ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO - Q&A with ANTONIO BANDERAS
Antonio Banderas, 43, returns to his signature role of El Mariachi this week in Robert Rodriguez's ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO. Casually dressed in a white linen shirt and sporting a pageboy haircut, the Spanish star reflected on his career and family life in New York with wife, Melanie Griffith.
ANTONIO BANDERAS: Is that a DVD of the film?
No it's just a press kit on DVD.
ANTONIO BANDERAS: I don't care. Give me that DVD! I want to watch my movie!
Do you have a big DVD collection at home?
Impressive. I have probably 1500.
Can I have your address so I can borrow some?
Absolutely. But the screening is there. Watch as many as you want... No, I have a big collection. Not just feature movies. I also love documentaries and stuff like that.
What's your favourite?
Right now? BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE.
An odd choice considering how many guns there are in your new movie.
Yeah, that's true. But there's a lot of sense of humour too and a lot of irony and wit too.
What was it like working with Robert Rodriguez again?
A family reunion. We've done six movies together now. Six movies means that we have probably spent two years of our lives together. With Salma the same thing. The same with everyone behind the cameras that we know. The cinematographers, makeup artists, technicians of all kinds. So it's very easy. Especially with Robert Rodriguez. With Robert Rodriguez, I sign blindly, without even reading the script.
In fact, the way that this movie came was very interesting. I was in Paris filming with Brian De Palma. And Robert calls me on the phone and says, "Do you want to make another DESPERADO?" I say, "Sure, absolutely." He says, "Are you going to be ready in three weeks, we're going to be starting." "Three weeks, are you kidding me?... OK, yes send me the script." He says, "Oh, well I haven't written it yet." "And you're going to start the movie in three weeks." "Yes, tomorrow I'm going to talk to Sony Pictures." Well, I'm not going turn him down even if he is crazy. Two days later he calls and tells me they loved it. Three weeks later we were in Mexico making the movie.
That's all you need with Robert Rodriguez. He's like a jazz player. He loves to improvise. And with the digital system that we are using now, it's not that expensive. All you hear is the word "Action". Never "Cut". We talk during the takes. "I'm just going to do this line this way... I don't like it that way... Put the monitor over here so I can watch myself..." So we are working, talking all the time. A totally different approach.
Apparently it was a very sexy atmosphere on the set.
Well, that's an interesting way to look at it. Personally, I just sweated all the time like a pig (laughs). I mean, I'm jumping out of windows and riding on motorcycles... I spend all the time really flying a helicopter between the first and second unit. It's become almost a tradition with Robert. Hopping between locations adding little details here and there. To work with Robert Rodriguez for me, is almost like going to work with the circus.
How have you changed since the first time you worked together?
I'd like to think I'm a better actor now. A lot of things have happened. I directed a movie. I've done theatre.... I suppose that we've both grown. Different directions. Different experiences too. But it's very rewarding just to work together.
Are you pleased with the course your life has taken in America?
Yes. Totally satisfied. Especially these days. Especially with the theatre. Without making a mistake when I say this, it's probably one of the most beautiful experiences of my professional life. Not only the experience itself of being on Broadway, which has been gorgeous. The evolution of the work has been awesome. The audiences every night - to feel how they feel watching the play.
But at the same time it is a lesson for me. I was raised in the theatre. That is the place where I became an actor. Nobody knew that in America. Because I was very afraid of working in a language that was not my language - live everyday in front of audience. Especially on Broadway. But I recognized that a man shouldn't forget his roots. And my roots are in the theatre. And I am definitely not going to be out of the theatre as I was during this period of time. I'm going to work again on Broadway. It's been a reflection point in my life. It's allowed me to think and to think about my career. I may work from this point on way less than I have been working so far.
What's your daily preparation like before you go on stage?
I try and speak exactly the opposite of how I'm doing today! Mostly I just try to stay calm. Playing with my kids, go to the park, take a walk, do some yoga, and then go to the theatre a couple of hours before to start concentrating on the play, the company, and the role. And before you know it, the curtain's up.
How are you finding life in New York, especially now with you and Melanie both doing Broadway shows?
Much better than in Los Angeles. This is a much more European city. Los Angeles is the quintessential American city. The car. The big avenues. No relationship on the street between people. Here in New York, it's exactly the opposite. People relate to each other. They preach and push, this and that - they scream on the street at you. And I love that. And at the same time, Broadway is here. Also it's very close to Spain. So I can just jump on a plane and in 5-6 hours, I'm in Madrid... It's also good to know that our careers can work.
Aren't you hounded by paparazzi here?
It's not so bad. It was bad in the beginning of our relationship. But now... Sometimes you come out of the theatre and someone takes a picture. It doesn't kill anybody.
You've nevertheless had a lot of negative press.
Do we have a lot of negative press, lately?
No, but in the beginning they were making up rumours.
Believing in yourself and sticking up for what you believe is the right thing to do. I cannot live the life that someone wants me to live, or not live for that matter. I have to do what I have to do in my life, whether it is good or bad for my career. I don't care about that. It's what I have to do. And my relationship with the press, actually, has been really good. Yes, there were some points, in Spain especially, when some members of the press just drove me nuts because it was just beyond belief what they were trying to do in order to get some news. I had people breaking Coca Cola bottles and throwing them into my garden just in order to get somebody cut. I have kids there - at the time they were 3 years old, walking in the garden - just in order to have some news. Well, you cut your foot, you've got a hospital and you've got a picture. I think that would bother anybody. But besides those memories of that very hectic time, my relationship with the press has been not extraordinarily good, but not bad either.
What's the secret of a happy marriage?
The secret? I don't know. My own marriage... The secret for us is to put a lot of attention into every day details. When you're putting a lot of attention into the conceptual part of your marriage - the passion, that kind of 'pink' mood that you want to keep forever, it's tough. Eventually it comes back. But what you really want is to have patience and a real commitment and not mess around. In this profession that is very rare because you have a lot of people coming - beautiful people with beautiful faces and beautiful minds all the time. And if you really believe, not only just in your life but in your family, then it works... We never try to say that we are a perfect couple. Believe me, when we have 'discussions' we really do. You can hear it from a mile away. Recognizing yourself as human beings is important.
Are there cultural differences that make things harder?
No. Actually it's the opposite. It makes things very rich. Beautiful.
You were talking about going back to your roots in theatre. Have you considered riskier roles in movies?
Riskier than I am doing! I think I risk a lot in my career. I mean, the Brian De Palma movie, for example, I think is a very risky move. That was not an easy movie. Critics for example, they kind of loved the movie. The opening in Spain was great. But it was risky. Sometimes I work in a movie because I want to work with a director. And that is a very specific way to work. I even said it to Brian De Palma. I said to Brian, "Brian, I don't like the character. I don't think there is enough meat here to chew." I even re-wrote the character in Los Angeles. And I went to Paris. And I read it to him. Fifteen pages. He was very interested. And he said. "This is beautiful. It's great... But it's not my movie. So if you're going to be in my movie, you have to do what I've written." I had a couple of days to think about it. And then I decided, yes I'm going to work with this guy. I want to be there every day working for Brian De Palma. And if I am implicated in the movie, too bad. So I did it for that.
Do you think you'll work with Almodovar again?
We signed an agreement last year in Cannes at the festival. He came to my room with his brother, his producer of this movie, and said we have to work together again. I said I agree with you, let's do it, what do you have? I have this movie, TARANTULA, blah-blah, blah, and we said yes.
Both of your reputations have continued to soar since those early days. What do you think the result will be?
I don't know. To work with Almodovar is not an easy thing. Ask any actor. The results are magnificent, yes. But you really have to tie your teeth and go into a process that is going to be creative, but a creative hell.
What makes it so difficult?
For example, you're on a Robert Rodriguez movie. And you say, "Robert, I got this idea last night." "Oh that's great, let's try it like that." When you're on an Almodovar movie and you get an idea, he says, "No - you're not paid to have ideas. I have the ideas. You are my pen. I am the writer. I use you to write my story." So you do that. You commit to working with a guy like this, when the guy is a genius and you know exactly where he's going. If a guy who is not a genius comes to you like that, the first day, I'm out. I'm out. If I can break the contract, I go away.
Last time we spoke to Melanie she talked about how difficult it was aging in Hollywood as an actress. Is it the same for you? Do you worry about getting older?
I don't know. I suppose I do. But I will do another type of character. And it will probably be interesting from an acting point of view to get to another position. It's more difficult for a woman though. This has nothing to do with movies though. It has to do with how society is. If you see Sean Connery with Catherine Zeta Jones, everybody accepts it. You just reverse it and you have a scandal. A woman close to 70 with a guy who is 27. But that doesn't have anything to do with movies. That has to do with the society in which we live. But it's true. When a woman crosses 40, 45-years-old in Hollywood... It's a factory that needs fresh flesh all the time in that aspect. Male actors can hold a career longer.
How do you support Melanie in her struggles?
I would like to direct her. The thing that is very clear for me with Melanie, is that I admired her before I loved her, as an actress. It is very easy to direct someone that is so talented to work with. You set up a scene and she nails it in the first, second take. So I would love to direct her.
Would you work again with both of you acting?
In theatre it may happen. In a movie, I think it's predictable and disgusting. I don't like it. I never liked it. I didn't even like it with Spencer Tracey and Katherine Hepburn. I don't know, there is something. Not disgusting... I don't know. I think it's predictable and it becomes almost like a National Enquirer moment. You see it and you start to wonder how they would relate in the house.
You're not going to see GIGLI?
No, I'll see it at some point, because I see practically everything. I may not go to the movie theatre, but I will see it.
On your DVD player?
Yes, we do have a collection!
In this film, we see you kissing the Mexcian flag. Are you patriotic yourself?
There was a Spanish article that I read a long time ago that talked about patriotism. And he asked, "Is patriotism just love? The landscape in which you recognize yourself? The people that are close to you, that speak the same language? Is patriotism to love the food and music and folklore?" If that is patriotism, yes, I am a patriot. If patriotism is just to go behind a flag, officialism, institutionalism - no, I am not a patriot.
Do you get homesick?
What do you do?
I go! Now I have to go for other reasons. My father had a heart attack three weeks ago. It was not a massive heart attack. But now that's what I want to do. I just want to go and spend some time with him.
How is he doing?
Yes, he's doing great. He's back at home. But you know, he's 82-year-old. I need time with him. I feel sometimes guilty that I don't spend so much time with family. I want to go there and spend some time... I don't want to have the feeling that I should have said things to him that I didn't say. So I'm now going to focus on that.
You have a project that you're writing. What's the timetable for that Spanish project?
The next two or three years. I'm putting a company together now. We're trying to do something a little more ambitious. What I'd like is to produce. I'd like to do this movie in Spain... But we'll see. Spanish cinema is now in deep trouble. Well, practically all of Europe. But Spanish cinema especially... Literally, production has been cut in half. And that's had a tremendous impact... It's difficult to compete with the United States. You know from Moscow to Madrid, we have the same distance that they have from Los Angeles to New York. But they speak the same language. So they have a much larger potential market. We don't have that. We have fifteen different languages in the middle of that distance. And I have to confess. If I see a Czechoslovakian movie, it's much further from my understanding of movies than from American movies. It's very difficult to have that kind of market in Europe.
Will your new PANCHO VILLA movie be playing overseas?
Yes. In fact, I own the movie in Spain, Italy and France. I'm going to release it there as a feature film.
Is it really based on his?
Oh, it's factual. Well, there is one thing in the movie that's not. And that is that there is no oil in this part. But we had to do that concession for narrative purposes, in order to compress something for everybody to understand what was the problem there. But the rest of the movie is totally factual. It's based on real stories. All of those things are real. Pancho Villa was an extraordinary character. Unbelievable. This guy married eighteen times - two times with a gun on the belly of a priest. And he never got divorced or anything like that. He just married one after another. He had something like 45 kids. Legitimate.
How do you feel about criticism that Pancho Villa actually detested the Spanish and now you're playing him?
It's a role. I'm an actor. I don't have communion with the characters that I do. I do from a dramatic point of view. But not... You know if you play a villain... If you ask Anthony Hopkins about Hannibal Lecter... I have the same with Pancho Villa in that aspect. I wouldn't like to be close to him. He was really dangerous. But the character, the temper that he had, the unpredictability, is beautiful from an acting point of view. And also because he was reflected in the script by a guy who is very sharp. That made it easy to just do it. You don't have to do any extra work. It's just written. You just do it... And about me being Spanish, playing Mexican? I don't know. Anthony Quinn - Mexican. He played a Russian Pope, Zorba the Greek, an Italian in La Strada, he even played an Eskimo. Scarlet O'Hara, one of the biggest symbols of the South, was from London. Andy Garcia played an Italian in The Godfather III. We are actors. That's what we are supposed to do.
Which are the movies that you're most proud of?
I don't know. The movies that I did with Almodovar - that comes as a package. ZORRO... EVITA... I really love PANCHO VILLA, actually... All the work together with Robert Rodriguez.
Has growing older changed your view of life?
I don't think I can be very specific about that. But definitely, yes, I've changed. You're not as hectic as you are in your 20s. Many people say, "Oh Antonio, you're 43, now"... I don't want to be 20 again. I remember those days being very anxious. I still had to work everything out. No, I'm feeling fine actually. There is something in the development of human beings. If you are a healthy mental person that grows with you if you accept the age that you have. I see that in people. I see that people with people who are in their 80s who are very happy to be in their 80s. If you're not ready to be old, then you almost become crazy. If you continue longing for things you were doing in your twenties when you are 80... OK you can't water-ski anymore. But there's an acceptance.
Is that because of fatherhood as well?
I suppose too.
In what ways has that changed you?
A sense of responsibility. I look at women in a different way than I used to.
In what way?
I don't know. Sometimes I see girls who are 20 years old. I just look at them and say, my God, my daughter is going to be 20 soon. I imagine that this girl has a family that loves her and doesn't want her to be hurt. Before it was like, "I want her" I don't care. I don't care about her family. I just want to have her.
What are you going to be like when your daughter starts dating?
Oppressive (laughs). You examine them up and down. I may just pull out the guitar case and put my Desperado suit on when a guy's coming for a date with daughter. With the sword and everything!
Are Hispanic actors undervalued by the entertainment industry in the United States?
It's better now. When I arrived here there were many actors that I met at that time, who were complaining all the time that the only characters that we got to do were villains, delinquents, stuff like that. The years that I have been here now, almost 14 years, things have changed dramatically to good. It's not a picnic. But it's going the right way. And in a recent amount of time. J-Lo through Salma Hayek, Penelope Cruise, Andy Garcia... All of these people are creating respect. Not just for critics, but in the market too. That's a very important part too. That we can sell movies with characters named Carmen or Gregorio. SPY KIDS is a good example for many reasons. One of them is that it's a movie for kids. They don't have that pre-judgment. They just accept it. They don't care if the character is Jewish, Black, Hispanic - they have fun. And that is a good relation - because we don't do that. We grow up and we start putting up ideas that don't allow us to just look at things the way kids do.
So when you finish your daily performance, do you wait for Melanie to go home or do you go separately?
She finishes 15 minutes before I do. 'Chicago' is a little shorter than our play. So she just gathers her things and comes to my theatre, picks me up, and we go home.
You used to play football when you were a kid. Do you still follow it?
What team did you support and what position did you play?
I played Forward. Until I broke my left foot. Yeah, Forward. I received a lot of elbows!
Do you still follow it?
Yes, I am a follower of the Spanish Soccer League and international tournaments.
what do you think of the foreign players being there?
...As a follower of Real Madrid for many years, I like it when the team has at least one more than half of the players Spanish on the field. Now it's like a world team. I see it much more as a financial operation and an image operation all around the world... but then...
Anything you miss about your bachelor days?
Not really... I tell you, I don't miss anything at all. Things from the past? No. I feel very comfortable being the person that I am now from every point of view actually. Very content.
You've had so much success in your career, what is it that you shoot for now?
I would say that I've never been one of those people who says 'I have to do exactly this' or 'I have to avoid that'. But now that I'm saying that, I'm going to contradict myself. One of those things was coming to Broadway. It was a dream for a long time. I've been a fantastic member of the audience on Broadway for many years. When I came here in 1984 for the first time, 20 years ago, the first thing I did was go to Broadway shows. Every day another show. And I thought, 'Oh My God, I would love some day to do something like this'. It took me twenty years to get there. But it's been a dream. Just to have a Broadway career, is something that I am pursuing now. I would like to do more theatre on Broadway. That is something I would like to do. I don't know if it's going to liberate me from Hollywood.
Do you see Hollywood as a cage?
No, it's not a cage. But you get trapped sometimes by people's anxiousness to put you to work - no matter what. They send you scripts every day. You have to meet this person. You have to go to that meeting. If you're on Broadway, there's no fucking way you're doing that. Because you have a commitment and you might be there for 7 months...
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