Interview with Jon Kortajarena during the San Sebastian International Film Festival. He has come to the city to present the Greenpeace Lurra Award, an award won by the documentary An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.
Born in Bilbao, Kortajarena is one of the world’s most recognised models. He has worked for Versace, Jean Paul Gaultier, Giorgio Armani, Calvin Klein, Karl Lagerfeld, Tom Ford, Dolce & Gabbana and Chanel. Now he combines the catwalks with acting, his true passion.
What is your connection with Greenpeace?
When I found out about the work of Greenpeace, they asked me to travel with them to the South Pacific, to Vanuatu, and there I had an experience that put me in contact with the first effects of climate change, with the first people to have become climate refugees. When you see the drama that they have started to experience, and that this is a global problem, even the most selfish of people have to realise that this is also going to affect them and future generations. I saw the importance and seriousness of it all, so I decided to commit myself to Greenpeace.
Children and nature are my weakness. They are the most vulnerable and also the most powerful; hence the need to care for and respect them. I try to pass on values and realities to the people who follow me, especially the younger ones. Then they will decide what to do, but at least they know that this problem exists and that it is their world that is in danger.
I decided to present the Greenpeace Lurra Award precisely to give visibility to my experience in Vanuatu, and I have been able to do so from cinema, which is what I like best, because I think it is a very powerful medium for conveying messages, stories and realities.
After your début in A Single Man in 2009, you have now resumed your participation in other films. Which film projects are you planning on taking part in?
I have wanted to be an actor since I was a teenager, and when I made that film, I realised that my life had to go in that direction, because of how happy that experience made me feel. But you can’t fool people. So, to get it right, I went to school and trained. Acting is a job in which you should always get trained, so when I felt sure of “my acting self”, that was when I decided to take the step of accepting roles and start getting involved in projects that I wanted to do. I did Acantilado (The Cliff) with Helena Taberna; then came the series La Verdad (Truth); and Pieles (Skins) by Eduardo Casanova. After those experiences, I left with the feeling that I was now an actor, although I still have the need and curiosity to continue learning.
Then, they called me to make a series in the USA, Quantico. It was a great challenge for me, because it was in English and diction and accent are very important. They asked me to be in two or three episodes; when I finished them, they invited me to stay for the season. I was in New York for almost six months and I liked it a lot.
A Single Man was a job I did from intuition, and I really enjoyed it. But I told myself that if I really wanted to give depth to the characters I would be playing, and wanted to do this in a respectful, honest manner and in a way that would make me happy, I would have to be trained. So I went to Madrid, worked at the Centro del Actor, attended seminars for several years, took part in a few short films and then went to New York, to work with Susan Batson. I did short courses here and there.
Right now I’m 100% with acting, but I combine it with my work as a model and advertising contracts, which also helps me to gain visibility. I choose jobs that might interest me. I’m at a time as a model when I can afford to combine fashion with cinema.
What other projects are you looking to take part in over the next few years?
I’m very busy with fashion, cinema, learning, Greenpeace, Save the Children and a little bit of personal life.
In all your years as a model, what has been your best experience?
The experience of living life with freedom. With my mistakes and my successes. But I feel that not many people have the chance to live their lives freely and, for me, this has been one of the greatest gifts. I have been able to travel, to have emotional freedom. I have known the lights and spotlights of fashion and now I am getting to know the depth and beauty of acting. In a few years I’d like to know about parenting. Life is a set of stages and you have to enjoy what you have. Getting close to happiness is finding the balance between love for oneself and love for others and also accepting your circumstances to make the most of them.
From Tom Ford to Madonna, you move in a circle of very well-known people. How do you feel being part of that segment so many people admire?
I relate to Madonna and Tom Ford, and it’s great to be able to do it because they are very special people with a lot of concerns, very intelligent, with a concept of perception that is difficult to satisfy; each in their own field. But the richness of my life is that I can relate to them and also to the people in my neighbourhood, to my school friends from when I was a child, or to someone I may meet at an airport. I like to surprise myself a lot and I am guided by my intuition.
I have worked with Tom Ford for a long time, I’ve done 13 campaigns with him, a film, perfumes and cosmetics; that was the vehicle to get to know my friend Tom Ford. He’s someone I met through his work and his talent. He has shown himself to be an exceptional, smart, funny person who is very aware of himself and the world. And I want to have people like that around in my life.
The same with Madonna; she is a revolutionary, an icon. All these people who can enrich me are welcome in my life.
People sometimes don’t realise that behind a famous face there is a lot of effort and a lot of talent…
There are a lot of famous people who have no talent. There are also a lot of people who are prejudiced, but I am not an educator. If there are people who can perceive this, great, and if there are those who only see a pretty face, well, also great. It doesn’t bother me at all. What I’m trying to do is become someone who is increasingly more complete, interesting and educated. That is the great thing about life.
Is the world of glamour in which you live really as glamorous as it seems?
Absolutely, and it can be great fun. I think frivolity in the right doses can be healthy, and it comes in handy sometimes. There are people who move in circles of elegance and glamour, and it’s interesting as long as you can enjoy it, without it becoming the world in which you want to live.
What is your perception of beauty?
There is beauty in many things. The freedom to express what you think is beautiful and what you don’t, that’s what matters. It’s very subjective. Even the most hideous things have their charm. The question is what kind of beauty you want in your life.
What is your current relationship with the Basque Country? Would you consider returning here to live again?
Of course I want to come back to live in the Basque Country. I’m living in London right now and before that I was in New York. Living away from my homeland is purely as an investment in my career. My heart is with my land and my people. When I travel there’s always something in my subconscious that’s on alert. When I get home, if only for a weekend, I feel as though this warning light goes off. Everything is back in the comfort zone.
You are one of the most recognised ambassadors of the Basque Country. How is the Basque Country seen abroad?
It’s a highly respected place. Our culture is better known than I originally thought. People know that we have our own language which does not originate from Latin and is much older; and that makes people very curious. It’s not a political but a cultural issue. I think that the Guggenheim has been a very important gateway to the world. Putting Bilbao on the international circuit of the most important museums in the world has meant that the city’s qualities and those of the surrounding areas are now more visible.
What is luxury for you?
Being at ease with yourself and your circumstances.
You are the image of many luxury brands. What is the luxury of the Basque Country for you?
I think that good investments have been made in health care, architecture, good town planning, social security and public schools. Education is a fundamental pillar for any culture. We are lucky to live in a beautiful region, with comforts that allow us to have a very good quality of life.
What are the goals of someone who has achieved their dreams?
I’ve achieved some of my dreams, but there are still others to go, such as telling wonderful stories, making a few films that I feel proud of and I would like to be a father and travel around the world.
As we grow up, we have new goals. Life is about dreams.