Behind the Mask

Antonio Banderas opens up on marriage, politics and his best roles.

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Banderas, the sports fan, pauses for a moment and then shakes his head smiling. "I find it very interesting, for example, when the Super Bowl comes or the end of the NBA. Whoever wins is considered the 'World Champion.' World Champion! It is just a domestic competition but it says something, no? I don't know who else, what other team outside of the U.S. that they would play that they wouldn't win against, it's true, but the very thought that someone else, another team could come and receive that [win] shouldn't allow you to call yourself 'World Champion,' you know? Perhaps there is a perception that America looks at itself continuously and only looks outside when there is a problem that affects Americans."
For more than an hour, Banderas talks about politics, religion, war and the environment. He offers up passages from books, quotes philosophers and mentions 10-volume sets of books that he's just finished reading. These are not the microscopic sound bites gained from watching 15 minutes of CNN prior to an interview, in the hopes of sounding intelligent. On the contrary, Banderas is thoughtful, concise and poses rhetorical questions worthy of—and perhaps missing from—political debates taking place all over the world.
Whether about Palestinian resettlement, Mexico/U.S. immigration, interpretations of the Koran, Venezuela's government under Chavez, the estimated Iraq war budget or terrorism in the Middle East, Banderas is refreshingly aware and informed, especially for an actor often sequestered away on studio sets and in backstage dressing rooms and sound studios.
Banderas gets flustered when asked how he stays so informed in spite of an insane schedule and actually blushes when he's referred to as "smart."
"No, no, no. Don't say that because I make mistakes, I may often be wrong. It's just that I'm interested in the world that I am living [in] and I like to be witness and participant in that world. I don't have all the answers, obviously, but I really like to make the questions for myself, continuously, and I try to see the different opinions of different cultures."
"I definitely don't know all the questions or have all the answers. If I did have all the answers then I wouldn't be an actor," Banderas concludes with a rueful smile. "I'd be a politician."
Seattle-based author Betsy Model is a former NPR/BBC correspondent who contributes to more than 30 domestic and international publications
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