Sitting in the tiny room where we waited between takes during the filming of Get out of me I heard how Juan Diego was talking on the phone with a producer who owed him money. When he hung up, he told me that he couldn’t forgive a producer for not paying him, that he couldn’t stand it when someone who had money left over left him in debt. “Then I still give it away. I still take the money and give it to a friend. Money doesn’t interest me, but I can’t deal with fraud and abuse of power.”
Actor Juan Diego dies at 79
And that speaks of Juan Diego and his way of understanding life. He always tried to ensure that no one from below was trampled on by anyone from above. Perhaps that is why he knew how to understand so well and put so much care into the creation of one of his most famous characters, Señorito de The Holy Innocents: a guy who represented that caste —that still lasts to this day— who believes that the State is his. Those people who understand that the country is their property by right, that the rest of us are on loan and we should be thankful because, after all, we exist to be bossed around. His unwavering commitment is for me, even today, a mirror in which to look at myself, a place to reach.
Every time he called me his messages started the same way: “Botto, I’m calling you for a mess”
Professionally, Juan Diego was obsessively meticulous. Rigor colored each shot, each phrase, each gesture in the search for the perfect synthesis of truth, simplicity and beauty. I remember waiting with him, before going up on stage to read some poems and seeing his sheet full of lines, arrows that linked some sentences with others, underlining, comments at the bottom of the page. It was one of those readings that we sometimes do at an event in a neighborhood for some cause that has brought us together. Nobody paid us for that, obviously, and the public already appreciated his mere presence, but for Juan going up on stage implied the duty to do the best he could.
Every time he called me to ‘get involved’ his messages started the same way: “Botto, I’m calling you for a mess” and every time I called him for the same thing he started the same way “Ruiz, I’m calling you for a mess” . He was, in his own words, a son of the resistance. In addition to some of the best scenes in the history of Spanish cinema, he leaves us the example of his own life: a man who was one of the best of his generation, a vanguard of modernity and commitment. Someone who never tolerated abuse.
Personally, it leaves a void of those that you know will not be filled, a void of those that you know will be part of you from now on.