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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 3)

Although the scent of "dog lick" is one that has Banderas rolling his eyes and proffering apologies, he makes no apologies for the success of his men's fragrance line. Spirit Antonio Banderas, a fragrance for men created by Barcelona-based PUIG Beauty & Fashion Group, was introduced to the North American market last year and promptly won industry awards for both the packaging and the fragrance itself. The Banderas brand was earning in excess of $50 million in Europe and Latin America, and its move into the North American market—plus this fall's addition of a women's fragrance—is expected to double the product line's revenues.

Is Banderas reveling in the sweet smell of success that his popularity and name recognition has brought to a global business endeavor? Perhaps. But Banderas also has had to weather his share of jokes about taking on big screen stinkers alongside his more successful choices during the last decade.

In the year following his marriage to Griffith, Banderas was to have yet one more film encounter with The Material Girl. In 1996, Banderas filmed Evita opposite Madonna. Cast as Che Guevara, Banderas shined. Whether her performance was helped by her familiarity with Banderas at this point or simply the material itself, most critics believe this was Madonna's best acting role to date.

The part of the cigar-smoking, Spanish-speaking Guevara was a natural for Banderas, and earned him a Golden Globe nomination. Once again critics began paying positive attention to Banderas' acting skill. That continued through his next two projects, 1998's The Mask of Zorro,which had him playing opposite Anthony Hopkins and the then-unknown Catherine Zeta-Jones, and 1999's Crazy in Alabama, a drama that served as Banderas' directorial debut and also starred Griffith in the lead female role.

Both Banderas and Griffith scored well critically with Crazy in Alabama but the praise ended with Banderas' next choice, the Viking epic The 13th Warrior. Banderas pretty much carried the movie; he certainly carries the honor of holding the longest known character name in film history with his role as Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan Ibn Al Abbas Ibn Rashid Ibn Hamad and, for many years, he has taken most of the ribbing for the film's reputation as a...Boots, the Labrador. The movie was widely panned by critics and fellow actors alike—film great Omar Sharif, who had a tiny role in the beginning of the film, once said that the film was so bad that it threw him off making movies for years—but Banderas is very careful when asked to comment on some of his bigger hits and misses.

"I don't like to say things that may hurt other people's feelings [and] that stay in print for many years to come...people work hard on projects that sometimes don't work out as planned. The 13th Warrior was a big production, and it was practically at the beginning of my staying in America," says Banderas. "It was something that, under the advice of my agent, was impossible to reject and it was with a director who's very interesting to me. It was a bet, it didn't totally work but it's a movie that's become kind of a cult for some. And, hey, it's the nature of my profession. Not even Marlon Brando had all hits!"

When teased a bit later about having taken two other critically -panned movies, the erotic thrillers Original Sin opposite Angelina Jolie in 2001 and Femme Fatale opposite Rebecca Romijn Stamos in 2002, Banderas takes the ribbing in stride before getting serious about trying to explain why his choices made sense to him at the time, even if not to anyone else.

"I have an agenda that is very personal. Sometimes I work in a movie because I want to see how that director directs. So on Femme Fatale, for example, I'd been a big fan of (director) Brian de Palma for many years though even as I admired his work I had no possibilities in my mind of working with him. I'm interested in directing, I want to see how he directs, so I go to school," Banderas says. "The movie is school. I shoot a movie where all day long I stand behind him and say 'why did you do that' or 'why are you shooting this or framing this this way?' It's all about learning for me."

In the course of talking about Original Sin, one of the film's more memorable—and sexy—lines comes up. In the movie, Banderas plays a prosperous Cubano coffee plantation owner who sends to the United States for a bride. In one scene, the newly married Banderas comes into a room, smells cigar smoke and suspiciously asks his partially clothed wife, Jolie, who else has been in the room smoking. She tells a mildly shocked Banderas (right before she seduces him) that she'd snuck one of his cigars and smoked it because she "...wanted the taste of you on my mouth."

Banderas chuckles as he remembers both the scene and the line and, briefly, the talk turns to the cigars he smoked onscreen in movies like Original Sin, Desperado and Femme Fatale.


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