“He’s a genius to me, because he lives for the cinema and works with a passion I’ve never seen in other directors. He ‘eats’ movies, he’s so into them,” said Fele Martinez of the celebrated Spanish writer-director Pedro Almodovar, in whose new film “Bad Education” the young actor stars as Enrique Goded, an Almodovaresque film director himself. “Working with him was great–he gives you all the information that you need, and more–tons more.” Gael Garcia Bernal, the Mexican star of “Y Tu Mama Tambien” and “The Motorcycle Diaries” who plays a multifaceted part–one aspect of it as a transvestite–in the film, added, “He doesn’t compromise his vision–which is nowadays difficult to do.” He added: “He’s very demanding and very specific in what he wants. He has a way of working unlike any other director. He creates a world from the beginning, and there’s a world he creates off the set as well. And it’s incredibly exciting to be part of that. He’s an encyclopedia of himself, and of his movies, so he knows exactly where we’re at [at any time]. And that’s what’s incredible about Pedro–that you trust him immensely. There’s things you do with him that you wouldn’t do with any other director. You might not have the same point of view as him, but your job as an actor is really to put yourself into that job of employee [to him].” Both men spoke during recent visits to Dallas to promote the film, which is generating strong critical support and award buzz.

“Bad Education” is a complicated tale, a homage to Hollywood film noir with typical Almodovarian overtones and allusions to the sex scandals raging in the Catholic Church today. Martinez and Bernal came to the project in different ways. The former had had a small role in the director’s earlier film “Talk to Her,” and was approached by Almodovar to play Goded, not really understanding why. His previous part, Martinez said, “was a very opposite character from Enrique’s. For me it was a very big responsibility to do this film, because he didn’t audition me, and I asked myself ‘Why?’ I felt very scared about it.” He was especially concerned because Goded could be seen as a substitute for the director himself. “But Pedro told me this is not an autobiographical movie,” Martinez said. “When I first read the script, I thought, ‘It’s Pedro,’ and I told him, ‘It’s you.’ And he said, ‘It’s not me. I wrote it, so there are parts of me in the character–but not only in Enrique, but in every character in every movie, there are little parts of Pedro inside of them.’ So I tried to do the most opposite character…that did not resemble Pedro.” But, he added, the process was still a challenging one. “I had all the feelings, all the information about the character, but I didn’t have the attitude–how did Enrique smoke, how did he make love, how did he work, how did he sit down. I couldn’t find it.” He located “the key,” as he put it, by reading about the 1980s, the period in which the “contemporary” part of the story is set. “I’ve always been fascinated by the eighties in Madrid,” he explained, and by immersing himself in the period he captured what he needed to play the role.

Bernal, on the other hand, had not only never worked with Almodovar before, but was confronted by the fact that the role for which he was being considered–of Ignacio Rodriguez, an actor who’s also an old school friend of Goded’s and has written an imaginative story based on their experiences in a Catholic school and the years since then–was in many respects foreign to him. One of the challenges, he said, was “to get to know, to experience the cultural baggage that these characters have, that I certainly don’t have because I wasn’t born in that time, in that particular situation of the post-Francist era. I didn’t go to any Catholic school at all–education in Mexico is secular, completely.” He had, he said, “to convince Pedro that I was able to do the picture that…he had experienced. To prepare that took a lot of time.” Still, Bernal appreciated the chance to delve so deeply into a part. “I enjoy having the pause to prepare a film properly, to prepare it and to work at it and to enjoy it–to surf the film instead of trying to control it….I like getting into a place and getting to know the context, and studying and developing [things]. It kind of makes me feel that I did the homework, instead of just leaving it to…alchemy.” And he did have one familial connection to the milieu in which the script was set. “My grandmother was a Spanish anarchist republican,” he said. “She was an exile [from Franco’s Spain].”

But “Bad Education” presented other difficulties for Bernal. One was the sheer complexity of his role, which spanned decades and several quite distinctive personas. But Almodovar solved that problem. “Pedro had it really well established,” he said, “like in a very detailed diagram that he drew, and it wasn’t that difficult, thanks to him–because he was the one that made everything so complex, but at the same time he was the one that was able to simplify it so that my very naive understanding could be satisfied.” Then there was the requirement to play a seductive female convincingly. “I wanted to do a girl that didn’t have to prove that she was a woman…didn’t have to demonstrate it all the time, that others would assume that she was a girl. Every single woman I met, I tried to copy what she did.”

Each actor had a different recollection of what he found most difficult about making “Bad Education.” For Martinez, it was Almodovar’s insistence that he lose twelve pounds–“We had physical training…and a very strict diet,” he said. “That was horrible, because I couldn’t eat anything.” One might think that for Bernal the demands of cross-dressing or engaging in fairly explicit sexual scenes might have topped the list–but no. (In fact, with respect to the latter, Bernal said, “Contrary to what one would think, [Almodovar’s] very reserved with those scenes. He gets even more nervous than the actors,” and expedites the shooting as much as possible.) What Bernal found most challenging was “the Spanish accent, which is very far apart from my accent…I had to practice so long.” But Martinez testified to Bernal’s success: “I was amazed by his accent,” he said.

Both Martinez and Bernal closed by speaking of their devotion to acting in general. When asked whether he’d like to do a Hollywood picture, Martinez said, “I’d love to, but it’s not my objective. I did a movie called ‘Darkness,’ entirely shot in English. It was so hard for me. I love acting, so if somebody gives me a script that interests me–or a character–I like to do it. I like to do what’s not easy for me. I don’t mind if it is in English, in German, in Italian, or in French.” Bernal defined acting as “interpreting, in a truthful way, from fictitious stimuli,” and said that he selects his projects by “reacting instinctively to any script or story that’s being proposed” to him. “I try to listen very carefully to what I want and to what I need at that moment, and the necessity for me to tell certain stories–to listen to that very carefully, and to be congruent with myself. I would never like to fall into the route of doing things from a plan, because I choose to be an actor to be free.”

Pedro Almodovar’s “Bad Education” is a Sony Pictures Classics release.