Antonio Banderas won Best Actor in Cannes for Pain & Glory and dedicated his win to Pedro Almodovar. They have made eight films together.
The Spanish heartthrob, now 58, has been re-invigorated following a heart attack two years ago. It came naturally to work with his old friend. Almodovar, 69, has famously had health issues and Banderas essentially plays him (as the troubled, drug-taking movie director Salvador Mallo) in this semi-autobiographical film.
“I respect and admire him. I love him, he’s my mentor,” Banderas said in his speech. “People think we live in a red carpet, but it’s not true. We suffer a lot, we sacrifice, and there is a lot of pain behind being an actor of any kind. But there is also glory, and this is my night of glory. The best is still to come.”
We spoke at the festival about his relationship with Almodovar and what he has on the horizon. After long living in the US—mostly during his 19-year marriage to Melanie Griffith–Banderas now resides in London with his Dutch girlfriend of four years, Nicole Kimpel, though spends a lot of time in his hometown of Malaga, where he has bought a theatre.
COLLIDER: Can you talk about getting back together with Almodovar?
ANTONIO BANDERAS: Nine years ago when I was called by Pedro to do The Skin I Live In I went back after 22 years saying, “Papi, Papi look what I have learned. I can play with my voice, I can play with my body.” Pedro said, “I’m not interested in all that stuff you learned in Hollywood, that’s not useful to me”. During those 22 years we saw each other and had remained friends so it was not a big deal. But I realized I was probably too much into this Hollywood thing and going back to Europe was a different deal. Going back to Almodovar I was questioning myself about being an actor and when he sent me the screenplay for Pain & Glory I couldn’t believe it. So I went to him as a soldier ready to listen and open my eyes. I wanted to know why he wanted to do that movie and why he wanted me to play him. So I started working with him, with no tricks. When you are like that you feel very naked. It’s a very painful place to be and it’s a place where creation is. It was the most beautiful experience that I’ve had in my life. That summer the environment on the set was so raw.
You’ve been reinvigorated by playing this old man. I’m so pleased you don’t look as old as in the film.
BANDERAS: Me too!
How was it looking like that?
BANDERAS: I am nearing 60 and I am now closer to that guy than to some of the characters I did before and it’s fine. You have to accept yourself as a human being, go to different places and I have the suspicion that these things are way more interesting than the things I could do when I was younger. There are more complexities, more things that I am aware of. I am more fearless.
How true are the events in the film?
BANDERAS: It’s not a biography. It’s what my mother says in the movie: self-fiction. I’m pretty sure a lot of the things in the movie didn’t happen. Some of the characters are real, some are concentrated; Alberto the actor is based on many actors. Some of the lines he has are mine actually. But at the same time the movie is so Almodovar because it’s filled with the things he wants to say and never said, the things he never did and his approach to things and it’s very, very emotional. I met his mother Francesca because we worked together on Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! and we went to the village a couple of times. She was a wonderful lady and Pedro worshipped her beyond belief. The day we were shooting the scene with the mother in Pain & Glory he read my lines and started saying, “Mama, Mama” and became emotional. I said, “I got it now.” So that’s how we did it. Sometimes the directions come from unusual places. It was so powerful for him and ran so deep. Think of his pain in 1964 in a Catholic dictatorship in a village in the middle of nowhere with a father who’s a peasant and a guy who is homosexual and everybody knows everybody. It’s about how much he wanted to say, “I’m sorry” to his mother. What’s very personal about this movie and why it connects with people all around the world is that it’s about people who are different and have that problem to communicate what they are and to say that to their family. He comes with something that is so private, a confession. So the film is a way to connect with the past. I’ve seen this man become happy as the day passes. You could see weight coming off his shoulders. It was unbelievable.
You discovered a lot about Almodovar while making the film.
BANDERAS: My relationship with Pedro as a friend moved in a very specific universe and I never crossed the limits of that universe. He’s a very private person and I always respected that privacy and never asked a difficult question. I knew that was not my place. So when I read the script I couldn’t believe that he went that far. I even doubted in the beginning that he was talking about himself. It wasn’t until we were in rehearsals and we start asking, “It’s you, right?” and he said, “Well…” Then he asked for me to put my hair up like he has it and he started bringing me his clothes. Then when I arrived to set it was the exact replica of his house, the same paintings, the same books, everything. It was mindblowing. I’d walk out the door to take the elevator and was shocked that it was fake!
Even at the time of his previous movie I’d read how he suffered from chronic pain.
BANDERAS: He doesn’t want to recognize it but I remember even in the 80s in Argentina when we were premiering his films there, how he had to return to Spain as he couldn’t cope with the migraines. In that period I was living in Los Angeles and we didn’t have much contact. I remember calling some friends we had in common asking how he was and they didn’t know. “We don’t see him, he doesn’t get out, he doesn’t go to places or have dinners like we used to.” So you could say that isolation and solitude are characters in the movie.
Your own brush with death, your heart attack, also fed into your portrayal.
BANDERAS: I like to tell the story about how after they did an intervention in my heart at the hospital a nurse stayed with me at night. She said, “Antonio you believe in popular culture, why do you think people say, ‘I love you with all my heart?’ Why don’t they say ‘I love you with all my kidneys?’ Your heart pumps blood around your body and it’s a warehouse for feelings. And you know what will happen to you for the next three months? You’re going to be sad.” And I became very sensitive suddenly. I’d watch a movie and I was crying. What the fuck? I don’t cry. So I had this rush of feelings and Pedro saw it when we were working together. He said to me, ‘Don’t hide that part of the character. There’s a sadness with you now. Show it!”
You became famous for your onscreen kiss with a man in the ‘80s and now you kiss Leonardo Sbaraglia in this movie. How have things changed?
BANDERAS: Still there’s something going on. It’s very interesting. The other day we were in the Palais and Leo and I kissed and the whole Palais went “Ohhh!” But that’s true, it started in ‘85 when I did Law of Desire and it was interesting because people are such hypocrites in terms of morality. I kill a guy in the movie, I bite him and I throw him off a cliff and he dies and no one has a problem with that. But you kiss a person of the same sex and it’s “Oh my God!” My mother went to see Law of Desire in 1985 and she said, “Why didn’t you tell me?” But little by little perceptions change, even my mother! Everyone has to love differently and it’s important not to impose on people who they have to love. People ask me if it’s difficult to do a scene like that and I say no.
Has working on Pain & Glory changed your acting for other films?
BANDERAS: What I cannot do is make the mistake to try and reproduce this. What opened my eyes is a new way to attack characters. I just worked again with Steven Soderbergh (after Haywire) on The Laundromat. It’s coming out in September and is a very weird movie. It’s a satire about the Panama Papers. I also found great joy playing Pablo Picasso in the TV series Genius and I just collaborated with Robert Downey Jr. on The Voyage of Doctor Dolittle, a huge movie in London. So I’m fine. I feel like I want to dedicate my time to my theatre when it opens in October in Malaga and I have several offers for January/February but I’m going to be very careful with the next projects.
Pain & Glory is a good name for an autobiography. What would be yours?
BANDERAS: Puss In Boots!