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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

It's a noticeably somber morning at the Banderas household. Actually, it's just one of actor Antonio Banderas' five households—the one in Marbella, Spain—and, with an international news program tuned to the horror of Hurricane Katrina playing in the background, Banderas has just seen his nine-year-old daughter, Stella, back off to the States for the start of another school year. Even with Banderas' wife (and Stella's mother), actress Melanie Griffith, already in Los Angeles and waiting to pick up the nine-year-old, Banderas is visibly upset at his daughter's leaving. "I won't sleep or rest easy, you know, until I get a telephone call saying that she's arrived safely and that everyone's okay," Banderas admits. "It's very hard to be separated from family, from the people you love. They are," he says simply, "my life." This life that Banderas refers to is an interesting phenomenon, a complicated animal that he has managed to straddle competently, if not completely tame. Influenced equally by Europe and America, it is a complex blend of personas, myths and realities—not to mention languages, cultures and time zones—that would have a weaker man mumbling about multiple personality disorder. Of course, this may also be part of Banderas' global allure; how can an audience get bored with an artist whose work—and choices—can't be predicted? He's an avowed family man who, routinely labeled a "Latin Lover," has made movies opposite some of Hollywood's most beautiful women that barely escape the term "soft porn." He's headlined G-rated children's films and voiced animated characters aimed at children Stella's age but perhaps is best known for action-adventure flicks where he wields swords, kicks butts and rarely bothers to take a name. In Spanish or English.

Banderas is a very male male—muy masculino in his native Spanish—but with a feminine side strong enough to routinely assume effeminate or gay roles convincing enough to earn him GLAAD awards and lust-object status among a number of gay websites.

His marriage to Griffith—his second, her fourth—has seen its share of tabloid press for everything from her time in rehab for prescription drug abuse (true) to his-and-hers affairs (both claim false) and trial separations (true). Still, they've been married nearly 10 years, are routinely touted in the press as the next Hollywood couple to go the distance and, in case anyone wants to know how Griffith keeps her rather press-shy man, she's glad to offer tips to the media and her fans via news bites and a website. Latest news bulletin? Pole dancing.

He is a citizen of Spain who knows more about American history and American politics than most of the people voting in November elections. He is an accomplished musician and singer who refuses to record an entire album and an actor who professes to be extraordinarily shy about filming love scenes but doesn't use a body double when it comes to nudity.

He admits to jealousy as a character trait even as he rails against it in a relationship. He has won 19 acting awards and been nominated for another 17 from prestigious organizations all over the world, but he refused the Spanish Academy's gold medal award the first time it was proffered because he felt he was too young in the industry to accept it.

It wasn't until 2004, and only following his Tony award nomination for Best Actor (Musical) for his stage performance in Nine that he accepted Spain's equivalent of an Oscar awarded "to recognize the actor's work in spreading Spanish culture throughout his prolific international career."

That Banderas' international career has been prolific can't be denied. For a man who turned 45 on August 10 ("Melanie says I'm not forty-five," he jokes, "I'm thirty-fifteen"), he has more than 70 acting projects on his resume. All in all, pretty impressive for a young man from Malaga, Spain, who, until age 14, dreamed only of a potential career playing his beloved soccer.

"I think I was too young to ever really think about playing professionally for the Federation...I played because I loved it. But it's also true that I wasn't all that bad," Banderas grins, "and I probably could have become a professional soccer player but I [was] injured while playing and I broke my left foot in several parts. Now? Now I am a spectator. I love soccer and I follow the matches and several teams that I like—the national team and Team Malaga, my hometown team that I am always behind—but I think that it would be impossible to find someone who doesn't like soccer."

That professional soccer just isn't as big in the U.S. as it is in Europe is a mystery to Banderas but then, as a boy, so was the lure of acting until he saw a performance of Hair in the year following the broken foot. Suddenly, the young Banderas had a new goal that didn't involve a ball; it involved a stage.

Born Jose Antonio Dominguez Bandera, the eldest son of a school- teacher and a police comisario, Banderas' interest in acting and the desire to attend Malaga's School of Dramatic Art came as a bit of a shock to the traditional Bandera household. He did the requisite classical training which resulted in tours throughout Spain in small productions until 1980, when, at age 19 and with almost no money in his pocket, he moved to Madrid with the intention of getting serious about his career. He joined the National Drama Center in Madrid, worked as a waiter and model to support himself, and anticipated being "the guy in the fifth row holding a sword" for many years to come.

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