Javier Bardem (finally!) plays Pablo Escobar, swaps theories on 'mother!'

TORONTO — Strong coffee is a must by Day 5 of Toronto Film Festival.

Javier Bardem fixes himself an espresso inside a suite at the Four Seasons. The star flew here directly from Venice Film Festival and has two hot projects in the mix: Darren Aronofsky’s horror film mother! (in theaters Friday) and Loving Pablo, a Pablo Escobar tale he stars in and produced. 

Bardem is right there with the rest of us still reeling from the audacious insanity that happens onscreen in mother!. But his wife, Penélope Cruz, has yet to take it in.

Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz go glam at the Venice Film Festival premiere of 'Loving Pablo' on Sept. 6.

“I’m dying for her to see it," says Bardem, 48, noting that Cruz is back in Madrid working on Everything Knows, the couple's upcoming thriller directed by Asghar Farhadi. "Me? I saw it for the first time finished in Venice with 3,000 people. I was like, 'What the hell?!' "

Pulpy realism takes center stage in Loving Pablo, Bardem's Escobar project that's been a long time coming. For years, the Spanish star has been chasing a fresh take on the ferocious cartel boss, as TV projects like Narcos have moved in to fill the space.

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“With all due respect to everything that has been done, especially on TV, I always felt like that this story, this character, deserved a big scope, a big screen," he says.

Bardem landed on Loving Pablo (which is for sale at the festival), a film based on Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar, the book written by the Medellín cartel drug lord's mistress, Virginia Vallejo, about their relationship. Cruz joins her husband onscreen as the glamorous, increasingly desperate TV personality.

In 'Loving Pablo,' Penelope Cruz plays Pablo Escobar's famous TV personality mistress.

Bardem and Cruz have previously co-starred in films like Jamón, Jamón and Vicky Cristina Barcelona, but "this is the first time we did something together being a couple, which is a different experience than before," he says.

In the film, the two don't shy away from the personal, sharing steamy love scenes and dramatic fights. But the famous couple, who married in 2010 and have two children, did their best to leave Escobar at work.

“We made kind of a deal (and had a) very clear divided line between fiction and reality,” says Bardem, who strapped on a prosthetic belly to get the physicality of his magnetic, mercurial drug lord right.

Javier Bardem plays the fear-inducing drug cartel boss, Pablo Escobar, in 'Loving Pablo.'

And then, of course, there's mother!. It's grin-inducing to swap theories with Bardem about the allegories hidden in the bizarre biblical tale. Some have theorized that Aronofsky took an autobiographical look at his relationship with fame through Bardem’s character, a famous poet known as "Him," who's married to an innocent played by Jennifer Lawrence.

“Darren is the opposite of my character,” says Bardem. “He’s more into Jennifer’s character than my character. When I met him, I was like, 'Where is this darkness coming from?' Because he is the opposite of that. He’s nice, caring, generous, funny, very creative.

"But then I saw when he works, he doesn’t expect anything more than perfection," he says. "He is relentless."