If you watch the new Pedro Almodovar film Dolor y Gloria, in theaters now – and you should, it’s really good! – you’ll land upon a scene that many critics are calling the linchpin to the entire movie, featuring Argentine actor Leonardo Sbaraglia. The film is Almodovar’s semi-autobiographical account of a director in the twilight of his career, undergoing a serious creative crisis as well as various physical ailments, and coming to terms with his station in life through several encounters with people from his past.
Sbaraglia’s role in the movie is confined to a single sequence, as one of the characters who drift in and out of the protagonist’s moment of crisis. The director, Salvador Mallo (played with aplomb by longtime Almodovar collaborator Antonio Banderas), happens to bump into old flame Federico (Sbaraglia) who is in the audience for a staged monologue of Mallo’s memories. This kicks off a brief reunion, which audience members and critics alike have pinpointed as absolutely paramount to the film’s thematic and narrative resolution, featuring knockout performances by both actors.
This has spurred a public re-awakening to Sbaraglia, an actor with a long and impressive career both in his native Argentina and his adoptive country of Spain, where he’s developed quite a portfolio for himself. As part of the press tour for Dolor y Gloria, he’s been making headlines in Argentine media with his candid anecdotes about his years in the public spotlight (including a story about that time he almost got into a fistfight with Adrián Suar). So what do you need to know about this very talented (not to mention ruggedly handsome) thespian?
Sbaraglia was born in Buenos Aires and got his acting start in Héctor Olivera’s seminal La Noche de los Lápices at just sixteen years old. And though his role in the stirring political drama brought him some attention, it wasn’t until his full transition into “teenage heartthrob” mode that he truly made a name for himself in his native country. In 1987, he joined the cast of the teen soap opera Clave de Sol, which made him a household name (largely in the eyes of adoring female viewers). He continued to hone his craft on various film and TV projects, as well as the theater stage; live theater is a passion of his, and he continued hitting the boards long after he’d already broken into the big screen.
In the early nineties, he worked with director Marcelo Piñeyro on the film Tango Feroz: La Leyenda del Tanguito. His relationship with Piñeyro would go on to be a prosperous creative partnership, as they would continue to work together on various acclaimed projects, such as Caballos Salvajes (which earned Sbaraglia the Jury Prize for Best Acting at the Huelva International Film Festival), as well as Cenizas del Paraíso (1997) and Plata Quemada (2000).
In the late 90s, Sbaraglia made a move that would basically split the history of his career into two separate chapters: he moved to Spain, effectively creating a second career for himself in Spanish cinema. In 2001, he made his Spanish film debut with an acclaimed co-starring role in the movie Intacto, directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo. This film turned out to be quite a calling card as his first work in the Spanish film industry, as he was awarded a Goya award for his breakthrough performance.
His career in Spanish film only grew from there. He starred in films such as Gerardo Vera’s 2002 drama Deseo, and Vicente Aranda’s Carmen the following year (opposite Paz Vega). In 2004, he appeared in Luis Puenzo’s La Puta y La Ballena, an Argentine-Spanish co-production. He further established himself as a familiar face for the Spanish public with his stint as the protagonist in the TV series Al Filo de la Ley, a 13-episode legal drama where he co-starred with Natalia Verbeke.
It’s not exactly a great show, though it is an interesting example of the extent to which American pop culture exports influence other country’s artistic productions, as it hits all the beats of a standard-issue network lawyer drama.
The next several years saw him become a very prolific film actor for both Argentine and Spanish productions, such as Concursante, El Rey de la Montaña, Santos, and Diario de una Ninfómana. He moved back to Argentina around this time, and shortly afterwards starred in the dark thriller Las Viudas de los Jueves, another collaboration with Marcelo Piñeyro.
In 2012, he acted alongside Robert De Niro, Cillian Murphy and Sigourney Weaver in Red Lights, Rodrigo Cortés’s 2012 thriller. Probably his most relevant role in recent years was his participation in 2014’s ensemble black com Relatos Salvajes, directed by Damián Szifron (of Simuladores fame). This Academy-Award-nominated film was a smash success both domestically and internationally, and brought him more acclaim and attention.
Sbaraglia’s return to Argentina has seen him become a very sought-after talent, known for his versatile approach and effortless charisma. Most recently, he’s continued starring in motion pictures (such as another collaboration with Ricardo Darín, 2017’s Nieve Negra) as well as TV projects (2018’s Felix). His recent participation in Almodovar’s Dolor y Gloria has further expanded his profile, and we are very curious to know what other twists and turns his career will be taking in coming years. As it stands, with his eclectic and acclaimed resume, he’s poised to become one of the all-time greats.