Last year, when The Expendables 3 was filming in Bulgaria, I got to visit the set with a few other reporters. Usually during a break in filming I’ll do interviews with the cast. But due to how much was going on that day, interviews were tough to come by. Thankfully, Lionsgate recently got me on the phone with Antonio Banderas for an exclusive interview. He talked about how he got involved in the project, not wanting to play a villain, his character’s backstory, the weapons, if it was a competitive set, director Patrick Hughes, and more. He also talked about working with Terrence Malick and the director’s unique way of working, Puss in Boots 2, and if he’ll be directing again. Hit the jump for what he had to say.
Before going any further, if you’re not familiar with the story, The Expendables 3 has Sylvester Stallone’s Barney Ross and his Expendables crew squaring off against Ross’ old partner Conrad Stonebanks, played by Mel Gibson. Returning for the sequel are Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews and Arnold Schwarzenegger, with Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas, Kelsey Grammer and Harrison Ford joining the cast along with Kellan Lutz, Glen Powell, Robert Davi, MMA star Ronda Rousey, and welterweight boxing champion Victor Ortiz.
Here’s the roll call followed by the interview:
BANDERAS: I ran into him in a parking lot a couple of years ago, believe it or not. We did Assassins and we kept ourselves in contact. We became friends because we had a great time doing that movie with Dick Donner. He said to me, “Man, you have to come and you have to do something.” And I said, “Just write something for me, but I don’t wanna do a villain.” He said, “You don’t wanna do a villain?” I said, “I don’t want to just be dead and have you guys laughing at me in number 4. I wanna be a good guy.” So he said, “Let me think about that.” So, I did a movie in Bulgaria that I co-produced with my Spanish company and Millennium, called Autómata, which is a completely different animal than this. It’s an art movie about science fiction. It’s a scientific and philosophical concept called singularity, about the moment in which machines overcome human beings. And so, I was in the area when they put together The Expendables, and Sly knew about that, so he contacted me and said, “Man, please read this and feel free to just tell me what you think about the character and if you wanna change things.” So I took it and read it, and I definitely did some changes. I changed even the name of character. And so, I started sending things that I wrote and he accepted them, and I said, “Okay.” So, that’s how we connected.
What was the original name of the character?
BANDERAS: It was Matador, and I have heard that name so many times, with so many characters that I have been offered. I said, “No. Matador, no. We have to do something different.” So “galgo” means greyhound. It’s a very fast dog. Galgo sounds easy and good in English, so they accepted it. And another thing I said to him is, “Sly, you have to give me the possibility to make some comedy here.” The whole entire project, and how the concept is created, I don’t see it as a very realistic approach to action. We’re not doing the type of thing that is very realistic and goes through certain narrative rules and cinematic rules. This goes in a completely different direction. And he said to me, “You do whatever you wanna do and we will decide it, as we go. If we’re going in the right direction, we’ll talk.” So I took over the character with that idea, and I ended up improvising a lot, which is not easy for me, believe me, ‘cause it’s not my language. But I think that actually adds some comedy, too. So, I am the type of pain in the ass guy who never stops talking and where everyone’s rolling eyes when he arrives, but at the end, he’s tender and has some kind of past story that actually makes him lovable, in some way.
BANDERAS: He’s a mercenary. He is a guy who has been with a uniform in the Spanish army for a long time, in places of combat like Kosovo and Afghanistan and places like that. But something happened to him, that you will see in the movie, that takes him out of that. And so, he becomes a solitary man. Knowing the existence of the expendables, he’s trying to approach them, by any means, but he never got the possibility. In fact, when Sly Stallone’s character breaks up with the rest of the group, there’s the possibility to actually approach him, but he’s rejected. But, he doesn’t stop there. He keeps going and going and going and going and going, until he’s finally in the group. He shows his skills and suddenly they say, “We’re gonna give you an opportunity.” That’s the way that he gets into the group. He wins his way inside the group by the actions that he does in the movie, basically.
How did you prepare for this role? Did you have to do anything special for this kind of project?
BANDERAS: You have to be in good shape, basically. And then, you have to have a certain craziness, if you’re going to do some of the action things. I did something that I shouldn’t have done. I’m in my 60s now, and just running almost 50 meters with explosives going on, it was kind of like, “Oh, my god! What am I doing here?” The whole entire building was shaking, and stuff like that. But, you do it. At the same time, I just wanna do it if I have the possibility of laughing a little bit at myself. In this particular concept of a movie, if I were doing something that can be catalogued as action, but is more serious and based on real events, I probably would approach it in a completely different way. But in this particular case, I asked Sly, who is the creator of this saga, and he said, “Yes, go there. Let’s see what happens, and we’ll just model it.” I think at some point, he was a little bit scared of how far I was going with the comedy. But I saw him at an after party, the night before the Oscars, and he said, “I have to confess, I thought you could become crazy when you were working there, but now that I have seen the result, it’s pretty good.” So I said, “All right, good. You’re not gonna kill me?” He said, “No, I’m not gonna kill you, man.” That was my bet. That’s what I asked him for, and he gave it to me. I had a tremendous amount of freedom to do it, which is not normal and doesn’t happen. I never had that when I was doing Zorro. It was more strict with the script and the idea we had. And it was the same with Desperado, and all of the action movies that I have done in my career. But in this particular case, they allowed me to rewrite a lot of stuff and they practically approved of everything I brought.
BANDERAS: Well, he didn’t stop talking. It’s impossible. He’s a headache. Every time he arrives, it’s a weapon of destruction of words. And practically everything was improvised. These guys are traveling for seven hours in a plane, and he doesn’t stop for a second. These guys are trying to sleep. But at the end, you discover that there is a pain hidden somewhere in this guy and everything that he’s doing is almost like a shield to protect himself. It’s almost like he imposes himself being like that because he cannot stop. The moment that he stops, all this pain comes back to him, and so he imposes for himself this rhythm of life and this rhythm for non-stop talking and non-stop thinking. He just goes ahead. He can’t stop and reflect how he became what he became because of he does, he’s lost.
What sort of actual weapons does your character use?
BANDERAS: I have a rifle, and I use a lot of fighting skills that I learned years ago. I tried to do as much as I could. I have certain abilities. I think I am good in the department of body language and fighting, and stuff like that. It’s just natural to me, maybe because I love sports. As long as you have a good choreographer for that, and we did, it’s relatively easy to get into that world, for me. So, I did it like that in Zorro and in Desperado, or other movies I have done where I have to employ a certain action and physicality.
You recently also worked with Terrence Malick. What’s it like to work with a director like him, who puts the camera in weird places and constantly alters what he’s focused on?
BANDERAS: It’s very difficult to describe my participation in that movie. First of all, he gave me a monologue of nine pages, that was just talking about the micro and macro world of everything. But I have never experienced such a sensation or feeling of absolute freedom, not because of what I did, but because of the way that he was directing. It was extraordinary. To tell you the truth, I didn’t even know if I was going to make it to the screen, but that’s the way that it goes, you know? I remember when I got to the set in the morning, he called me and said, “Antonio, I’m sorry I didn’t send you the script. You know why I didn’t send you the script?” I said, “No.” He said, “Well, there is no script. We are just working as we go. I am creating the movie as I go. I have a central character and I have certain ideas, and I put him in different situations of life. The guy just tries to be a sponge and suck up everything he sees because he’s an artist. So, I’m shooting a lot of things, and I don’t know what I’m gonna edit because I have a movie where, if I put together the whole entire thing, it might be as long as a week. But, I invite you to play. Feel free. You have this monologue. You can start the monologue in the middle, if you want. I’m going to shoot it in different locations, in this party that we have over here. We’re gonna shoot it in the pool, in the hall, in this dancing scene, in the garden. So, you just relax and enjoy acting. If you even have any idea, please just throw it out. I’m going to be sending you what I call torpedoes.”
And I said, “What is that?” He said, “People will interrupt you while you are talking, and they may just do actions to you. There may be a very young girl, it may be an old lady, it may be a group of people. You may know them or not know them. Just improvise with them. That’s what’s gonna happen.” So, in the middle of the monologue, someone would come and do something to me, I’d react. So it was really an exercise of freedom that I have never experienced before. I don’t know the result of it. The other day, they sent me some pictures for my approval, and I didn’t even remember. I looked at the pictures and thought, “Oh, yeah, I remember that. I shot that. But I don’t remember this. What was that?” It was so intense. It was 12-14 hours of absolute madness and, at the same time, of incredible findings. So, I don’t know. I have no idea what is going to come out of that participation. I think I am in the movie because somebody called me about the use of my name, and if they used my name, it’s because I am there. But it was a pleasure to work with a man that I admire from a long, long time ago, that actually took the Palm d’Or in the Festival of Cannes when I was competing also, with Pedro Almodóvar. And the movie Tree of Life is one of my favorite movies of the last ten years, so he’s a man that I admire enormously, and just to have the possibility to spend one day with him was enough for me.
Have we seen the last of Puss in Boots, or is that a character you’ll do again, at some point?
BANDERAS: We started the new one four days ago. It did incredibly good with audiences and critics, all around the world, and the character is going to keep going. With Jeffrey [Katzenberg], whatever he wants. He’s one of my favorite producers. This character was born almost 12 years ago. We have had a lot of fun with him, and it seems that audiences do, too. So, we’re doing another one.
When do you think you’ll direct again?
BANDERAS: It’s going to depend upon a couple of things. There is a project that Spanish director Carlos Saura is putting together from two years ago, about the time in which Pablo Picasso painted in Grenada, right in the middle of the Spanish Civil War. Picasso was born in my hometown, in Málaga, so I have this of strange connection with his persona and with what he did. He left Málaga, practically at the same time and age that I did. For me to have the possibility the portray Pablo Picasso, with Vittorio Storaro doing the photography and Carlos Saura directing, and probably the strong presence of Gwyneth Paltrow to play Dora Maar, who is a photographer that had a relationship with him, is a beautiful thing. That goal is gonna take a long time for preparation. It’s the type of movie that you wanna prepare properly. But if it goes to next year, 2015, probably in September, then I’m gonna be directing again. And it’s gonna be a script that I wrote with another person, a screenwriter from America called Erik Jendresen, who lives in San Francisco. He actually did Band of Brothers for Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. We wrote a script called Solo that we may be shooting towards the end of this year.
BANDERAS: Well, I worked with everybody because we’re a squad and basically we are together. But mostly I was working with Sly and Jason [Statham], and then with the group.
What was it like to be on set with so many action stars? Do you have any cool behind the scenes stories, or was there any friendly on-set competition going on?
BANDERAS: There was no competition. It’s just weird when you arrive to set and you see the chairs for everybody. There was one for Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sly Stallone, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Jason Statham, Wesley Snipes. And you see your chair over there. But the only one that didn’t have weights was mine. Everybody else had weights by their chairs, and just lifting weights the whole entire day. I was like, “Oh, man! These guys!” It’s history, what was there. The truth is that. The extraordinary force and mind of a guy called Sly Stallone, who everybody said, “Oh, he’s probably finished,” I said, “Really? I don’t think so.” To be an action hero at almost 70 years old, I tip my hat in front of this man who has been reinventing himself again, and again, and again. He’s definitely a legend, like the rest of the cast. Just to be invited to that group of people, for me, is beautiful, especially because I am not an action hero. That is not the only thing I did in my career. Many people know me because of my work with Pedro Almodóvar, or theater or films that I have done, aside from that. But, that was a part of my career that I embrace. I loved movies like Zorro and Desperado and The 13th Warrior, and other movies like that, that I have done and that contain some action, but it’s not the only thing that I do. But to be with all of these guys that represent a lot to the Hollywood industry, is an honor.
What was it like to work with Patrick Hughes as your director, on set and during pre-production?
BANDERAS: I wouldn’t like to be him. It’s not an easy thing to have so many stars on set. But, he seemed to be managing beautifully. He has a great sense of humor, and he’s open to receiving ideas. He established a great relationship with the creator, who is Sly Stallone, which was fundamental. If you don’t understand each other, he would have been having a lot of trouble. But they seemed to understand each other, perfectly. They were planning everything, and he was open, even to tell Sly sometimes, “You have to do this.” I like that. And I think that’s what Sly is looking for, too. He needs somebody who actually brings him some objectivity about what he’s doing, and I think he did it very well.
How was the experience of filming in Bulgaria?
BANDERAS: They have all the facilities that you need and everything that you need to make a movie. The studios are growing very fast, and they have these new soundstages. As the years are passing, the teams, technicians, and everybody who is working there is getting more and more prepared, more ready, and they are very good at what they do. It’s actually very easy to work like that. And Millennium is probably the biggest independent company in the world. It operates almost like a studio.
If you could go back to Sofia, Bulgaria tomorrow, is there somewhere you would go first? Is there anywhere you like to go personally when you’re there?
BANDERAS: I love my hotel, The Grand Sofia Hotel. I love it there. And there a number of restaurants around that area. I like the historical center more than anything else because there is a lot of history over there. You don’t experience the history because of the architecture, but many of the members on the team were from Bulgaria, so we established a relationship with the country through them. That has been very interesting. It’s the third movie that I have done there, and I suppose that in the future, we’re going to do more. There is something very sweet about the country, and about the city of Sofia.
You also made The 33 about the miners?
BANDERAS: It just finished, three and a half weeks ago.
Who do you play in that?
BANDERAS: Mario Sepúlveda, who is one of the guys that took over to be the leader down there. He took over the boss who, at a certain point, panics. But, it’s a very controversial character because there are stories going on down there, at the same moment. There is one story of survival. And then, when they finally get contacted by the people outside, and they start receiving news of how big they are becoming, and telegrams and messages from the Pope and Obama, they saw a possibility that their lives were going to be different, from that point on. So, that became a conflict down there, that you’re gonna see in the movie. It’s a very interesting story because we know the beginning and the end. What we don’t know is what happened in the middle of that story. That is actually what allowed us to put a magnifying glass on human beings, through these 33 people that spent 70 days down there, in the mine. We have actually been working very close with the miners. They have been with us the whole time. We’ll see what happens. We were working for two and a half months in Columbia, before we went to Chile to the mines. It’s way more aggressive than people imagine. It’s not just because of the explosions that may happen and the collapsing, and stuff like that. It’s just what you breathe, and the cold. There’s something down there that is very aggressive for your body and for your mind.
For more on The Expendables 3 from my set visit:
- 35 Things to Know about THE EXPENDABLES 3 from Our Set Visit
- Sylvester Stallone Talks Topping THE AVENGERS, the Cast, Using Actors’ “Baggage” as an Advantage, and More on the Set of THE EXPENDABLES 3
- Director Patrick Hughes Talks THE EXPENDABLES 3, How He Landed the Job, the Action Sequences, Putting the Cast Together, THE RAID Remake, and More