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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 6)

What changed his mind, Banderas says softly, was "...the book. They sent me a book that the women of Juarez—victims' mothers, sisters, cousins—had prepared for me and the book was overwhelming, you know? Here's a scrapbook filled with pieces of the dresses [from]the women who disappeared, a lot of religious motif [items]glued to the book, puzzles, stuff like that. The book was very thick and," Banderas pauses, "what can I say? I was convinced. I said yes. I went to meet with some of the women and said yes. It was like that for everyone else, too...Jennifer, Martin Sheen."

Bordertown isn't Banderas' only film due out in early 2006. He's just finished shooting Take the Lead, a movie based on the life of ballroom dancer Pierre Dalaine who teaches dance in New York's inner- city schools, and he's playing race-the-clock to finish El Camino de Los Ingleses in time to make the independent film festival circuit for spring. He's made commitments to at least three other films in the next three years and, oh, he's trying to buy the rights to Don Juan de Marco for a Broadway musical. Banderas would, of course, play Don Juan.

When it's pointed out that he's not only traipsing back and forth between two coasts with projects but, at this point, all over the world, Banderas just nods enthusiastically and says things will get easier now that he and Griffith have bought yet another home, this time in New York.

After an unexpected and rather public turn-down by Manhattan's prestigious the Dakota—and in spite of, says Banderas, written letters of recommendation from Dakota residents Lauren Bacall and Yoko Ono—Banderas and Griffith promptly bought another apartment overlooking Central Park for an estimated $4 million. He says it's where he and Griffith hope to eventually retire.

Banderas lived in New York briefly when he first came to the United States and says there's an energy there he's missed desperately, living even part-time in Los Angeles. "First of all, New York is closer to Spain," says Banderas, smiling. "But it's also, for me, the most European city in America. In Los Angeles, you're always in your car—if you don't have a car you don't exist in Los Angeles—and you can't believe anything, it's all exaggeration! In New York, things are more straightforward.

"You're tested constantly in New York," Banderas continues. "Things are always challenging [whereas] Los Angeles feels like one big...movie set. There's no center there, no plaza. You know, in Spain when the soccer team wins there are big celebrations in the squares, everybody gathers and screams and celebrates until they drop. I went to see the last game of the Los Angeles Lakers during the playoff, and after they won...there was no square, no plaza. Instead, there was public disorder...cop cars turned over. New York? New York has a square, Times Square. It's a city that received tremendous impact after September 11 but there is birth out of the ashes."

With news programs continuing to broadcast footage from Hurricane Katrina in the background, and as European news anchors and politicians openly question what America, politicians are doing to evacuate and assist a population that's rarely seen on American television, Banderas muses on the differences he experiences as a citizen of Spain but a part-time resident of America. A man, if you will, of two countries.

"When you see something like [Hurricane Katrina] that is so strong and part of nature, what happens is that we all become the same, all human. It doesn't matter how much money you have, how much education you have. We all look the same, have the same mud on our face, the same desperation in our eye. When you see this and you see what happened during the tsunami [in Southeast Asia], you realize the frailty of human beings in front of Gaia."

Asked to comment as a European about the U.S. invasion of Iraq in the post-September 11 period, Banderas weighs his words carefully before responding. He wonders sometimes, he says, whether American politicians genuinely understand that their actions, taken on behalf of one nation, affect all nations. He often gets asked questions, he says, by Europeans wanting to know if the current administration in the United States understands that "...they take actions that are going to be irreversible for all of us. Right there," Banderas says, pointing out across the beach, "is Morocco. Right there. See it? On a clear day, we look over at them and we must wonder 'what is going to happen to them, to us?

"I sometimes hear things," he continues, "like 'I don't like Americans and then I answer to them, 'Well, what is America? Is America George Bush? Is America McCarthy? Or is America Bob Dylan?' America is many things, many people. But the perception is that America is so big...so big. Only America is so big that it can feed itself."


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