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How Javier Bardem Almost Died While Playing The Little Mermaid's King Triton

Javier Bardem brought his one-of-a-kind presence to the role of King Triton for 2023's "The Little Mermaid," making the character's live-action debut one to remember. However, audiences may have never seen the fruits of his labor in this film — or any other film after it — following a near-catastrophic incident on set. In a roundtable Entertainment Weekly interview with "The Little Mermaid" cast, director Rob Marshall brought up a memorable day in which Bardem was rigged up for a scene. "We almost lost Javier," Marshall recalled. "It was in his throne room and he was up there maybe at least 40 feet in the air, and he dropped in one moment like 15 feet." 

Thankfully, the Oscar-winning Bardem was unharmed and took the experience like a champ. Nevertheless, Marshall and others on the set were left aghast, with Marshall continuing, "Javier, who is the coolest man on the planet Earth and the nicest man ever, said, 'I'm okay. I'm good, I'm good, I'm good.' But it was like, that was bad. But then you realize what we're doing was really challenging. We were never on the ground until halfway through the film." 

It's hard to look at Bardem's performance in "The Little Mermaid" and tell that he had a near-death experience while making it. But like all the pros, Bardem came prepared. 

Bardem had to prepare to swim in non-existent water

Bringing "The Little Mermaid" to the live-action realm was no easy feat. Along with ensuring that the songs, characters, and story beats lived up to the legacy of the original 1989 animated classic, there was also the practical matter of making live actors look and move like mermaids — including Javier Bardem, whose role as King Triton required plenty of prep.

Already an avid swimmer, Bardem told British GQ that after securing the part, he used his swimming time to get into the proper head space. "I would go under the water to see how my body reacted against the opposition of the water," he explained. "It's something that you know about, but you're not very aware of unless you are a professional." While shooting the movie, the actors often had rigs moving them through blue screen environments that would later be transformed into Ariel's (Halle Bailey) underwater home. 

Even with his training, Bardem's skills were put to the test, since he had to pretend to move through water when there was none. "That's the part that's really challenging," he added. "So with every movement, they will be like 'Okay, now you are going like this,' so they change the rig, and then 'Now you're gonna lay like that,' and they change the rig again." Still, whether handling an average day or a brush with mortality while on set, it's hard to say that Bardem gave it anything less than his very best in bringing Triton to life.