Rey, Fernando

(1917-1994)
   Fernando Rey's impressive adaptability made him one of the most popular Spanish actors both at home and abroad. In terms of approach to acting, he perfected a mask through accent, diction, demeanor, and looks, that, together with high professional standards, allowed him to work in a career spanning over six decades, in contexts as disparate as CIFESA, Nuevo cine español, the post-Franco film industry, French film, and Hollywood, including fine work for directors such as Juan de Orduña, Juan Antonio Bardem, Luis Buñuel, Carlos Saura, Francisco Regueiro, Luigi Comencini, Jean Becker, Robert Altman, Vincente Minnelli, and William Friedkin, to name a few.
   Portly, affable, and elegant, something about his presence commanded respect. Rey was born in La Coruña, the son of a Republican colonel. He found his way into acting almost by chance: For his debut, he had a part in Benito Perojo's Nuestra Natacha (Our Natacha, 1936), but the war interrupted whatever career ambitions he might have had at the time. His first steady jobs in the postwar were in dubbing, where he started to develop the beautiful, crisp tones that would make his words so effective and brimming with authority, and he also did a lot of work as a stage and film extra before landing featured parts in the mid-1940s. He was a prominent presence in some of CIFESA's historical cycle, most remembered as Aurora Bautista's unfaithful husband in Locura de amor (Mad for Love, Juan de Orduña, 1948) and as Philip V in La Princesa de los Ursinos (The Princess of the Ursines, Luis Lucia, 1947). Inevitably, he also took part in some patriotic films like Los últimos de Filipinas (Last Stand on the Philippines, Antonio Román, 1945). But by the start of the 1950s, he also started showing interest in less conventional roles. His poet in Cielo negro (Black Sky, Manuel Mur Oti, 1951) is one of the earliest signs that he found the mainstream film industry unsatisfactory, and in 1953 he lent his star charisma, authoritative restraint, and knowing voice to Juan Antonio Bardem's Cómicos (Players, 1954).
   Throughout the 1950s, Rey chose to work in some challenging projects, while maintaining an important presence in more commercial films like the Luis Mariano operetta Le Chanteur du Mexico (The Singer from Mexico, Richard Pottier, 1956). But it was thanks to his participation in Luis Buñuel's Viridiana (1961) that his international reputation took off. In this film, the pain and frustration came across delicately through the aristocratic mask he had perfected, in the role of a mature man obsessed by a nun. His participation in this film was a turning point in his career and also the start of a fruitful collaboration with Buñuel that would include three more titles: Tristana (1970), The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeisie (1972), and the director's final project, That Obscure Object of Desire (1977). To all of them, Rey contributed not only the resonances of "traditional Spain" required by the director, but also a piercing irony that was perfectly suited to Buñuel's cheekiness.
   In spite of a growing activity abroad, Rey continued to work in popular films in Spain in the 1960s, and was in Los palomos (The Pigeon Couple, Fernando Fernán Gómez, 1964) and Zampo y yo (Zampo and Me, Luis Lucia, 1966), and he also did dramatic specials for television. In 1970, he debuted in Hollywood, lending gravitas to a series of suave villains in The French Connection films (1971 and 1975) and in Caboblanco (J. Lee Thompson, 1980), as well as a part in Vincente Minnelli's final film A Matter of Time (1976), which took advantage of his European roots. Still, his most enduring acting in the 1970s was for Carlos Saura in Elisa, Vida mía (Elisa, Life of My Life, 1977), in which he played a dying intellectual who fantasizes about his daughter.
   During the Transition years, Rey came back to regular work in Spain and delivered a series of extraordinary performances that punctuated the last years of his career, including three parts for Francisco Regueiro's ambitious films of the period: the Cardinal in Padre Nuestro (Our Father, Francisco Regueiro, 1985), the patriarch in El diario de invierno (Winter Journal, 1988), and a brief cameo as Francisco Franco's father in Madregilda (Mother Gilda, 1993). His last film was in the comedy El cianuro solo o con leche (Your Poison, Weak or Strong? José Miguel Ganga, 1994).

Historical dictionary of Spanish cinema. . 2010.

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