For many he will always be the ruthless Señorito Iván de The Holy Innocents. For others, the best Franco that the screen has given, the one from fast dragon. There are those who do not forget Sergio Maldonado of the journey to nowhereor Saint John of the Cross of The dark night. And for the youngest, his face is and will be that of Commissioner Lorenzo Castro Riquelme of Paco’s men, or the Antonio Delgado of Father Courage. All those lives and dozens more the actor Juan Diego Ruiz Moreno embodied throughout his long career, a passion for the stage and for the screen that could only end with his death, which occurred this Thursday at the age of 79 in Bormujos (Seville) , his native town.
In his years in Madrid, he used to comment to his friends that he had never forgotten the music of the bell ringers of his town, the soundtrack of his childhood, as well as the difficulties of the rural world. His most traumatic memory of him was being forced by his father to eat olives with a spoon: since then, he couldn’t see one in a salad. However, he claimed to have had a happy childhood, which marked his sociable and committed character.
The call of the theater rang for him very soon, and at the age of 15 he was already debuting on stage. Transferred to Seville, he expanded his training and it didn’t take long for him to gain experience in television spaces such as Studio 1while he was decanting his political militancy, from the Front of Unionist Students to the Communist Party (PCE), which would be his formation forever.
The obsessive worker Juan ‘Pliego’
At just over 30 years old, and as the couple of a very talented young woman named Concha Velasco, he promoted an actors’ strike that fought for the reduction of working hours in the theater. The anti-Franco battle always had him in the trenches. So tenaciously did he continue to exercise his commitment, that the companions came to nickname him John Sheet because he was always collecting signatures for some cause.
His beginnings in the capital, however, were not easy. He mixed with the bohemia of the Café Gijón, from which he obtained lasting friendships between the actors and the wounded lyrics, and it is said that in the hardest times he even slept in the shelter of the subway, because he did not have enough to pay a pension. But his economic difficulties would not last long.
He began to make himself known in the cinema along with another brilliant young woman, Ana Belén, in The creature of Eloy de la Iglesia, but his final leap to fame came with the holy innocents (1984) by Mario Camus, followed by the journey to nowhere (1986) by Fernando Fernán Gómez, taking part in both of the most memorable casts on Spanish celluloid. In all these works he began to demonstrate an obsessive work method, of deep immersion in his characters, which almost came to endanger his emotional stability, especially in the aforementioned Dragon Rapide (1986) by Jaime Camino –where he had to get into the skin of the dictator he hated the most–, The dark night (1989) by Carlos Saura, a film in which he submitted to the martyrdom of Juan de la Cruz trying to reflect the power of his mysticism, as well as in Cow’s head (1991) by Nicolas Echeverria.
Despite accumulating Goya nominations, his first award did not come until his role as a cappuccino in the stunned king (1991) by Imanol Uribe, an honor he repeated with Paris-Timbuktu (1999) by Luis Garcia Berlanga, and go away from me (2006), by Victor Garcia Leon. Juan Diego also received other recognitions, such as the Andalusian Medal in 2003, the title of Adoptive Son of Seville, and his recent appointment as the favorite son of his Bormujos people, which was left without a celebration due to his health.
Starting in the 1990s, however, he discreetly distanced himself from the movie sets and focused more on a theatrical career that he had never completely abandoned. His role in The reader for hours (1999), by José Sanchis Sinisterra, earned him his only Max award, but Juan Diego left his mark on any project in which he was involved. His classmates could see him relaxing with a drink after a show – he was always a night owl in the background – and suddenly see him leave. Whenever they asked him where he was going, he would answer: “To study, to study.”
The same seriousness in work displayed with his television facet, whether it was with Benito Zambrano of Father Courage (2002) that under the orders of Álex Pina with Paco’s men (2005). Despite being a more than consolidated star in the Spanish acting firmament, in recent years he has devoted a lot of time and energy to assisting new filmmakers such as Pablo Berger (Torremolinos 73), Mireia Ros (The triumph), Roger Gual (remake) or Secun de la Rosa, with whom last year he premiered what would be his last feature film, The Cover.
Along with the acting task, his great passion was Betis, the team of his loves. Once, talking with her friend and fellow soldier Manuel Vázquez Montalbán in the presence of the writer Antonio Hernández, she asked him: “Have you read Betis, the green march? An intellectual who dedicates a book like this to his club, Barça doesn’t have that! The same club that gave him one last joy – after so many years of manque loses– conquering the Copa del Rey just a few days ago.
What those who knew him have no doubt about is that he lived and drank life to the full, with intensity and elegance, and that is just one of the lessons he left his audience, along with those thousand other lives that are already part of the sentimental memory of the Spaniards.