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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 5)

The experience, said Banderas, was magical and, in his opinion, the best work of his career. "Theater? That's my beginning. I was raised as a theater actor since I was 15 and didn't make my first movie until I was 20. Theater was my turf and I was very unfair, actually, with myself and with theater because for 16 years I didn't do it. I disappeared from the stage and I forgot that feeling [of] being in front of an audience every night, no cuts allowed, telling a story a, b, c, d, e. The happiest times that I have had [in my career] have been on stage and in America it was in Nine. No doubt about it."

Banderas goes on and on about the experience, naming (and telling little stories about) all the actresses who played opposite him, discussing his admiration for David Leveaux, the director, and detailing his sheer joy of dancing with Chita Rivera on stage. That Banderas thoroughly enjoyed the experience is unmistakable; he's animated, he waves his hands wildly during the storytelling and regularly lapses into Spanish as he tells stories about how his wife (Griffith was appearing in the Broadway performance of Chicago directly across the street from Banderas during a portion of his run) and "the girls" planned a surprise birthday party for him and how knocking on Chita Rivera's dressing room door each evening prior to curtain was his "good luck charm. If I didn't do it," he shrugs, "who knew what would happen on stage? Andalusians are superstitious."

He's also quick to point out that in real life he's nothing like the character of Guido Contini. "On stage, we are inseparable, we must be inseparable, Guido and I," says Banderas haltingly. "But here, this man who is talking to you now is a man who loves women in every aspect, every shape, every style but I am not a Don Juan. I am—how do you say?—a one-woman man. I don't play around. I probably did at the beginning when I was younger, when I was more confused, when I was [laughs] closer to the guy in Nine. You know, when you think you are going to die tomorrow, you feel like you have to take everything that comes to your door, but it's not like that at this particular moment in my life, ever since I met Melanie."

Banderas acknowledges that the press has had field days at times with stories about him and Griffith; rumored affairs, stories about his jealousy, her jealousy, issues with cast mates, trial separations, etc., but he seems quite anxious to put them to rest.

"Look, if you work in a bank every day, you know the same people every day. Maybe you hit on a girl once, she rejects you and [laughs] that's it. Now in our profession...I did three movies last year, in each I met fascinating people. When you do movies you meet unbelievable people. They've got a lot of life, they're fighters, they're interesting, and they're physically wonderful. Look at Angelina Jolie...she's wonderful. What? Am I going to say that she's not?! Look at Jennifer Lopez, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Madonna...they're all wonderful. But there are lessons here and the lesson I have learned is that there is pleasure in fidelity. We adopt, we adapt, both of us personally and as a couple. You discover that you have the capacity of falling in love with your wife all over again.

"I've had tremendous, incredible opportunities," continues Banderas, "just to go to bed with a woman and maybe I thought 'my wife wouldn't know at all' but I'd know it, and I didn't do it. Didn't do it. And then do you know what I'd do? I'd call Melanie and tell her that and say '...this is my way of telling you that I love you,' you know? It's a feeling of 'I have control' and that's almost a victory. When you discover that this is possible, well, I don't need to go anywhere else. I love my wife."

When asked about Griffith's willingness to share such personal details as pole dancing lessons to the press, Banderas looks away for a moment and then offers the same Gallic shrug. "Sometimes we have discussed these things...but in the end it is her decision. What I don't want to eliminate through the couple is the individuality. She's still Melanie Griffith, by herself, an entity that is detached from me as I am an entity that is detached from her.

"There is also a bit of a myth about her wanting to be on [my] sets all the time," Banderas continues, "especially when there are beautiful women there who are working with me. I think this movie with Jennifer [Lopez] right now, she came on the set at the end only because we were going [straight] from there to Aspen. With Angelina [Jolie] they became unbelievable friends [on the set of Original Sin] and I think she spent more time with her than I did! So maybe it's a little myth about so much jealousy."

The movie with Jennifer Lopez that Banderas refers to is Bordertown, which is based on a true story about young Mexican women murdered in and around the maquiladora towns of Juarez and Nogales. Lopez plays a journalist who investigates the U.S.-owned factories where these women worked; Banderas plays a former colleague of hers who assists in the investigation.

When first approached about doing Bordertown, a relatively low-budget film scheduled for release in early 2006, Banderas almost said no. Not because of the budget and certainly not because of the cast; Banderas and director Gregory Nava had been trying to work together for years. It seems Banderas was desperately trying to get his own film off the ground in Spain by this fall, a movie based on Spanish author Anthony Soler's El Camino de Los Ingleses.

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