He's as suave and smooth as the characters he plays. Antonio Banderas is perfectly cast as the passionate ballroom dance teacher who teaches inner city New York adolescents some fine moves. But there's more to Banderas than meets the eye, as his first Spanish-language film as director is about ready, not to mention a return to Broadway and Puss 'n' Boots territory. Mr Banderas is nothing if not diverse. He talked to Paul Fischer.
Question: So, you were in the middle of shooting Zorro 2 when this script first made its appearance. Why did you decide you wanted to go from what must have been the most hellish shoot on earth when you did Zorro to dancing?
Banderas: Actually at the beginning I was not very much into the story. In fact I looked at the script and as soon as I saw that it was about ballroom dancing I put it aside and said, nah, I don't want to do this. But then the producers called me and said could you please give us 20 minutes and we'll explain to you what we're trying to do. So they came and they started talking to me about the figure of Pierre Dulaine and then they showed me a documentary that they had on him and, I loved it. Then when I met him everything changes. I found a guy that was doing things for nothing in return and I thought that it was a very rare animal in our days and, the guy was getting very successful with his program of dancing, and I started getting interested.
Question: Now you're a dancer in some ways ---
Banderas: Yeah, but I am not a dancer. I'm an actor who pretends - as I pretend that I swordfight. I pretend I ride horses - but I am not that. [Laughter].
Question: But how much harder was it for you then to get into the mindset of a ballroom dancer?
Banderas: Well it took I think the right amount of time because I can tell you I'm not a dancer, but at the same time I may tell you that I am good with physicality. I can move and can learn fast. Also because of Zorro or Desperado, though you see those movies and say an action movie, they are choreographies too and you have to pick up those choreographies in order to do the movie. So we started rehearsing here in Los Angeles first, with two choreographers. And at the beginning it's hard just to pass that kind of discipline moment, but once you cross that discipline moment you fly - really. I discovered in ballroom dancing a world that I didn't even know that existed. So I understand now why people are going back to that; kind of feeling on television - Spain too, not only here. It's a very popular program now in Spain of famous people, celebrities, that they bring for charity purposes and stuff like that is incredible. They've got the biggest ratings. So I understand. And it's because there is something that you share with somebody else. I've been saying this in but it's true, the beginning of the 80's the battle between melody and rhythm was won by rhythm, and ever since we have been just caught by this type of music - you know, hip hop and rap and everything that came after that - but at the same time we lost something. I remember in 1978, I was 18 years old and I used to go to discos in Malaga, and there was fast music and there was slow music, and the slow music was what we really love because you've got the opportunity of telling that girl who was in the corner could you dance with me, and that is something that you do with somebody else that you don't do by yourself. But ever since that change you go to a disco and it's almost like a show-off; it's about me, me, me, to look at me. Look at what I can do...
And when you dance with somebody else and you have to hold the person and do something together it changes totally, because you have to be actually more aware of the person that is dancing with you than yourself, and that is what I think is probably the principle, the essence of why dancing - and specifically ballroom dancing - may be very good for therapy, and for educational systems, because it's about trust and coordination. It's also about giving and sharing. And it changes a little bit the perspective of what dancing is all about.
Question: The first time I met you, you spoke hardly a word of English.
Banderas: That's right.
Question: listening to you now it's clearly not the same Antonio Banderas I met on that first junket.
Banderas: [Laughter]. But it's 16 years, my friend. [Laughter]. Sixteen years. Time goes by just too fast.
Question: Well how important was it for you to return to Spain and direct your first film in Spanish?
Banderas: Very. I need it. I went away from my homeland 26 years ago and I never spend more than two months in Malaga ever since. I wanted to go back there and tell stories that happened to me at that time. So I didn't only go back to Malaga I went back to 1978 - which is the year approximately in which I left - and go back to those uncertainties that I had at the time. The fears, emptiness, vertigo that produced the jump from adolescence to be an adult person. but my movie versus Take the Lead is also a coming of age movie in a way; it's way darker, more sexual and harder.
Question: Sexual in a very European way?
Banderas: Yes, in a very European way. It's tough. The movie is very visual, very poetic and very hypnotic; but it doesn't have anything to do with this. But it allows me to explore in myself what I am and what I was and the part in the middle, and I think I put my guts in the movie and I think that you can see that. It may be received in a way or another but part of my heart is in that movie. I enjoy the last 7 or 8 months of my life like very little things I enjoy in my life.
Question: Was Melanie and the family with you?
Banderas: No, unfortunately no. We plan it like that at the beginning when I was going there, even we had the school for the kids already picked and everything was ready to go, but Melanie had this offer from WB to do this Twins TV series - and she wanted so bad to be in front of a camera that I couldn't say, no, don't do it, come with me to Spain. I have to understand her and say that is your decision, I will support you whatever decision you take. And she said at the end, well, I'm going to have to do this, Antonio. So I came here a couple of times, she went to Spain like three times - Christmas together there - but it was hard. That's the hardest part, you know with the kids...
Question: Well family is very important to you...
Banderas: Oh, yes. Family - work and family, those are my main things in my life, definitely.
Question: What's going on with Broadway? You're supposed to be doing this, Don Juan DeMarcos. Is that still going on? What's happening?
Banderas: We are still working on it. There's just a little problem with the rights. They are owned by New Line, by the way.
Banderas: So we're going to have big conversations in New York now when I go there to do the promotion because some of the people that are responsible for the rights are going to be there. Ah, but, yes, it's certainly a possibility. I finished the movie that I directed, I got a week shooting in London, and David Leveaux actually was just directing there this new show about Sinatra - Sinatra - I don't know if you've heard about it, but they take images of Sinatra and actually they play with a real orchestra but it's Sinatra singing. So it's a very beautiful show. I didn't see it but I saw the concept and I saw some rehearsals and it's very unbelievable. But, anyway, I talked to him there in London and he says I am still going ahead, so in an ideal world we will start rehearsals in January next year.
Question: And what kind of run are you looking at?
Banderas: Oh, probably a year.
Question: When you do a play for a year, what does that do to your movie career?
Banderas: I don't care really. I'm caring less and less about my career everyday. I care about what I do in the moment that I do it. But I don't know. I find it a kind of a narcissist way of handling your life. I mean I think that your agents may say to you sometimes, oh, you shouldn't do this because the perception of the people of you is this - and if you do this you are going to just make a mistake. No, I don't care about that. I'm an actor in the most raw way of the word and I do what comes. That's probably why I became such an eclectic actor...
Question: You're doing Shrek as well...
Banderas: Yeah, yeah. Monday I go back to do the third recording of the third part.
Question: That must be lots of fun for you.
Banderas: Yes, it is.