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Once Upon A Time in Mexico - Antonio Banderas Q&A



Compiled by: Jack Foley

ANTONIO Banderas, 43, returns to his signature role of El Mariachi this week in Robert Rodriguez's Once Upon A Time in Mexico. Casually dressed in a white linen shirt and sporting a pageboy haircut, the Spanish star reflected on his career and family life in New York with wife, Melanie Griffith.

Q. What was it like working with Robert Rodriguez again?
A.
A family reunion. We've done six movies together now. Six movies means that we have probably spent two years of our lives together. With Salma, the same thing. The same with everyone behind the cameras that we know.
The cinematographers, makeup artists, technicians of all kinds. So it's very easy. Especially with Robert Rodriguez. With Robert Rodriguez, I sign blindly. Without even reading the script.
In fact, the way that this movie came was very interesting. I was in Paris, filming with Brian De Palma. And Robert calls me on the phone and says, 'Do you want to make another Desperado?'; I say, 'Sure, absolutely'. He says: "Are you going to be ready in three weeks, we're going to be starting." "Three weeks, are you kidding me?... OK, yes send me the script."
He says: "Oh, well I haven't written it yet." Well, I'm not going to turn him down, even if he is crazy. Two days later, he calls and tells me they loved it. Three weeks later, we were in Mexico making the movie.
That's all you need with Robert Rodriguez. He's like a jazz player. He loves to improvise. And with the digital system that we are using now, it's not that expensive.
All you hear is the word 'Action'. Never 'Cut'. We talk during the takes. "I'm just going to do this line this way… I don't like it that way… Put the monitor over here so I can watch myself…" So we are working, talking all the time. A totally different approach.

Q. Apparently, it was a very sexy atmosphere on the set?
A.
Well, that's an interesting way to look at it. Personally, I just sweated all the time like a pig [laughs]. I mean, I'm jumping out of windows and riding on motorcycles… I spend all the time really flying a helicopter between the first and second unit. It's become almost a tradition with Robert. Hopping between locations, adding little details here and there. To work with Robert Rodriguez for me, is almost like going to work with the circus.

Q. How have you changed since the first time you worked together?
A.
I'd like to think I'm a better actor now. A lot of things have happened. I directed a movie. I've done theatre…. I suppose that we both grew. Different directions. Different experiences, too. But it's very rewarding just to work together.

Q. Are you pleased with the course your life has taken in America?
A.
Yes. Totally satisfied. Especially these days. Especially with the theatre. Without making a mistake when I say this, it's probably one of the most beautiful experiences of my professional life.
Not only the experience itself of being on Broadway, which has been gorgeous. The evolution of the work has been awesome. The audiences every night - to feel how they feel watching the play.
But, at the same time, it is a lesson for me. I was raised in the theatre. That is the place where I became an actor. Nobody knew that in America. Because I was very afraid of working in a language that was not my language - live everyday in front of audience. Especially on Broadway. But I recognized that a man shouldn't forget his roots. And my roots are in the theatre. And I am definitely not going to be out of the theatre as I was during this period of time. I'm going to work again on Broadway.
It's been a reflection point in my life. It's allowed me to think and to think about my career. I may work from this point on way less than I have been working so far.

Q. What's your daily preparation like before you go on stage?
A.
I try and speak exactly the opposite of how I'm doing today!… Mostly, I just try to stay calm. Playing with my kids, go to the park, take a walk, do some yoga, and then go to the theatre a couple of hours before starting to concentrate on the play, the company, and the role. And before you know it, the curtain's up.

Q. How are you finding life in New York, especially now with you and Melanie both doing Broadway shows?
A.
Much better than in Los Angeles. This is a much more European city. Los Angeles is the quintessential American city. The car. The big avenues. No relationship on the street between people.
Here, in New York, it's exactly the opposite. People relate to each other. They preach and push, this and that - they scream on the street at you. And I love that. And at the same time, Broadway is here. Also it's very close to Spain. So I can just jump on a plane and in five-six hours, I'm in Madrid… It's also good to know that our careers can work.

Q. Aren't you hounded by paparazzi here?
A.
It's not so bad. It was bad in the beginning of our relationship. But now… Sometimes you come out of the theatre and someone takes a picture. It doesn't kill anybody.

Q. What's the secret of a happy marriage?
A.
The secret? I don't know. My own marriage… The secret for us is to put a lot of attention into every day details.
When you're putting a lot of attention into the conceptual part of your marriage - the passion, that kind of 'pink' mood that you want to keep forever, it's tough. Eventually, it comes back.
But what you really want is to have patience and a real commitment and not mess around. In this profession that is very rare because you have a lot of people coming - beautiful people with beautiful faces and beautiful minds all the time.
And if you really believe, not only just in your life, but in your family, then it works… We never try to say that we are a perfect couple. Believe me, when we have 'discussions' we really do. You can hear it from a mile away. Recognizing yourself as human beings is important.

Q. Are there cultural differences that make things harder?
A.
No. Actually it's the opposite. It makes things very rich. Beautiful.

Q. You were talking about going back to your roots in theatre. Have you considered riskier roles in movies?
A.
Riskier than I am doing! I think I risk a lot in my career. I mean, the Brian De Palma movie, for example, I think is a very risky move.
That was not an easy movie. Critics for example, they kind of loved the movie. The opening in Spain was great. But it was risky. Sometimes I work in a movie because I want to work with a director. And that is a very specific way to work.
I even said it to Brian De Palma. I said to Brian, "Brian, I don't like the character. I don't think there is enough meat here to chew." I even re-wrote the character in Los Angeles. And I went to Paris. And I read it to him. Fifteen pages. He was very interested. And he said. "This is beautiful. It's great… But it's not my movie. So if you're going to be in my movie, you have to do what I've written."
I had a couple of days to think about it. And then I decided, yes I'm going to work with this guy. I want to be there in the every day working of Brian De Palma. And if I am implicated in the movie, too bad. So I did it for that.

Q. Do you think you'll work with Almodovar again?
A.
We signed an agreement last year in Cannes. At the festival. He came to my room with his brother, his producer of this movie, and said we have to work together again. I said I agree with you, let's do it, what do you have? I have this movie, Tarantula, blah-blah, blah, and we said yes.

Q. Both of your reputations have continued to soar since those early days. What do you think the result will be?
A.
I don't know. To work with Almodovar is not an easy thing. Ask any actor. The results are magnificent, yes. But you really have to tie your teeth and go into a process that is going to be creative. But a creative hell.

Q. What makes it so difficult?
A.
For example, you're on a Robert Rodriguez movie. And you say, "Robert, I got this idea last night." "Oh that's great, let's try it like that."
When you're on an Almodovar movie and you get an idea, he says, "No - you're not paid to have ideas. I have the ideas. You are my pen. I am the writer. I use you to write my story." So you do that. You commit to working with a guy like this, when the guy is a genius and you know exactly where he's going. If a guy who is not a genius comes to you like that, the first day, I'm out. I'm out. If I can break the contract, I go away.

Q. Last time we spoke to Melanie she talked about how difficult it was aging in Hollywood as an actress. Is it the same for you? Do you worry about getting older?
A.
I don't know. I suppose I do. But I will do another type of character. And it will probably be interesting from an acting point of view to get to another position. It's more difficult for a woman, though. This has nothing to do with movies, though. It has to do with how society is. If you see Sean Connery with Catherine Zeta Jones, everybody accepts it. You just reverse it and you have a scandal. A woman close to 70 with a guy who is 27. But that doesn't have anything to do with movies. That has to do with the society in which we live. But it's true. When a woman crosses 40, 45-years-old in Hollywood… It's a factory that needs fresh flesh all the time in that aspect. Male actors can hold a career longer.

Q. How do you support Melanie in ger struggles?
A.
I would like to direct her. The thing that is very clear for me with Melanie, is that I admired her before I loved her, as an actress. It is very easy to direct someone that is so talented to work with. You set up a scene and she nails it in the first, second take. So I would love to direct her.

Q. In this film, we see you kissing the Mexican flag. Are you patriotic?
A.
There was a Spanish article that I read a long time ago that talked about patriotism. And he asked, 'Is patriotism just love'? The landscape in which you recognize yourself? The people that are close to you, that speak the same language? Is patriotism to love the food and music and folklore? If that is patriotism, yes, I am a patriot. If patriotism is just to go behind a flag, officialism, institutionalism - no, I am not a patriot.

Q. Do you get homesick?
A
. Yes, sometimes.

Q. What do you do?
A.
I go! Now I have to go for other reasons. My father had a heart attack three weeks ago. It was not a massive heart attack. But now that's what I want to do. I just want to go and spend some time with him.

Q. You have a project that you're writing. What's the timetable for that Spanish project?
A.
The next two or three years. I'm putting a company together now. We're trying to do something a little more ambitious. What I'd like is to produce. I'd like to do this movie in Spain… But we'll see.
Spanish cinema is now in deep trouble. Well, practically all of Europe. But Spanish cinema especially… Literally, production has been cut in half. And that's had a tremendous impact… It's difficult to compete with the United States… You know from Moscow to Madrid, we have the same distance that they have from Los Angeles to New York. But they speak the same language. So they have a much larger potential market. We don't have that. We have 15 different languages in the middle of that distance. And I have to confess. If I see a Czechoslovakian movie, it's much further from my understanding of movies than from American movies. It's very difficult to have that kind of market in Europe.

Q. Which are the movies that you're most proud of?
A.
I don't know. The movies that I did with Almodovar - that comes as a package. Zorro… Evita… I really love Pancho Villa, actually... All the work together with Robert Rodriguez.

Q. Are Hispanic actors undervalued by the entertainment industry in the US?
A.
It's better now. When I arrived here there were many actors that I met at that time, who were complaining all the time that the only characters that we got to do were villains, delinquents, stuff like that. The years that I have been here now, almost 14-years, things have changed dramatically to good. It's not a picnic. But it's going the right way. And in a recent amount of time. J-Lo through Salma Hayek, Penelope Cruise, Andy Garcia… All of these people are creating respect.
Not just for critics, but in the market too. That's a very important part too. That we can sell movies with characters named Carmen or Gregorio.
Spy Kids is a good example for many reasons. One of them is that it's a movie for kids. They don't have that pre-judgment. They just accept it. They don't care if the character is Jewish, Black, Hispanic - they have fun. And that is a good relation. Because we don't do that. We grow up and we start putting up ideas that don't allow us to just look at things the way kids do.

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