Sunday, October 30, 2011

Black Sheep interviews Antonio Banderas

n 1986, a relatively unknown Spanish director by the name of Pedro Almodóvar, cast a little known young actor named Antonio Banderas, to whom he’d previously given a small part in a previous work, in MATADOR, a controversial indie film about a former bullfighter and a lawyer who got turned on by the act of killing. The successful pairing would repeat itself three more times in three more years but then Banderas would move to Hollywood. It’s been 20 years since this famous twosome last worked together.

Banderas and Almodovar at Cannes 2011

“I was in New York doing a workshop for a musical there and Pedro called me when I was in the car and said, ‘It’s about time.’” Banderas has a smirk on his face as he recalls the story of when he and his old friend decided to make another movie again. “He didn’t even introduce himself. He just called me and the first thing that I heard was ‘It’s about time.’”

Banderas in The Skin I Live In (2011)

This was still a ways back even. Banderas, now 51 years old, was working on a 2003 production of "Nine" on Broadway when he first read, THE SKIN I LIVE IN (LA PIEL QUE HABITO), and even though he knew it would be some time before the two would be able to coordinate their schedules, he was still very careful to give this script its due. “I know that the first time I read a script is the only time that I’m going to be a spectator of my own work,” Banderas says, demonstrating an appreciation for his craft I’m not sure why I wasn’t expecting. “From that moment on, I’m contaminated.”

Banderas in Matador (1986)

Banderas’s choice of words are particularly poignant in this case considering how easily THE SKIN I LIVE IN In gets under your skin. Loosely based on a novel called, "Tarantula", by Thierry Jonquet, Almodovar’s film is as stylish as one would expect but also deeply disturbing, with Banderas anchoring most of that madness as a scientist consumed by a mounting obsession. It plays with time and convention; it has scenes of costumed rape and bloody mutilation; in essence, the film is executed with an eerie and concise control that Banderas finds quite admirable. “In the formal aspects, Pedro has become more minimalist, more austere. He is now more serious, more complex, more profound.”

Banderas watching The Skin I Live In co-star, Elena Ayaya

It isn’t the mainstream he has grown accustomed to in Hollywood but Banderas believes there is a place for all forms of cinema in the world today. “I cannot ask a guy who has been working on the roads under the sun the entire week to go see 8 1/2 by Federico Fellini on the weekend,” he jokes. “What he needs is to take his girlfriend and a big bucket of popcorn to see PUSS IN BOOTS.” As both the aforementioned SHREK spinoff, in which Banderas voices the titular Puss, and the Almodovar picture are playing well to their respective audiences, he has a point.

On the set of The Skin I Live In with Almodovar

“Pedro is a genre unto himself,” Banderas states, after citing Lars Von Trier and Terrence Malick as Almodovar’s most comparable contemporaries. “In one scene, you feel like you are in the altitudes of Shakespeare and three minutes after you are in a soap opera from Mexico and everything in between.” As much of a mind melt that can be at times, especially on set, Banderas would not have it any other way. “Pedro loves to go to different places and explore the more intricate complexities of the human experience. He keeps turning the wheels.”

The Skin I Live In (2011)

Banderas returns to Hollywood next in Steven Soderbergh’s upcoming thriller, HAYWIRE, and comedy in Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’s follow-up to LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, entitled HE LOVES ME. His break from the masses to return home to the familiar was a welcome one though. “Going back to Pedro at this particular time in my life is like a Coca-Cola in the desert. It feels good, it feels very good.”

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