Banderas, Antonio

(1960- )
   Antonio Banderas's career outside his country is a case in point of the typecasting that is particularly recurrent with Spanish actors. During his early career, there was nothing particularly "Spanish" or even Andalusian (he was born in Málaga) about Banderas. In his early roles, he plays a gay man (in Laberinto de pasiones [ Labyrinth of Passion, Pedro Almodovar, 1982 ] or Delirios de amor [ Love Ravings, Cristina Andreu, Luis Eduardo Aute, Félix Rotaeta, and Antonio González-Vigil, 1986 ]) or, simply, the boy next door (Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios [ Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Pedro Almodóvar, 1988 ]). More to the point, there was nothing of the Latin Lover about him. After studying acting in high school, he worked for several companies of classical theater in Madrid, playing key roles in Calderón's La hija del aire (Air's Daughter) and in Bertholt Brecht's adaptation of Christopher Marlowes' Edward II (as the King's lover Gaveston).
   Imanol Arias, who knew his theater work, recommended him to Almodóvar, who gave him a small part as the gay terrorist Sadek in Laberinto de pasiones. It was not much of a performance, but it launched a career that would take him to work with some of the most solid Spanish directors of the 1980s, including Vicente Aranda (he was the underground revolutionary in Si te dicen que caí [ If They Tell You I Fell, 1989 ]), Carlos Saura (Walking Sticks [ Los zancos, 1984 ]), José Luis García Sánchez (La corte del faraón [ Pharaoh's Court, 1985 ], which capitalized on his attractiveness), and Francisco Betriu (Réquiem por un campesino español [ Requiem for a Spanish Farmer, 1985 ], one of his most substantial parts of that decade).
   Most importantly, after his debut, he became Pedro Almodóvar's favorite actor, and it is unlikely that without that director's keen eye Banderas would ever have realized his potential. This is obvious when one follows the evolution of his 1982 pretty but soulless Sadek into his intense, charming Ricky in ¡Átame! (Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, 1990, one of the few parts Almodovar claims to have written with a specific actor in mind), including other roles as an obsessive, closeted gay man in La ley del deseo (Law of Desire, 1987), a randy bespectacled stuttering young man with a father complex in Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown), and a bullfighting student fascinated by his teacher (in Matador, 1986). In 1991, he had fulfilled the early promise of his stage roles and was beginning to mature as an actor.
   Then, an admiring remark made by Madonna in the rockumentary Truth or Dare (Alek Keshishian, 1991) sealed his fate as "the next Valentino." It was time for Hollywood. Maybe it was a long-held ambition, maybe it was simply an offer too good to refuse. Still, undeniably, his roles became more vapid, his acting more superficial and less detailed; he became more famous, but less interesting. After a promising American debut in The Mambo Kings (Arne Glimcher, 1992), he was unremarkable in Philadelphia (Jonathan Demme, 1993) and Interview with the Vampire (Neil Jordan, 1994), and he merely projected the requisite strong presence in the one-note char-acterizations of The House of Spirits (Bille August, 1993), Evita (Alan Parker, 1996), The Mask of Zorro (Martin Campbell, 1998), Desperado (Robert Rodriguez, 1995), or The 13th Warrior (John McTiernan, 1999). He lent his voice to the Puss in Boots in Shrek 2 (Andrew Adamson, Kelly Ashbury, Conrad Vernon, 2004).
   Only rarely has Banderas returned to Spanish cinema. In 1995, he starred with his wife, Melanie Griffith, in Fernando Trueba's Two Much, which he directed. In America he shot Crazy in Alabama (1999). He returned to Spain to direct a coming-of-age story, set in Málaga in the 1970s, connected with his own adolescence, El camino de los ingleses (Path of the English, 2006).

Historical dictionary of Spanish cinema. . 2010.

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