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Behind the Mask

Antonio Banderas opens up on marriage, politics and his best roles.
Betsy Model
From the Print Edition:
Antonio Banderas, Nov/Dec 2005

(continued from page 1)

While he did his stints in the fifth row, it wasn't for long; his first big break was to come in the form of an equally ambitious young director, 10 years Banderas' senior, by the name of Pedro Almódovar. Almódovar cast the young actor in Laberinto de Pasiones (Labyrinth of Passions) in 1982, and it was also Almódovar who allegedly convinced a young Antonio to add an "s" on to the last name of Bandera by suggesting "add the s, señor."

Banderas continued to work in small movies, stage productions and television but a future had been cemented with Almódovar; they went on to make a range of quirky, out-of-the-box films such as the 1988 comedy Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and, two years later, the controversial Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! It was an odd, chance-taking role for the young, unknown actor. The plot revolves around Ricky, a mental patient on release who tracks down a porn star he once slept with and tries to convince her to marry him. When she hesitates, Ricky (Banderas) tries to tie up the deal by tying her up in order to, well, you get the picture.

Apparently, so did European and American filmgoers. Banderas suddenly had people—filmmakers, casting agents and even pop star Madonna during the filming of her sexy Truth or DareM in 1990—wanting him in bed with them, both literally and figuratively.

The fact that he couldn't speak English didn't seem to deter those who felt that his on-screen presence made up for a certain deliberate delivery. Banderas learned the lines phonetically for The Mambo Kings, his 1992 break-through American movie opposite Armand Assante, with Banderas' still-heavy accent working in his favor. What also worked in his favor was that the guy can sing; his version of "Beautiful Maria of My Soul" helped earn the movie Grammy, Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for Best Song and scored Banderas a nomination from the Spanish Actors Union for Lead Performance.

Films with slightly bigger budgets began coming his way, including some with modest roles but opposite box office names that guaranteed a certain volume of ticket sales; The House of the Spirits with Meryl Streep, Jeremy Irons and a 21-year-old Winona Ryder; Philadelphia opposite Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington and Interview with the Vampire opposite Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt to name a few.

By 1995, Banderas had teamed up with yet another producer and director he was, it seems, destined to work with time and time again. Perhaps slightly less temperamental than Almódovar but no less out-of-the-box, Texan filmmaker Robert Rodriguez chose Banderas to reprise the role of El Mariachi, the tormented musician-cum-gunslinger who roams aimlessly, alternately shooting and strumming, until meeting and falling in love with Salma Hayek's shopkeeper.

The film, Desperado, was the second in Rodriguez' trilogy of films featuring El Mariachi and became a sort of cult classic with supporting actors Cheech Marin and Steve Buscemi spouting the kinds of snarky lines that had both teenagers and film critics quoting them. Eight years later, Rodriguez and Banderas—with the addition of Johnny Depp—would team up again for the even darker and more testosterone-driven Once Upon a Time in Mexico.

Banderas would go on to make yet three more movies with Robert Rodriguez, the box office and video-successful Spy Kids franchise. Banderas says that although he initially took some professional flack for doing "kids' movies," he's very proud of the films for both their content and their box office success.

The movies did "...well, very well," said Banderas. "I had a lot of fun making the movies, the kinds of movies that my daughter can see and enjoy, and I like Robert's creativity."

"Of course," Banderas shrugs, "if Robert Rodriguez asked me to go to hell with him, I'd go. There is a relationship there, a friendship, between him and me that makes any job that he'd call me to do something I'd do."

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