Javier Bardem Explains Why Filming 'Thy Kingdom Come' Was One of His "Hardest Experiences"

Javier Barden - 2018 Union de Actores Awards - Getty - H 2018
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The star, who produced the film, also tells THR why, when it comes to producing, he's only drawn to projects "that speak about things that matter."

The story of Thy Kingdom Come's journey to the screen is unique, to say the least. 

The project, which recently debuted at the SXSW Film Festival, is just over 40 minutes long and consists of cut footage from Terrence Malick's 2012 film To the Wonder. Malick commissioned Eugene Richards, along with actor Javier Bardem (in-character as fictional priest Father Quintana), to travel to Bartlesville, Oklahoma, for a month to speak with the locals and get their stories.

When none of the footage made it into the final product, Richards and Bardem implored Malick to grant them access to the footage, which he did, and thus Thy Kingdom Come was born with Richards as director and Bardem as star and producer. 

The finished product, unscripted and both fiction and documentary-of-sorts, features the real struggles and triumphs of people, some of whom did not know who the Oscar-winning actor was. Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Bardem says, "Some of them didn't have an idea who I was, that I was a fake priest listening to them. But every time I got into a room with any of them, something magical happened." He explains that the people would transform when talking to him. "They would really become a human being sharing, explaining, opening themselves up to a priest. We could go hours recording without stopping because every one of them, what they needed, was to be listened to. I was shocked."

Bardem recalls his initial reaction to the footage not being in To the Wonder. "I went to Terry [Malick] and I said, 'Where is that footage?' because that was so strong and we owe those people, those amazing people that gave us their time and intimacy — we owe them," he says. "It was a big, important thing beyond movies, beyond fiction. It was a big responsibility."

Richards and Bardem spoke with people of all ages, including a prison inmate, a KKK member seeking forgiveness and a cancer patient. For his part, Bardem says the experience was by far one of the hardest of his life. "I was not an actor in there. I was there for them, and I had to be empty to be filled with their statements, with their words, with their dreams, with their nightmares," he explains.

As producer, Bardem says he's "super proud of" the film. The actor, who's produced a handful of films (including Sanctuary, the forthcoming Eva Longoria-helmed doc about underwater life in the Arctic, which he also narrates), explains that, when it comes to producing, he's mostly drawn to projects "that speak about things that matter."

"Every time I produce, it's about things that are really real because I really have my fiction covered with my job," he says, adding, "I only do it when I have the time and the privilege of being present in every process."

Thy Kingdom Come will play next at the Atlanta Film Festival in April and is currently seeking distribution.