Antonio Banderas on Pedro Almodóvar and His ‘Revolution’ in Spanish Cinema

Spanish actor Antonio Banderas has starred in such box office champs as “The Mask of Zorro,” “Evita” and “Spy Kids,” and worked with great directors, including Jonathan Demme, Robert Rodriguez, Steven Soderbergh and Julie Taymor. But he’s best known for his eight films with writer-director Pedro Almodóvar.

Sony Pictures Classics’ “Pain and Glory,” for which Banderas won the best actor prize at Cannes, puts both of them in the fast lane for the Oscar race. In keeping with the film’s themes of creativity, reconciliation and the passage of time, Banderas talked with Variety about his early days in the industry. The actor was first mentioned in Variety on Oct. 6, 1982, when two films — “Labyrinth of Passion” and “False Eyelash” — were reviewed on the same page. Banderas spoke from his hometown of Málaga, where he has created a theater company, Teatro del Soho, which opened with a Banderas-directed “A Chorus Line.”

Very few people have the distinction of appearing twice on the same page for their first time in Variety.
Those two films were at the San Sebastian Film Festival. “Labyrinth of Passion” was very interesting; it was an early Almodóvar, and the film was in the official selection. I was in the balcony in a group, with the Spanish flag in front of us. Behind the flag was this bunch of punks — we looked like the Sex Pistols! Some people in the audience reacted violently to the film, while others were applauding wildly. I remember thinking, “It’s so amazing what is happening here tonight.” I realized Almodóvar was more than a movie director; there was a social movement attached to the way he was expressing himself.

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Why was the reaction so strong?
The film was unthinkable at the time, when we were still feeling the results of Franco. Some thought Almodóvar couldn’t last. They didn’t realize how persistent he is and how faithful he has been to his own style and personality. It was a revolution that shook the foundation of Spanish cinema and Spanish morality. And it was amazing for me to actually be a part of that.

In “Pain and Glory,” your character speaks of “the cinema of my childhood.” What was that cinema?
My father used to take me to see movies. In “Pain and Glory,” Pedro describes a summer theater, where movies were projected on a huge outdoor wall. I experienced a similar summer theater, a movie theater in a little village. For most of the year, it was a stable for horses, but during the summer, they would open the doors and put in chairs. It was a beautiful experience. Also, in a different village, my aunt had an apartment with two windows where my brother and I could watch in summer. She would bring us dinner, and we would watch a double program: one movie at 8 at night, another one at 10. Of course there were no videos at that time; movies were all on the big screen.

Were they Spanish films?
They were basically American. The Spanish industry at that time was not so big. Many Spanish movies of that time were very interesting, artistic and political, like Carlos Saura and Luis Buñuel. They were big internationally, but as children we were not allowed to watch those movies.

What American films did you watch?
The first movie I remember seeing with my father was “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” I remember that movie so well — the colors, everything about it. Another movie I loved was “Oliver!,” the musical with Mark Lester. And I remember seeing on a Saturday morning in Málaga a black-and-white movie with Tyrone Power: “The Mark of Zorro”!

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