Courtesy: National Geographic

Television

Antonio Banderas Can't Decide if Life Is Now the Worst Ever—or the Best

Sitting across from Antonio Banderas at the Gran Hotel Miramar in Malaga, Spain, the face staring back at you is not that of Zorro. While there is no doubt that the 57-year-old Spaniard has matured with grace, easily retaining his sex-symbol status two decades after playing the masked Mexican hero, what his face currently displays, according the actor himself, is a blank canvas. “I push it, to make it grow, but nothing happens,” he laughs, squeezing his shaved scalp, which matches his barely there eyebrows.

To play Pablo Picasso, Banderas has sacrificed his own physicality for the artist who was born just four blocks away from where Banderas spent his childhood. “I suffer, but I enjoy it,” says Banderas of donning the Spanish painter’s shoes. “Of course, there is a sense of responsibility with him, probably bigger than with what I have done before, because I’ve had an idea of Picasso since I was 5 years old.”

When we meet, Banderas has only just wrapped the 10-episode National Geographic Channel series Genius: Picasso, which premieres Tuesday, April 24. He has at the time of our interview neither seen footage nor processed what life will be like when he is no longer engaging in passionate love-making and fighting with his muses Dora Maar (Samantha Colley), Marie Therese Walter (Poppy Delevingne) and Francoise Gilot (Clemence Poesy) on a daily basis. As Banderas says farewell to what could be the role of his life, what better time to return to Malaga, his and Picasso’s old stomping grounds?

Do you feel like this is the role you were born to play?
I don't know yet because I didn't see anything. Nothing. I didn't want to—I just wanted to get into the tunnel and just go with it. I’ve had no time except to study and rest as much as I could because it was physically very demanding. I was just fighting with Francoise Gilot six days ago! 

I have never done promotion on a movie that I finished that quickly, so it's a very strange feeling. The satisfaction comes from the work. He's kind of my hero. We didn't have too many heroes here, in Franco's time—I'm talking about 1965. I remember my mother taking me to school in front of the house of Picasso and telling me that Picasso was born there. To be now [playing] him is a very weird experience. But at the same time, it has been a wonderful adventure and an unbelievable trip. Now let’s see the results of that. You know, I’m too close to the painting. 

How does it feel looking into the mirror, because right now looking at you, I see more Picasso than Antonio Banderas?
Shaving [my head and eyebrows] was my idea, so we can actually paint Picasso on a white canvas. Because we had to go through many different periods from 1927 until his death in 1973, the best way was to just lose your eyebrows, which leaves you expressionless, basically, and then shave your head because you are going to use a lot of wigs. 

Then there is a process to learn how to use all of that makeup. If you want to create a character from the inside out, you don't want just put a mask on and walk in front of the camera. You have to use your natural eyes, with all of that makeup. It's just trying to learn how to play with my mask. How to have new values to every expression that I used to have for my own face, and put it in somebody else's face. 

You mentioned it was physically demanding. What was the most challenging part of it?
The makeup. Not just wearing it. It was very hot in Malta, so they had to poke you with a needle and take the sweat out of it. But the worst is just that you get picked up at 2:30 in the morning, and you get in the chair at 3 o'clock, and you stay there for five hours until you're ready on set. And then you go for another eight to 10 hours. And next day, same thing. 

So I studied a lot, because what happens in TV is that you don't have all the episodes at the beginning, so you can’t dedicate a lot of time to prepare all your lines. The chapters are coming like tsunamis. You think, "I've finished number five," and suddenly six and seven are coming, and you go, “Jesus Christ, I have no time to study!” Sometimes, I remember more from the rehearsal that I had with my personal assistant in the hotel than what I shot. I don't remember shooting it, but I know that I did because we finished. Everything became Picasso. Everything. We had no life, no dinners. 
I appreciate that [my girlfriend] is completely different to me. I'm a very nervous person, very active person. She gives me balance, tranquility, and I need this. I am close to 60, my friend, and so that's what I need now.
Did it make you a bit insane at times?
Sometimes. The last two episodes were the hardest. And I tried to adapt my body to what I thought was the body of Picasso—the way that he stands, and change my way that I walk on the set. He walks a little bit like duck, you know, with his feet open. He stands always very straight. So, you wake up in the morning, you go to the bathroom, and you are doing that thing. It's, “Oh, my God, here he is.”

Narcissistic is such a strong word, but being a great artist can be such a singular pursuit …
It's narcissistic.

OK, so how do you, as an artist, balance that narcissistic pursuit and coexist with the people in your life?
It's difficult. I even apologized publicly when I received the Goya Award. I asked for apologies at this stage to my daughter. Because even recognizing that she was my best production ever, I missed a lot of things because I was working. I don't arrive to the point of Picasso, in which his art is everything for him. Compulsively. But sometimes, I recognize that I have not been good for my own people, and I pay a price for that.

Has your health scare changed the way you approach life or your family?
Since my heart attack? It's not my family [I approach differently]. I think, you approach yourself. There are certain decisions that you have to make. Life is very precious, and when you see the face of death, it's very ugly, it's very cold. And it's very perfect. Too perfect. And you know that he's there. And then I do things that are right. So, I don't smoke anymore. I did in the movie, but with rose petal cigarettes—it was horrendous, horrendous. I smoked because Picasso smoked a lot. And I take my medicines, and I run, and I do my exercises and stuff like that. But I don't want to live like I'm dead already. I want to continue living. I'm going to die anyway. So, I want to do the life that I want to do.
What about the artist's approach to love? Picasso reinvents himself with every new woman he meets. In your life, has love been a catalyst for reinvention?
It is for everybody. You are very much also what you have in your surrounding areas, and a woman, for a man, can be very, very determining of how you behave, who you are, the way that you move through life, definitely. I think that happens not only to artists—I think it happens to everybody in life. To a banker, to an architect, you modulate your life with the person that you have close to you. The problem with Picasso is that he needed more, he needed the stimulus to be orgasmic almost, all the time. So when he feels that he's getting empty with somebody, he just needs somebody else.

It’s vampiric, almost?
In way. Yes. In a way, he was like that. But what you see with Picasso is that he is almost like a man who decided not to kill the kid that he had inside. He wanted everything, and he was powerful enough to have it. And he goes for it. No hesitation, no remorse, not at all. Never, ever did he write anything contradicting what Francoise Gilot said in her book. He never wrote an article saying, "Oh, I didn't say that", or, "Oh, I didn't do this." No. He justified zero. For him, to justify was anti-artistic.

Did you relate to the darker parts of Picasso?
I relate to some things that I love about him, and I get scared by other ones. The biggest problem that I have to confront is a fight with myself, because I love the character, I love the man, and he was my idol and my hero. When I have to perform the dark side of him, there was a little resistance, in me.

But I cannot judge the character. The character has to be judged by the audience who is watching. At the end they will say, "I understand the guy," or, "He was a motherfucker." You are going to have both sides definitely there. But I don't want to judge him, because I am him.

But do you relate to these women falling at his feet. You are clearly a sex symbol …
No, I don't think that way. Imagine that I recognized what you said about me and in my career and life, and I really believed at some point that I am a sex symbol, that I go on the street, and I wink eyes, and the people just fall around me and stuff, but no. I know what you mean, but it would be completely different from Picasso.

Picasso was an intellectual. Women got involved in an allure of cultural complexity and intellectual depth that was very attractive. [He was] a guy who loved games and played them very well. And I don't think sex for him was humping a woman. It was something deeper than that, that it started days before, and probably finished days after.

I think women probably fell into that kind of game that was different to everything that they had experienced, especially at that time. He's not the Latin lover, "Hey, baby …” No. He has a completely different approach.

What do you look for in women?
Right now, I have all I need with my girlfriend [Nicole Kimpel], actually. She's not an actress, and I'm very happy—we don't have so much neuroses in the house, just a person who has been working in banking, and so she give me now contrast. I appreciate that she is completely different to me. I'm a very nervous person, very active person. She's very sweet, very soft, she gives me balance, tranquility, and I need this, at this particular time of my life. I am close to 60, my friend, and so that's what I need now.

You have a very international career—you live in England, you’ve spent 20 years in America and you're Spanish by birth. The world's taking a very insular turn right now, politically. How are you feeling about what's happening globally?
I think, since the crisis in the 2007, we put ourselves to the test, and we didn't pass it. I think we lost certain values, and we lost our balance. And not too much was needed to do that. Somebody [pushed us a little], and suddenly we have Trump there, we have the Brexit here, we have the Catalonians wanting to go outside of Spain, and we have all these populist people promising things that cannot be true, but people following them. What is happening?

What is happening, really? It has to do with this thing [points to his phone]. Technology. Is this thing making us live better or faster? I think it's faster. I don't think it's better. Everything is very frantic. It is very interesting because I read the other day in a newspaper that, objectively, this is the best time in history for mankind. Believe it or not. The best. Economically, and in every possible way. But now we see this deformed mirror in which we look at each other, and we don't believe that. Objectively, that is true, but we have this sensation that we are the end of the world. And it's very interesting.

Lastly, on a scale from one to Picasso, how good are you at painting or drawing?
One and half. [Laughs.] I painted Dora Maar, and I did The Kiss, which is a beautiful painting in black and white and a little bit of blues. I have it in my house in Los Angeles, and I think I will burn it … because the [Picasso] family don't like those things. 
Genius: Picasso premieres Tuesday, April 24, at 8/7c on National Geographic.

Related Topics

Explore Categories