The Motorcycle Diaries star has fun with makeup – and best friend Diego Luna

By Mark Dagostino
Updated October 11, 2004 06:00 AM
Credit: Jeff Vespa/WireImage

Gael Garcia Bernal has yet to release an English-language film in the U.S. – but the Y Tu Mama Tambien star has become a heartthrob who’s dated Natalie Portman. Now in Motorcycle Diaries, a Latin American road-trip movie about a pre-revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the 25-year-old says he’s enjoying the spotlight (“It’s a bit like living my frustrated dream of being a football player”). And soon the actor will have even more attention as he dresses in drag for Bad Education, due in November. Bernal recently spoke with PEOPLE about playing with hair and makeup, dealing with controversy and kissing his best friend, Diego Luna.

What was it like playing a woman?
It’s like getting out this side of you, which is very peculiar to every person. Each of us has our own inner transvestite, and it only belongs to you, and it’s very fun to play that and explore that.

Why’s that?
We’re so stuck up every day and this is a way of relaxing and making you know who you are better.

What was most challenging part of it?
To play the girl it was a good three, four hours of makeup every day. That’s pretty exhausting. Over and over. And the thongs, and the waxing!

You actually went out to a real-life club dressed as a woman?
She (Bernal in drag) was very sure of herself, so it was kind of fun. But once up-close, it’s (clear she’s) a man. Sometimes men liked (that) as well!

You also did the sexually explicit Y Tu Mama Tambien. You must like controversy.
Whenever the personal point of view – which I think is the essence of film – comes across and strikes a chord, it will become controversial because it sparks a debate. Some people might be angry, some people not, and that’s what films are about.

Before doing Motorcycle Diaries did you know how to ride?

Not that type of motorcycle, which is ancient. It’s a ’39 Norton. Even in Che’s time, when they traveled in ’51, ’52, they (the bikes) were pretty old! It’s incredible what they did. In the diaries, they once fell (off the motorcycles) eight times in one day.

Did you fall off the bike?
Mostly off-camera. (Laughs) But never too hard, never too strong. There’s only one (real fall) that’s in the film, when they’re in the snow and we slowly fall down. That happened.

So, your parents were actors, too. What was that like for you?
I thought that that was normal, but then I realized that they were really weird, and they’re friends were really weird. But it’s amazing as a kid to see your parents play as kids every night. They would take it seriously, but it’s like a game, and it’s beautiful to watch your parents have fun.

What about your younger siblings – three brothers and a sister?
(They’re) wanting to be anything but actors. (Laughs) They’re into other things. But I think they will be actors.

Your best friend is also an actor: Y Tu Mama Tambien costar Diego Luna.
When we did the casting, it felt like we had already prepared for like 20 years. It was amazing to work with your best friend like that. And to win an award in Venice – winning an award with your best friend, man, it was one of the best things in life. It was really, really one of the nicest days.

So was it easier or harder to do love scenes with him then?
Weirder. But it was fun. Between takes we had a few sips of tequila. It gave us a lot of courage.