School of Speech and Drama in London, becoming the school's first-ever student from Mexico. But opportunity knocked halfway through his studies, leading Bernal onto a career path from which he never veered.
In 1999, Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu asked Bernal to return home to star in "Amores Perros" (2000). Since the actor was in danger of being dismissed from the school for missing class, Iñárritu arranged for Bernal's medical leave by sending a certificate claiming he had contracted a tropical disease and needed to come home right away. In the director's portrait of three different people brought together by a fatal car accident, Bernal played Octavio, a kid from a poor neighborhood who enters his Rottweiler in dogfights to raise money so he can run away with his pregnant sister-in-law. The film was nominated for a bevy of awards, including an Oscar for Best Foreign Film, while making Bernal an international star. His next big role came when director Alfonso Cuaron saw "Amores Perros" and offered Bernal one of two leads in his sexually-charged coming-of-age odyssey, "Y Tu Mama Tambien" (2001). The movie solidified Bernal as a serious actor and rising star, while the chemistry between co-star Luna and himself carried the film - no surprise, since the two had been lifelong friends. On its surface, "Y Tu Mama" told the story of two adolescents on a road trip with an older woman (Maribel Verdu), but underneath the erotic romp was a story about the fragility of life and death; the gap between rich and poor. "Y Tu Mama" became an international hit and won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.
Bernal continued to accept challenging roles in Latin American films, starring as a priest in "The Crime of Father Amaro" (2002). Sent to assist an aging Padre Benito (Sancho Gracia), Father Amaro finds himself falling in love with a 16-year-old girl (Ana Claudia Talancon). Torn between lust and devotion, Father Amaro must summon the strength to choose the life he wants. Despite mixed reviews, the film was nominated for both an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film. Meanwhile, Bernal starred as a young Argentine medical student, Ernesto Guevara de la Serna, who later became famed Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, in "The Motorcycle Diaries" (2004). Along with Alberto Granado (Rodrigo de la Serna), Guevara embarks on a long and daring motorcycle trip, starting in Buenos Aries and traveling through Chile, across the Andes and into the Amazon. The two friends discover the real Latin America, thus igniting Guevara's social consciousness. Once again, Bernal was in a film nominated for several awards, including a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film. He also appeared in famed Spanish director Pedro Almodovar's "Bad Education" (2004), playing several roles including an opportunistic actor and a drag queen. Following his vamping performance in "Bad Education," Bernal made his first English-language film, "The King" (2006), playing Elvis, a man discharged from the U.S. Navy who seeks out his estranged father (William Hurt) and winds up developing a relationship with his half-sister (Pell James), while seeking to unleash violence and tragedy upon the unsuspecting family. In "The Science of Sleep" (2006), Michel Gondry's bizarre sci-fi fantasy, Bernal was a shy, eccentric young man who becomes the confident host of "Stephane TV" while losing himself in a waking dream world. But his sleeping confidence finally awakes when he develops a budding romance with a neighbor (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Bernal reunited with Iñárritu for the director's complex and emotionally-wrought drama, "Babel" (2006), a heartbreaking examination of confusion, fear and the depths of love. Set on different continents - Asia, Africa and North America - "Babel" told three separate stories brought together by a single act of violence, when a woman (Cate Blanchett) traveling with her husband (Brad Pitt) through Morocco is seriously wounded by a random bullet fired by two boys. Bernal played the drunken nephew of the couple's housemaid (Adriana Barraza), who tries to smuggle her and the couple's two children into Mexico. As events loosely connected to the tragedy in Morocco transpire, fear and confusion manifest themselves into a gut-wrenching failure to communicate.
After "Babel" was hailed by many critics on its way to numerous awards and nominations, Bernal continued to work, taking part in the ensemble sci-fi thriller, "Blindness" (2008), which focused on a mysterious epidemic of blindness that sweeps through an unnamed city and pushes society to the brink of a complete breakdown. While playing a flashy soccer player in the Mexican-made "Rudo y Cursi" (2008) and a listless video game designer in the Swedish-made "Mammoth" (2009), Bernal ventured into directing with "Defecit" (2008), a drama that explored how two distinct social classes interact at a family get-together in Mexico City. He returned to the director's chair to direct one of eight segments in the aptly-named anthology, "8" (2009), which centered on social issues involving Third World countries. Meanwhile, he was back in front of the camera to play the nameless Mexican in Jim Jarmusch's crime drama, "The Limits of Control" (2009).
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