As his new series, Genius: Picasso, airs on National Geographic, we take a look at the life and times of one of Spain’s most famous faces.
Antonio Banderas is a Spanish actor, singer, and producer best known for starring in a series of Hollywood films in the 1990s such as Evita, Interview with the Vampire, and Philadelphia.
José Antonio Domínguez Bandera, known simply as Antonio Banderas, was born in Málaga in 1960. His father was an officer in the civil guard and his mother was a schoolteacher. At a young age Banderas harboured dreams of being a professional footballer until a broken foot at the age of 14 put paid to that idea.
Always interested in the performing arts, Banderas was part of the ARA Theatre-School and College of Dramatic Arts in Málaga. In post-Franco Spain, Banderas worked in local theatre and performed on the streets as part of La Movida Madrileña – the counter-culture reaction to years of dictatorial oppression.
Banderas eventually landed a spot with the Spanish National Theatre and it was while working here that he was noticed by the young Spanish film director Pedro Almodóvar.
From stage to screen
Almodóvar cast Banderas in his 1982 movie Labyrinth of Passion. A few years later Banderas gained great acclaim for his portrayal of a gay man in Almodóvar’s Law of Desire. He then went on to appear in Matador before his first real international breakthrough in the critically acclaimed Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.
Two years later, Banderas’ portrayal of a mental patient who kidnaps a porn star in Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! increased his global recognition. In 1991, Madonna introduced him to Hollywood and from there his star continued to rise.
Although he knew little English, and learned all of his lines phonetically, Banderas’ Hollywood debut as a struggling musician in The Mambo Kings was well received. From there he landed his major breakthrough as Tom Hanks’ lover in the Academy Award-winning Philadelphia.
This led to Banderas being cast alongside Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise in the adaptation of Anne Rice’s Interview With a Vampire. Roles as El Mariachi in Robert Rodriguez’s Desperado, and Miguel Bain in Assassins alongside Sylvester Stallone, truly cemented Banderas as a Hollywood player.
Throughout, Banderas took English lessons until he was eventually fluent and able to perform his roles more naturally.
Evita and beyond
It was his role opposite Madonna in the film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Evita that really catapulted Banderas into the hearts and minds of the public at large.
Shortly afterwards he took the leading role in The Mask of Zorro before finding his way into successful franchises such as Robert Rodriquez’s Spy Kids Trilogy and, of course, as Puss in Boots in the Shrek films.
In 2011, Banderas was reunited once again with the man who had given him his big cinematic break, Pedro Almodóvar, as a revenge-seeking plastic surgeon in horror thriller The Skin I Live In. This role is considered one of his best performances to date.
Banderas received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame – considered by many as the ultimate indicator of a star’s longevity and appeal.
Directing and theatre
Banderas has, to date, directed two films, 1999’s Crazy in Alabama and 2006’s Summer Rain. Neither one was particularly well known but both demonstrate that he’s comfortable on both sides of the camera. In addition he has a few producer credits. As a musician, he also has many credits for singing and playing in his movies, most notably in Evita and Shrek.
In and amongst his Hollywood career, Banderas has occasionally found time to return to the theatre. In 2003 he starred on Broadway in the revival of Maury Yeston’s Nine, for which he received a TONY nomination and the Outer Critics Circle and Drama Desk awards.
A new direction
In 2015, Banderas moved to Surrey with his girlfriend, Nicole Kimpel, to study fashion design at Central St Martin’s College in London. Already the patron of a range of fine fragrances, Banderas hopes to launch a successful fashion line.
In January 2017, at the age of 56, Banderas suffered a heart attack at his Surrey home. It was ‘a mild attack’ according to the actor, who had three stents implanted. He blamed the attack on being a workaholic but also managed to use it as a spur to quit his lifelong smoking habit.
Banderas intends to remain in England for at least five years while studying but he is still acting, appearing in Genius: Picasso on the small screen and soon to be seen with Samuel L. Jackson and Olivia Cooke in Dan Fogelman’s Life Itself.
As he grows older he’s hoping to take on more serious roles, to move away from the ‘brooding latino’ image that characterised his younger career.
Banderas has been married and divorced twice, most famously to female actor Melanie Griffiths. The pair separated in 2014 after 18 years of marriage. They remain close and have one daughter together.
Banderas owns 50% of a winery in Spain – Anta Bandreas – which produces roseé and red wines. He has also worked with Puig for over ten years on a range of fine fragrances.
Politically, Banderas is known to be a socialist, and has appeared in a video supporting the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party back in the 1996 election. He has also called on governments to emulate Chavez in Venezuela by nationalising industries to help the global economic situation.
With interests in fashion, wine, music and fragrances, Banderas is much more than just an actor. Acting will always, however, be the thing he’s best known for.
Long may he continue to grace our screens!