Freelance Spain
Spaniards for the 21st Century

Antonio Banderas
Film actor

Antonio Banderas succeded where many other Spanish actors have failed. He worked his way into Hollywood, and he managed to stay, securing increasingly juicy roles and avoiding being slotted as the archetypal Latin lover, although a losing battle against his Spanish accent does limit the type of character he can play.

Although Banderas has not been above stepping on a few toes and discarding people once close to him (including his former wife, Spanish actress Ana Leza) in his climb to the top, he is generally considered open, personable, free of prima donna-ish eccentricities, and a delight to work with. He is also smart and incredibly lucky.

Antonio Banderas was born José Antonio Domínguez Bandera (with no "s") in Málaga, southern Spain, on August 10, 1960. His father was a policeman and his mother a school teacher, and Banderas enjoyed an uncomplicated middle-class childhood. His principal talent at school was playing soccer, and as a boy he dreamed of becoming a football star.

When Banderas was 14 he saw a performance at Málaga's local theater of the musical Hair, and he was so moved he was determined to become an actor. Much to the distress of his family, he enroled in drama school and joined a local theater group. Yearning for the big break, he packed his bags and moved to Madrid, landing minor roles on the stage. His screen debut was a part in Laberinto de Pasión (1982), directed by Pedro Almodovar, for which he was paid 100,000 pesetas (it was Almodovar who suggested he use Antonio Banderas as his stage name). He went on to play minor roles in a handful of Spanish movies, but Almodovar was the one to launch him on the road to stardom with a more substantial part in Matador (1985). Soon Banderas was a permanent fixture in the Almodovar stable, with roles in three more of the director's movies.

By the 1990s, it was time to break ties with Almodovar and strike out on his own. Outside Spain he was best known for his resistence to the advances of one of his biggest fans, Madonna, portrayed in Truth or Dare (In Bed with Madonna), a documentary of the singer's 1990 European tour. His first appearance in a major international production was alongside Armand Assante in The Mambo Kings (1992), which was not a big hit but which provided Banderas with a firm foothold in America.

Next came his role as Tom Hank's lover in Philalelphia, then opposite Tom Cruise in Interview with the Vampire, and roles in The House of the Spirits, Miami Rhapsody, Desperado, Never Talk To Strangers and Assassin.

In 1995, he starred in Two Much, a comedy by the Spanish director Fernando Trueba (whose Belle Epoque had won the Oscar for best foreign movie) in Florida. His co-stars were Daryl Hannah and Melanie Griffith, whom Banderas had first met during the 1994 Academy Awards ceremony. Banderas and Griffith fell in love, left their current spouses (Leza and actor Don Johnson) and became inseparable. They married in 1996, and have a daughter.

Meanwhile, Banderas's acting career was unstoppable. He played Che Guevara in the musical Evita and starred in the Steven Spielberg production of The Mask of Zorro. His most recent movies include Play It To The Bone, The 13th Warrior, The Body and The Sparrow.

In 1999 Banderas tried his hand at directing, with Crazy in Alabama. The critics were gentle although not very enthusiastic: everybody liked Melanie Griffiths as an aspiring starlet who carries her murdered husband's head around in the car boot, but the choice of subject, civil rights in the American south in the 1960s, seemed a bit foreign to Banderas for a directorial debut. For his next project as director the actor hoped to film a story a bit more germain to his own background: Málaga Burning, portraying the start of the Spanish Civil War as experienced by a British couple living in the southern Spanish city at the time, based on the book "Death's Other Kingdom" by Gamel Woolsey. The project appears to be relegated perpetually to the back burner, due to difficulties securing the film rights to the book.

Not that Banderas's acting commitments leave much time for his pet projects. In 2000, he was busy filming Original Sin and Spy Kids, this last a second collaboration with director Robert Rodriguez (Desperado). In Spring 2001, he was due to start filming Femme Fatale, directed by Brian De Palma and co-starring Sharon Stone. That was to be followed by Frida Kahlo, a Mexican production.

Among the most recent works of this actor from malaga we can find Imaging Argentina (Christopher Hampton), The Mexican (Robert Rodriguez) or the dubbing of the second part of Shrek.


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