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Interview: Antonio Banderas Talks Pedro Almodóvar and “Pain and Glory”

Center: Antonio Banderas as Salvador © El Deseo. Photo by Manolo Pavón. Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics.

Each person is different, hence, the perception of pain or glory is also varying. How do we go on with our daily lives? What do we do when the same pain knocks us down with no chance for recovery? Pedro Almodóvar, as a writer and director, as a humanist and visionary artist, sees the world in a subtle way. Whether it is his “Talk to Her”,Julieta”, “All About My Mother”, “Broken Embraces”, or “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”, Almodovar has always put women on the forefront in every movie or screenplay he’s made.

“Pain and Glory”, which is considered by the filmmaker himself as an autobiography, follows Salvador Mallo, portrayed by Antonio Banderas, a filmmaker in decline. He once made a world-famous and critically acclaimed film, and then went into the dark. But when he begins revisiting his childhood experience with his mother (Penelope Cruz), the man begins repairing his broken relationship with his lead actor, Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia) from “Sabor”; mixed with pain and glory, the man manages to turn into an advantage.

During the Toronto International Film Festival that took place in Toronto back in September, I had the great privilege to sit down with one of the most talented actors of his generation, Antonio Banderas, who dived into the concept of “Pain and Glory”, “Salvador”, his relationship with maestro Almodovar, and how he became Salvador Mallo.

MOVIEMOVESME: There’s a loving director’s commentary written as per the press notes. Pedro Almodóvar said this is the best performance you’ve ever given. Maybe he has a vested interest in saying that but I don’t know how you felt about that. And given that it is sort of a confessional, if not autobiographical movie, whether you learned anything about your old friend who you’ve known for so long?

Antonio Banderas:  Yeah, I did. Well, first, I really don’t have the authority to just say this is my best performance or not. I can tell you what are my feelings on the set. I can tell you how much satisfaction I got out of the things that we tried to communicate and share with our audience. But, about the best, second best, third best, I don’t know.

MOVIEMOVESME: You were satisfied?

Antonio Banderas: I was satisfied with the work. Yeah, I was. I was for many different reasons. One of those reasons caught me in a moment of my life that was important, moment of change. We actors, we basically just use our personal experiences as a tool to work.

MOVIEMOVESME: Do you mind telling us what that change was?

Antonio Banderas: I had a heart attack two and a half years ago that I think in a way determines how I am behaving normally in my relationship with art, right? In my personal life too. Because when you see death so close to you, it change something in you. Only the important things really take … comes up to the surface and all of the things that you thought at some point that they were important, they just vanished, disappear and they aren’t important anymore.

And so Pedro saw that. He saw the change in me and he said, “I don’t know how to describe it, but there is something very different and I want you to not hide it. I want you to actually use it in this character because, on the side of pain and reflection and solitude did you bring it with, it’s good for the character.” I knew exactly what he was talking about, so I used it.

As things that I didn’t know. Yeah. I mean it’s biographical. Yeah, where are we really, with the things that we said, we did in our life or with the thing that we dreamt, or the things that we wanted to do, and we never did. The things that we wanted to say but we never said. And so, I think if Pedro does what he called self-fiction in a way that actually the movie is better and better, because there are many things there that he wants to confirm.

 He wanted to express that he never did in his moment, but he owes those things to many people in his life. His Mother. Actors. Because I think the actor is made as a Frankenstein, actually composed of many of us. I can see lines in there that are mine and the actresses and everybody knowing it. In a way that is accepting forgiveness. With him, for what happened 30 years ago. The way that he asked for forgiveness is very interesting, because he just basically, when he dies, he says to give him this thing that he wrote that is absolutely private and he gave it to him. It’s almost like I’m giving you my heart. So here you are, you can perform. This is me and it has no name. There’s no father.

 There’s no nothing. It’s just yours. You’re going to put your name there, it’s fine. So he just coming to terms with many things in his life and with his past and I’m sitting in that thing at the end. Yes, my relationship with Pedro for 40 years, being a relationship of friendship, but that tradition move in a very specific universe that it has boundaries. I never tried to just pass them. I have been always very respectful to all of those sides of him that he didn’t want to share with me because I think it’s fair. People sometimes, they have that privacy and I love to respect that. So it surprised me when I received the script. Yes, there were things there that I didn’t know that he wanted to say, that he would express and So, when I read it for the first time in the script, yeah, there is something confessional.

MOVIEMOVESME:  Can you elaborate a little bit about those boundaries? Will you show up at Pedro’s house at 2:00 AM and say, “Hey, you want to hang out?”

Antonio Banderas: No, no, it’s not about that. It’s just more personal stuff. I never asked him about his relationships and he never asked me. He just lives his life in certain aspects. For me, that is sacred because they say something that he doesn’t want to share with me. It’s absolutely fine. But we have all the things that we share, which are movies, which are experiences, so for the kind, in our friendship and that was absolutely fine. There was never any kind of bitterness on my side about the way that we’re … Like for example, for 22 years, we didn’t work together. He came to visit us, Melanie (e.g. Griffith) and I, in our home and we went to Madrid. We call him. We just saw each other. So we have been in contact all these years.

MOVIEMOVESME: What things you have tried to express through your performance of Salvador?

Antonio Banderas: I try, first of all, to just be very faithful to him as much as he has been to himself. It’s very beautiful to see nowadays, especially that a man for four decades, never betrayed himself. Never. He’s got a very strong personality as a director. You may like his movies or not. Of course, I like some dishes and like pie and many people don’t like pie. There is nothing written about tastes and so the same thing, but he’s got a very strong personality.

 Nobody can deny that. He was offered a lot of money sometimes just to go to Hollywood to do any number of things. He never bended to anything, so that loyalty to himself is enormous. So I wanted to express that in the movie in a way, you know? And then that feeling of knowing and what happens to him at a certain age and it’s happening to me too. There is only a space when you get to a certain age and you approach the only thing that is certain in life, which is that everything else is relative. But when you approach that, there is only space for the truth.

 There is no space for games anymore. And I think Pedro just jumped into that territory and I completely understand that. It’s just a way that I have to just really close off circles that I left open in my life. I have to take that weight out of my shoulders. I have to tell my Mother, even if it’s fiction, that I am sorry for not being the son that she expected for me to be. I have to tell actors, I apologize. I have to … All of those things for him were very important and I completely agree with him. So, I go along with him. We try to do a movie that even if you became very emotional apparently for what the people say, for me, it’s totally a mystery. I would not see this movie clean and clearly and into many years from now, having … it seems the emotion that the movie trespass is … it gets into the people, but we didn’t try never to manipulate the audience, to drive them to certain places.

It just comes natural way, I think. Tried to make a character that actually don’t express himself more in silence. Then when he verbalized feelings to be transparent in a way, so it becomes almost an invitation for the audience to come with me in this trip. It is kind of minimalist in a way and very simple and I love that. And at the beginning of the creation of his character in a very unusual, weird way started here in Toronto nine years ago because I did I live in, for 22 years, I didn’t work with Paradox. I got there for my third rehearsal, you know, trying to show my friend all the things that for 22 years I have learned in Hollywood. And I arrived there. I say, “Look Pedro, I can do this and do that. I have new tools. Look what I can do with my voice. Look at these new things that I have learned.” And he says, “Yeah, that’s nice, okay.”

So we started rehearsal. So, after a week he said to me, “You know, all of those things that you bring in from Hollywood? I can’t use them at all.” He made the question that really upset me at the moment. He said, “Where are you?” And I said, “Well.” Basically, what I did is just to … at that time, I confronted him. So we went into the movie, into the shooting of the scene with certain tension, always respecting our friendship. And I was creative, but when I saw the movie here in Toronto nine years ago, for the first time in front of an audience, I just discovered that my friend got out of me a character that I didn’t even know I had inside.

And so, I openly reflected about being humble and listen and open my ears and my eyes and I thought, Oh, am I going to have a second opportunity or another opportunity with Pedro in order to just give him the type of content? And then he called me to do this. So, I called him and I said: I’m trying to just start from scratch, everything that I had been using for years. I’m going to just try to get ready to detach from all of the things and I want to go to a new territory. And that heart attack actually led me to do so. But when we got this position at least to the first rehearsal. And he understood and from principal photography I knew, and he knew that we were in the same boat and we were going in the same place and that was very important to get together in the mud and to start modulating this character in this movie.

MOVIEMOVESME: There are two Antonio Banderas I always see. One uses Hollywood tools and the other is a modeler – an absolutely different person that has this pure performance that you can really deliver? So who is Antonio Banderas as an actor in Pedro Almodóvar`s films, and who is Antonio Banderas in Hollywood?

Antonio Banderas: Art in general and in particular serve many different purposes. I think you can just entertain people and you can just take them by the hand and descend with them to the complications and the depth of the human spirit. Just depends what do you have? What is the material that you have in front of you? Obviously I cannot put that debt in posing books. I cannot just create a character in Zorro, which is a festive movie and a celebration of adventure. They’re trying to just make the character as complicated as this character is, so you have to adapt it to anything. I think I am more than two. I think I am many and that is the purpose of being an actor, to be many and obviously there are choices from critics.

There are choices from the audiences to determine which is the one that we consider that is more sincere. But I have to detach from that. I cannot get into that because I don’t regret anything that I have done in my life. I travel with all my shit. I travel with all my miseries, with all my pains and all my glories, and I am here, where I am right now and I am satisfied with where I am. So if I would’ve done something differently, I’ll probably be in a worse position. So I’m fine with my life. I feel content. I wouldn’t change anything.

MOVIEMOVESME: Is there a film of yours that you would like to see audiences perhaps revisit in the way that Salvador revisits his film from 30 years ago that might benefit from the passage of time?

Antonio Banderas:          I think there’s a connection of the movie with the audience has to do with that. That, as I said before, we all travel with pains and glories through life and, and I’m told that people relate to that even if the story of their personal stories is pretty different to the story of the characters. If they don’t have the same relationships, we do have the same inclination sexually or all the time. I think that people relate to that. That’s why people got emotional I think. But that is, I’m speculating in a way because for me it’s really very complicated really to know why some things hit in a way and not in another. There is a certain purity about this film that I am very proud to … I am going to link to something that I said before, that we were not looking for anything specific in order to keep the audience … everything that, in the movie, became emotional almost happened as an accident.

Specifically, two scenes that are commented to me by audiences and critics and reporters and stuff that how they were made. We were not looking for that because not even in the rehearsal they came to be like that. One of them is a scene that I have with my ex-boyfriend and what happened with that scene is very interesting because we shot the master the night before and there was no more time to continue shooting. It was the end of the day, so everybody went home and the next morning we came to do the closeups. And the Argentinian actor who plays the character, he has met me and said, “Antonio, you have a lot of text, do you mind to go with you first? And so off-camera, I can just practice, you know. So when they come on me and more news with my dad, we had a commercial, we find, you know, I don’t have so many things to say.

I listen a lot, put the camera on me and I started playing and suddenly he’s telling me the story of when he got married in this place in South America, he got a wife, he got two kids and you got the first two, then you had to come and visit and blah blah blah. And I started just going back in time to the eighties and I remember Pedro and the things that we did and you know, and the meaning they got me in a way I couldn’t contain, and I thought Pedro was going to cut, because we never rehearsed the scene like that. Never. It was kind of a surprise. He didn’t cut at the end. He said, “Okay, we got it.”

He just turn around. And I said, “We’re not going to do a second take?” He said, “No, we got it. It just happened. So forget it. It’s beautiful. Moving on.” So you see, it’s not that we were forced in situations in order to get to certain places, but they happened.

The other situation was in a balcony. I had a scene with my mother. And it’s the scene where he says that line you know, I said to you before, “Mother, I’m sorry.” I love the scene.

Pedro normally comes, always since the 80’s. He loves to come to the set before we shoot a scene and he’d read the characters. He read the characters just to remember that thing that you have to look right and then we talk about it. Whatever. And so he came the morning. He read my mother’s part, and I gave him the replica as Salvador and then he was going to be some other and my mother was going to do that, but he couldn’t. He got in front of the paper. He went back and tried again. I remember I went to him and just hug him and I say, I need better. You don’t have to tell me anything else. I can see it. So go back to fucking combo and say “Action.” That’s all I need. So you see, it was not the usual way because I never had the character that I was playing, directing the movie.

MOVIEMOVESME: Salvador is paralyzed in this movie. Emotionally, creatively, physically, to that extent too. Maybe you were weakened by your heart attack and that brought you a little bit to that place. But have you experienced creative paralysis? Like where you couldn’t do the thing you think you could do yesterday?

Antonio Banderas: Yeah, sometimes. Sometimes you do that. Sometimes because you are working too much or sometimes because the director just fills you with too much information, maybe? Or with none. So, the circumstances may be different but sometimes yeah, you can hit that, you can hit that. And it’s really interesting when I directed movies, I could see actors that I was directing in problems, getting in trouble in the acting and I could see from their side and I knew exactly the button that I could push to bring them out, but I couldn’t do that with myself. I remember shooting a scene in the movie that I directed in Spain called “El Camino de los ingleses”. There was an actor that, there was a party the night before, in the movie. And everybody becomes crazy.

And in the morning he’s woken up by a woman saying, “Your lover Fonseca is dead in the garden. So he goes there and she’s not dead, but the perception of him is that she’s dead. And the actor wanted to cry. And the actress doing the scene the night before, walking, she got high heels and one of her heels broke accidentally but the actress was down, she picked the thing. She walked, she falls on the grass with the shoe without revealing her hands. So, she was trying to cry and at night he couldn’t, and way too busy to try to cry, to force the emotion. And I said to him, “You know man, it’s not necessary. I have this thing, it’s beautiful like this. You don’t have to go to wet emotions. It’s just fine.”

insisting and insisting and at some point I had this idea and I said, “Okay. Camera, Action” and I stopped in and said, “You see those shoes, broken? Will you wave those shoes to her?” And that was it. That opened the door for him to just remember how he packed the shoes and that’s it. That’s only … so we have some very weird people and very vulnerable. It is a very thin layer between the truth and the truth when you are performing. So sometimes I got into those places. Yeah, absolutely.

MOVIEMOVESME: And how is it today? It seems like anything could happen in those early on and early movies and now it’s more control or is my perception different?

Antonio Banderas:  For me, it’s the same guy that is progression. It’s like seeing Pedro with black hair and she got white. You know what? This movies is the same. They are progressing and you know, he became maybe more minimalist, less of a rock. I still think that he’s very faithful to this.

MOVIEMOVESME: The situation in Chile and Spain seems like fascism will be overtaking the world. Are you a little bit disappointed that this is where we are right now?

Antonio Banderas: In general. In a role, still now, even with everything that has happened to me as … I’m kind of a pathological optimistic person, but it’s true that many things are happening in many different directions. I think it’s because the traditional parties are not giving answer to the real problems that the world has so other people is just traveling to extremes. They are traveling to left and right, trying to find those answers and those answers are probably not there. I’m exactly the opposite. I’m into moderation. We don’t want to put an end to that. This thing that we have in front of us, this thing is changing everything. Everything. The capacity that we have of information this fast without really having the time to think properly. The fake news that this thing also produce. All of that is driving everybody nuts. This is a problem that is, North/South for example, that it has not an easy solution but it has a solution.

Antonio Banderas: But why is no solution the problem? It’s as simple as if we don’t go in Europe, if we don’t go to Africa, they’re going to come to us. That simple. But the thing is that you can do, you can do a martial plan, for example, for Africa to reconstruct a continent. It will take probably 50, 60 year, a lot of agreements, a lot of honesty on that. Money and funds and taxes, you name it. 50, 60 years, what politician is interested in 50 years? Interesting in the next term, in winning votes and getting there. So that’s why nobody does anything, because it’s not … they’re not going to have the feedback from that. So, how do you win elections? You win an election saying, problem immigration, a wall.

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